Make Classes Educational, Not Recreational

Your lessons should be the most expensive in town. If they aren’t, you’re short changing yourself and your staff. If you don’t have the money to pay your staff the best wages in your area and buy the latest equipment and products to improve your curriculum, your program will go stagnant. But to be the most expensive and stay in business, you have to deliver the goods. Parents write their checks for their children’s lessons thinking, “Is this worth it?” Every lesson you must make those parents say, “Wow!” With your exceptional staff, facility, and curriculum, you can do that. The easiest way to make parents appreciate your program and realize its value is to show them you are more educational than recreational.

Parents will pay more for education than recreation. Even in difficult times they’ll pay more for a child to learn than to play. How do we show them that our preschool dance and gymnastics classes are educational?

First, you must educate parents on the benefits of the program. That should start with their first contact with you-usually a telephone call asking about enrollment and instructional information. Make sure you and your office staff know exactly what to say; avoid assigning your newest or least-experienced employee to answer the phones. (Parents, after all, think they are talking to you-the boss or head teacher-regardless of who attempts to answer their queries.) Type out a script or “cheat sheet” with all the current and vital information on it. Tape it near the telephone so whoever answers the call can give an intelligent, informative answer. At my gym, I have sales scripts for each of the types of programs and classes we offer and also a “new student checklist.” It’s a form so the office staff can be sure they relay the necessary information and that we get the necessary information. At every telephone, we have an “Info Book” which is a 5×7 3-ring binder with a card of every class we offer and the requirements to get into that class, the apparel and its cost, the teachers and their qualifications, and what they need to know to register for that class.

When the customer first brings their children into your gym, take time to give them a tour of the facility (set appointment times if necessary). During the tour explain your mission statement, dress code and viewing policies, and what the classes will be like. Have an exact tour script that every staff member has memorized.

From the first contact with your school, use a vocabulary that makes parents think of schools and education: tuition, not class fees, institute, academy, or school instead of club or studio, teacher or instructor instead of coach, trainer or demonstrator, semester or quarter instead of sessions, student, not child, and administrator or director instead of owner. Use words such as school secretary or registrar, curriculum and syllabus or lesson plans, school policies, teacher’s open house (not open gym or studio).

Position your advertising and marketing to suggest that you run a school, not a studio or workout space. At the bottom of my print advertisements, I say “your educational gymnastic and dance experts since 1969.”

I recommend your preschool program have its own name and identity, such as my “Tumblebear Gym Program.” It describes what we do in class and separates our preschool program from my facility name, “Patti’s All-American, the Leader in Gymnastics, Dance, and Swim.” Our mascots are Tina and Teddy Tumblebear; the word tumblebear suggests that tumbling will be involved and with the bears, it probably means little kids. I didn’t name it tumblbear gymnastics program because I knew during the gymnastic section of the classes, we would be doing other things than just gymnastics. For instance, we use a parachute occasionally for the preschoolers, we do hand/eye coordination drills, and use props such as ropes, hoops, sticks, scarves, and balls. If you’re going to do creative movement, then call your program something like American Academy’s Creative Movement program. But if your customer comes in expecting a split class of ballet and bars, beam, floor, etc., and you have them doing a lummi stick routine and throw bean bags into laundry baskets, you will disappointed them. If your office staff educates the caller about what to expect in class, they will be supportive and enthusiastic about the process.

Frame a mission statement and/or philosophy and display it in your lobby or waiting area. Then live by it. Include it in your employee application and orientation packets, and ask that your staff members agree to it. Inspect and evaluate your teaching and clerical staff periodically (it’s called responsible supervision). You must inspect what you expect. And, always do it many times when you first get a new teacher.

If your school allows parents and other caregivers to watch classes, talk to the observers during or after class about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you’re teaching a parent/tot class, you have a prime opportunity to explain the program while they’re in class. Using phrases like “child directed,” “teachable moment,” and “success oriented” will enhance your credibility. Explain, for example, that learning animal walks will help the children learn a cartwheel later on. That they child must understand the difference between a bent knee and a straight leg in a “bear walk” and a “camel walk.” Point out that by going sideways down a balance beam, a child improves their laterality, a skill needed for reading readiness.

Getting into kindergarten and passing the pre-kindergarten testing is a big deal to parents of preschoolers. Get a copy of the tests for kindergarten from your area school district. On the test my school system uses (which is standard for the State of Indiana), there are twelve skill areas. We work on four of them in our program: gross motor skills, rote counting, identification of body parts, and ability to follow verbal directions. If parents understand that your classes better prepare the preschool child for school, they will stick with your program. And if they really believe in your program, they will enroll younger siblings and spread the word to their friends.

In your lesson plans you can introduce a word of the week, color of the week, or letter or number of the week to “increase vocabulary” or “color awareness.” Incorporate items like this in your daily teaching even when it isn’t structured on your lesson plan. Perhaps you should add a category called “convey educational aspects.” Take a few moments to jot down those important reasons and relay them to the parents.

Understand and use buzz phrases such as “developmentally appropriate skills” and “age appropriate activities.” Developmentally appropriate skills are those that a child may be ready for according to their physical or mental capacity instead of what age they are. For example, a hotshot six-year-old could be ready for a back handspring because she has been in the program for three years and has sufficient shoulder flexibility and arm strength. Most gymnastic skills, though, are somewhat age-related, not age determined. Age appropriate means just that-activities that are appropriate for a particular age. For example, a Barney song for warm-up could be appropriate for a parent and tot class for two- and three-year-olds, but it would probably die in a more worldly class of five-year-olds.

Involve your preschool staff in preparing the lesson plans. This brainstorming approach keeps a high level of creative ideas flowing, which is such an important (and often draining) part of preschool education. It also reinforces the use of educationally oriented vocabulary among teachers. Being part of the preparation creates a feeling of ownership and can help teachers “sell” the educational approach.

Your focus is to provide as much education as you can in your classes and to relay that to your parents. This will make a difference in your classes, what customers think of your business, AND your bottom line.