Inside JCPRD: Virtual gymnastics class serves as bridge for family members living in 3 different parts of the country

By David Markham

We already knew our virtual programs help people stay safe while taking part in activities from their own home, but now we also know they can help families interact and enjoy activities together, even when they’re hundreds of miles apart!

Recreation Coordinator and Kansas Kips Gymnastics Team Head Coach Alexis Kelford recounts a discovery she made recently while teaching a Virtual Preschool Gymnastics class.

“It was the first class, and I’m trying to get to know everyone and making sure I’m matching parent’s and kiddo’s faces,” Kelford said. “We had three people with the same last name, and we thought they were all siblings, and then we quickly found out that they are actually cousins. I asked if all of them are here in Kansas or if anyone lived out of state, and one of the kids told me they were taking the class from the Houston Texas, area, and I learned another lives in Palo Alto, Calif.!”

“Our family hasn’t felt ready to jump back into in-person gymnastics just yet so I searched Mill Creek (Activity Center)’s activity page and happened upon the virtual class,” said Danielle S. of Shawnee, who signed her daughter Amelia up for the class. “I coordinated with our cousins as I knew they currently felt the same about in-person gymnastics and the kids would love to see each other! The kids loved the first class we attended and we have another one this week.”

“This class is an amazing way to reconnect,” added Rachael S. of Palo Alto, whose son Zane is also in the class. “I’m a neonatal nurse practitioner at Stanford Children’s Hospital, and my work schedule varies a lot week to week. The program we enrolled in allows parents to choose a selection of classes within the nine-week schedule, which allowed the flexibility I need. Zane loved seeing his cousins, making new friends, and learning some new things like balancing on one foot, walking on a (pretend) balance beam, doing fast somersaults, and learning a few tips in preparation for learning how to do a cartwheel. He’s been practicing all these things since the last class, and is excited to show off his hard work to his coach.”

“We decided to participate in this program as we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to safely learn some new skills, and for the cousins to all see each other and interact,” added Sandra S. of Sugar Land, Texas. “We have really enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect, play, and learn. Ian said his favorite part of the class was, ‘balancing and that we’re going to do cartwheels.’ We do have local opportunities to participate in virtual gymnastics, but nothing can compete with ‘meeting’ your cousins in class! This has been a blast!”

Only Danielle and Amelia of Shawnee had taken a JCPRD class previously (and it was a class with Kelford), but all three cousins said they’d be interested in another virtual program.

The class the three cousins are participating in is Virtual Preschool for ages 18 months to 5 years. Students practice skills appropriate for their age and/or ability level, with emphasis on fun warm-up and stretching activities, as well as tumbling and dance elements for balance beam and floor exercise. This class began Aug. 20, but there is still an opportunity to join the class, or another session begins Oct. 19.

Kelford talked about some of the tweaks made to help in presenting JCPRD gymnastics programs virtually.

“Since we’re doing these classes via Zoom, we broadened the age range so we could broaden the audience, and I think that’s what really struck a home run for us,” she said. “Instead of having a three-year-old class, and a four- and five-year-old class, we opened up all the preschool classes and meshed them into one big class where parents are going to interact with them. Some families may not have balance beams, and we sent home information about ‘if you have a piece of tape, you can make a beam as long as you want roughly four inches wide, just so the kid has a visual.’ We also talk about the spotting techniques that the parent can do to help assist them that the teacher would normally do and how they can do that so that the kid can still get the feel for the skill at home. We repeat a lot of the material, but add a couple of different twists to it so it’s not getting stale. It has gone really well.”

After learning about the three cousins taking her virtual class, Kelford is adding this idea to her promotional efforts as well.

“I definitely want to start marketing to people like ‘do gymnastics with your family from out of town,’” she said. “There’s no reason that they couldn’t, and they can get social interaction with their family that they probably don’t get very much, and they’re getting to do it from their home even though the class is ‘way out here’ in Kansas!”