Archer has indicated his desire to join. The aim of the club is to work toward a 5K run in the spring. I'm happy he wants to belong, even though I'm pretty sure the desire stems from his interest in time and distance rather than any yen for physical activity.
Today, Mrs. Miller announces, we'll do a few stretches then run or walk around the track at our own pace. In subsequent meetings, the kids will be divided by ability to work in groups.
After I acquaint Archer with the concept of inside and outside lanes (run on the inside, walk on the outside), we get underway, surrounded by dozens of chattering, zooming kids. Archer starts his chronograph and gives me periodic updates. We walk a lap, then run two, starting a pattern.
I'm surprised at how animated Archer is. He loudly proclaims that he's running at a steady pace, while his delight tends to make his arms and legs flail somewhat as he jogs. He names some of his classmates; a few greet him as they pass, and one stays to talk to us. I adopt Archer's terminology of a "heart meter" (like in the Wii Fit Plus cycling activity) to describe how fatigued we feel -- three hearts for full strength, one heart for running out of energy -- and use it to quiz Michael, the classmate, about how he's doing. Archer calls out cheery greetings to his former first grade teacher as we pass her on the track.
There's a social element to this club that I hadn't expected. As Archer reports lap times and distance traveled, he's contributing information that's relevant to the activity. He's engaged with other kids doing the same thing but for their own reasons -- girls walking together in clumps gossiping, boys racing down the backstretch, teachers responding to their charges.
We can't make Archer into someone with the easy ability to carry on those kind of conversations. But we can put him in situations where he's in the same space, doing the same thing. That's a kind of connection. And from his enthusiastic response, it's not just the activity and its accompanying numerical scales that delight him, but the sense of community and belonging. Even if he doesn't know how to respond to that in a conventional way -- that is, by joining in on their terms or by welcoming them into his -- he's happy to be with them, to be part of it all. It's a start.