Preschoolers & Extracurricular Activities: Should Tots Take Classes?
Fall is known as back-to-school season but it also signals sign-up season. Most youth sports teams and other programs hold registration during the late summer with most programs beginning at the end of August or first of September, so if you’re considering signing up your preschooler for an extracurricular activity for the first time or looking into try something new, now is the time.
From dance to soccer to music to art lessons, the choices for your preschooler are endless. Which activities should you choose? How many? And where?
The challenge is finding a balance between your child’s interests, abilities and your family’s time and budget.
When selecting an activity for your preschooler, ask yourself what your motivation is: Do you want your daughter to take gymnastics because you never did? Do you want your son to play soccer because all your friends’ kids do?
Try to separate your desires from your child’s needs. What may be a good experience for one child may be a disaster for another. Think about your child’s interests, as well as his or her temperament before deciding on an activity. For example, team sports may be suitable for some preschoolers while others won’t understand or enjoy the competitiveness and may do better at an individual activity like karate or swimming rather than soccer or baseball.
How much is too much?
We all want our children to be exposed to enriching experiences, so it’s tempting to sign them up for sports, music and art lessons and then end up over-scheduling them and ourselves.
Activities are beneficial in moderation, but many parents tend to over-schedule their kids. They don’t have time to just play and according to most child development experts, play is the most important way children learn and develop at this age.
Not to mention kids that are over-scheduled won’t ever have time to get together with friends because they are too busy. And when children are rushed and pushed from activity to activity, the whole family suffers the consequences with over-tired kids and stressed out parents.
How much is too much? That depends on the child and the family, but most experts agree that more than one or two activities in addition to preschool or elementary school at this age is too much.
Picking a program
There are two things to assess when selecting an extracurricular program for your child: how well it suits the needs of preschoolers in general and how well it suits your own child.
Look for age-appropriate activities – for example, most ballet classes for the 3-5 age group are Creative Movement where children learn to move their bodies in different ways rather than focus on the five ballet positions. Team sports at this age should focus more on fun and learning a new skill rather than on competition.
The leaders of a particular program or team are also crucial when choosing an activity. Are they warm, compassionate and responsive to your child’s needs? Coaches and instructors of preschool age children need to have a lot of patience, a good understanding of young children’s short attention spans and a sense of fun.
Many programs offer you the chance to observe or try a class to make sure it’s a good fit for your child.
Benefits for your child
Just like preschool, activities and sports for the 3-5 age set can offer many positive benefits. Sports build coordination, develop motor skills and encourage teamwork.
Group lessons such as dance, gymnastics, music or karate also help build coordination and skills, as well as help children learn to listen to and follow instructions, learn to take turns and learn to get along with others.
Most importantly, kids have fun and gain self-confidence from learning a new activity and feeling accomplishment.
Trying different activities at this age is also a good way to gauge what your child does or does not enjoy and what he or she may show a talent for. If your son played baseball last year but wants to try karate this year, don’t feel pressured to sign him up for baseball again, let him try something new.
For any sport or activity for preschoolers, the most important thing is that your child experiences fun, friendship and success.