By Pam Gelman, M.A.
Does your preschooler have a full schedule? What's the right type and amount of extracurricular activity?
Some preschoolers are happiest with schedules full to the brim with planned activities, while others may need more time for imaginary play or just watching butterflies. Though many children have the stamina for activities outside of preschool, you'll want to allow for learning through downtime at home or spontaneous play in the neighborhood. Consider how many extracurricular activities per week you should schedule that will satisfy natural interests and support learning without exhausting or overwhelming your preschool-age child.
Start with your child's interests. Does she like to dance or sing? A preschool music class might engage her, But depending on her temperament and openness to new experiences, extracurricular classes can be an opportunity to introduce her to new types of activities. For a child who is shy or slow to warm to new situations, consider signing her up with a friend to ease the transition to a new activity.
"Get as many recommendations as possible and find out if you can sit in one time before committing yourselves. I think it's pretty easy to get a feel for the place," advises Lauren Wohl-Sanchez, a mother of two in Oakland, Calif.
Music classes are appropriate for very young children, even before starting preschool. They are generally facilitated by a teacher/musician who plays an instrument and encourages students to sing or play along with kid-safe instruments. It's an opportunity to help active youngsters learn about sitting in a circle and participating in a group while listening to music. Some children participate simply by observing. Others feel comfortable banging on drums or belting out songs with their peers.
A basic sports or movement class helps little ones move their bodies and build coordination. Some sports programs are devoted to more serious skill building. It's a good idea to check whether the class will be devoted to skill-building games or more-unstructured play using sports-related equipment. Classes that focus on games with instructions, teams and rules may frustrate younger preschoolers who are not yet able to follow along. Rae Pica, an author and children's physical activity specialist in Center Barnstead, N.H., cautions, "Children start life with a love of movement. We don't want to squash that by enrolling them in activities when they aren't developmentally ready. If parents notice other preschoolers doing a skill that their children aren't yet, don't worry. They'll do it when they are ready and catch up to their peers quickly."
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