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By Pam Gelman, M.A.
Dance is another activity that can start at a young age. Besides ballet, modern and tap, there are classes in more-ethnic dance styles, such as Indian, urban dance or hip-hop. In addition to building strong muscles and coordination skills, dance may satisfy young children's interest in dramatic play by allowing them to use props and have performances. And by no means is dance just for girls, as more boys are participating in these classes.
If you're looking for an activity to build fine motor skills and inspire creativity, consider an art class. These courses provide the supplies for either a free-choice art experience or a specific type of art, for example, ceramics or painting. No matter the type of instruction, art classes support the development of fine motor skills through holding and using a marker, molding clay or leaning to sew. And for kids who enjoy sensory experiences, there's plenty of opportunity for messy, hands-on projects, which parents will appreciate occurring in the classroom rather than at home.
If kids are rested and able to focus on the activity, then learning occurs in several ways.
In a group setting, kids learn about working with others. They listen and watch how other children problem-solve. Any extracurricular activity will involve using the body and practicing motor skills, whether it's a big movement such as jump-roping or a smaller one like beading a necklace. Catching a ball or listening to a guitar will trigger new connections in brain development.
How much learning happens if preschool-age children are tired? And why the hurry to start classes and develop skills at such a young age? Parents are often eager to start their kids in activities to get a leg up on developing skills. Pica notes, "Often parents sign up their preschoolers for too many activities. I suggest one at a time."
Looking back on her daughter's experience outside of preschool, Wohl-Sanchez adds, "It was much more important to me that she was having fun, getting exercise and making friends at that age than learning a new skill that she'd stick with."
Besides the potential exhaustion of overscheduled preschoolers, parents and caregivers should consider the logistics and expenses of driving to and paying for these classes. Once kids are enrolled in elementary school, scheduling becomes more complicated with homework, playdates, band, sports or tutoring. So the preschool years are a good opportunity to allow children to enjoy unscheduled time too.
One way to have social interactions with other kids and participate in more unstructured, spontaneous play is through a playgroup. Weekly playdates, held at alternating houses or a local park, give young children the same opportunities to stretch their legs, work with others and have fun. Depending on the setting, they can be geared to a specific type of play — sports, music or art — or truly spontaneous and left up to the kids to decide what to do.
Playgroups give parents opportunities to socialize and compare notes on the many questions that come up when raising preschoolers, including how and where to find quality extracurricular activities for their children when they are ready.
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