Is my preschooler overscheduled? Four important activities
While it’s definitely important to expose your child to different activities, for physical, cognitive and emotional development, it’s also important to know just how much is too much?
When it comes to structured activities, this doesn’t include daycare or preschool, children ages one to five years old have an attention span of about thirty minutes, and children five to eight years old have attention spans that are closer to one hour. Try to choose activities accordingly so that your child is able to stay focused for the majority of the class. When exploring options and picking a class, we recommend thinking about the following:
1) Consider your child’s interests and pick activities based on what they like (so far!)
2) Expose them to as many different types of activities over their early years and see what they like and don’t like.
To help give a better understanding of how specific activities can help your child develop, below is a quick “run down” of the four of the most popular types of preschool-aged activities.
1) Music- the classes are wonderful for children of all ages and can be very beneficial to even infants. Make sure to ask if this is a “free play” music class or “skilled based.” Usually for preschool-aged children the exploration or free play type of class is better. This gives them time to explore instruments, sounds, and techniques without feeling disappointment if their skills aren’t where the skill-based class would like them to be.
2) Sports/Movement- think Tot Soccer, gymnastics etc. These classes help build coordination, muscle development and large motor skills. Similar to music, be sure you know whether this is a “free play” or skill-based class. A free play class with some skill based is okay, you just don’t want to frustrate your child by putting them in a class that is too advanced.
3) Dance- another class that is suitable for very young children. They will develop coordination, muscle development and large motor and possible creativity as many young dance classes have a creative and dramatic play element.
4) Art- great class for developing fine motor skills, being creative and getting messy outside of your home!
These types of activities and classes are can usually be found in your community and often include a group of children close in age. Because of the group setting, your child will also benefit by learning how to work with other children, listen to other adults and make new friends!
Okay, so you have an idea of what activities to sign your child up for, but how many should you chose? This is tricky and personal. If your child is two to five years old and enrolled in preschool or day care, the recommendation is only one activity (thirty to forty-five minutes) a week. One activity would allow for enough downtime, playtime and family time to keep your child’s life stress free and balanced. If your child is not currently attending daycare or preschool, then maybe you would like to consider, two to four activities a week. This would encourage multiple types of development and would encourage social interactions with other children.
While it is important to expose your preschooler to all sorts of activities, both to encourage development as well as help them find what they are interested in, making sure their activities are balanced with family time and downtime is essential. The American Academy of Pediatrics is encouraging parents of young children to slow down! Downtime or unstructured playtime is really the only time a child has to explore, relax and put to use their creativity. Without structured activities and being told what to do, children need to use their own minds and imaginations. Getting together with other parents and children (playgroups) is also a good way to spend some downtime. Often the children will come up with their own ideas of what to do together, using their imagination and creativity. Playgroups are also a wonderful opportunity for children to not only be creative and explore, but work on their social skills and language.
As always, each child and family situation is different so always do what is best for your family. These are just some helpful guidelines and tips that can hopefully help you decide what is the right activity level for your child.
Elissa Sungar is the Co-Creator of If Not You, Who? a free website that offers easy and fun in-home educational activities that help prepare children for kindergarten and life. Her passion for early childhood education grew out of her experience as a pre-school teacher at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. Elissa loves hiking, running, tennis, yoga, cute workout clothes, good cheese, great baked goods and exploring Denver! Twitter: @ElissaINYW