Can Your Preschooler Be Overscheduled?
Music or art? Ballet or gymnastics? One of the more discussed topics among parents is their preschooler’s schedule. Deciding which activities to choose for your child and how often they should participate can be tricky. With so many people and interests vying for a child’s time (parents, other family members, friends, sports, arts, etc.) over-scheduling children is becoming common in the United States. In return, unstructured playtime, or downtime, has decreased 12 hours a week in the last 20 years. While it’s definitely important to expose your child to a variety of activities, for physical, cognitive and emotional development, it’s crucial for you to decide how much is too much.
When considering structured activities, you should not include daycare or preschool time. Remember that children aged one to five years old have an attention span of about thirty minutes. Five to eight year old children have an attention span closer to one hour. By choosing activities with those considerations, your child will stay focused for the majority of the activity.
When exploring activity and class options, we offer some ideas …
1) Consider your child’s interests and pick activities based on what you know they like
2) Expose them to as many different types of activities during their early years and observe what they do and don’t like
To help you better understand how specific activities can help your child develop, these are four of the most popular types of preschool aged activities: Music - classes are wonderful for children of all ages and can be beneficial to even infants. Ask if the class is a “free play” music class or “skilled based”. Usually for preschool aged children, the “free play” type of class is better. This allows them time to explore instruments, sounds, and techniques without being disappointed if their skills aren’t equivalent to the children in a skill-based class.
Sports/Movement - think Tot Soccer, gymnastics, etc. These classes help build coordination, muscle development and large motor skills. Similar to music, distinguish between “free play” or “skill based” classes. A free play class with some skill based is fine, just so your child is not frustrated by being in a class that is too advanced. Dance - another class that is suitable for young children. Dance develops coordination, muscle development and large motor skills and even creativity. Many young dance classes have a creative and dramatic play element. Art - these classes are great for developing fine motor skills, creativity and getting messy outside of your home!These types of activities and classes are in most communities and often include grouping children close in age. Group classes at an early age benefit young children by enabling them to work with other children, listen to other adults and make new friends!
Okay, so you have an idea of some activities for your child, but how many should you choose? This is a family decision with no definite right or wrong answer. If your child is two to five years old and enrolled in preschool or day care, then consider only one activity (thirty to forty-five minutes) a week. One activity allows for enough downtime, playtime and family time adding minimal stress and keeping things balanced. If your child is not currently attending daycare or preschool, then you might consider two to four activities a week. This encourages multiple types of development and social interactions with other children.
Some parents set their top priority as exposing their preschooler to all kinds of activities, to encourage development and identify interests, while also making sure their activities are balanced with family time. The American Academy of Pediatrics is actually 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 be creative. Without structured activities and being told what to do, children are forced to use their own minds and imaginations. Getting together with other parents and children (playgroups) is also a good way to create some downtime. Often the children will come up with their own ideas of what to do together, relying on their imagination and demonstrating creativity. Playgroups are also another opportunity for children to further develop their social and language skills.
Each child and family situation is different. A parent’s responsibility is to always do what is best for your child and family. Our intent is for you to see these comments as helpful guidelines and tips that you can use in deciding what is the right activity level for your child. We are here for you atwww.ifnotyouwho.org to answer your questions. Thanks for stopping by!