As babies grow into toddlers and toddlers grow into preschoolers, it’s fascinating to watch them gain new skills and interests. Does your toddler love to dance when you play him music? Does your four year-old have a knack for catching the ball with each and every throw? It can be tempting to enroll your kids in every activity that seems like a potential fit, but with stimulating activities at daycare, socialization at play dates, and regular family outings on the schedule, how much is too much?
There are undoubtedly a variety of positive outcomes for children involved in extracurricular activities. Children who are involved in several different activities will have plenty of opportunities to make more friends. Plus, the activity your child is involved in teaches more skills than meets the eye. Learning about music entails learning about basic math. Learning gymnastics means learning about physics and physiology. For kids who might have trouble in a classroom environment, hands-on activities can be excellent for skill building and self esteem. In fact, extracurricular activities develop confidence, leadership, team-building, responsibility, and perseverance.
Look at your child’s schedule and take an inventory of the potential pitfalls as well. Is your child rushing from one activity to the next? He may be losing the opportunity to fully digest the new skills he is learning. Does your child seem stressed by the pace of her schedule? Does your family feel the stress of that schedule, too? It may make sense to cut back so that you don’t cause excessive distress to your child. Does your child feel pressured to succeed? Remember to allow your child to have fun with his activities, and to learn at his own pace. If the activity does not allow for a low-pressure, fun environment at such a young age, consider discontinuing it. Remember to leave space in the schedule for unscheduled time. Free play is important for kids socially, mentally, and emotionally.
Once you’ve found some equilibrium, remember to check in with your child regularly to discuss which activities she would like to stay involved in. Keep tabs on whether or not your child stays interested and engaged in each activity. Make sure you note that your child is gaining new skills, or new confidence, or even new social and emotional maturity, as a result of this activity. Consider your child’s life outside of these activities. Is he able to take a sufficient nap, spend enough time at meals, attend birthday parties of friends, and enjoy family time? Monitor your child’s balance, and he will get much more out of his activities. Sometimes, quality trumps quantity.