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Extra-curriculars and your toddler

Why you can skip them, guilt-free!

by MaryP  |  4552 views  |  8 comments  |        Rate this now! 

Craft classes, kindergym, playgroups and baby yoga. So much choice! How do you choose? Why not DO THEM ALL? It's good for your baby to be stimulated, to be enriched and learn stuff while their little minds are open to it all, right?

Wrong. Like most of the experts, I believe that overscheduling is not an enrichment of the child's life. In fact, it's actively bad for them. Lylah, at The 36-Hour Day, was musing about this recently; I think that when we're talking about toddlers, extra-curriculars are unnecessary. They're not wrong, but they're certainly not essential.

What, after all, do all those classes and activities provide?

Social skills? They learn those in daycare, with siblings, with neighbors. If you have an only child who doesn't attend daycare or preschool, a weekly playdate with a neighbour is all it takes. (And I don't mean a closely supervised, activity-packed, parent-directed social hour. Have a friendly coffee with the other child's parent, throw some toys in the kids' general direction, and let them get on with it.)

Cognitive skills? If the child helps out in the kitchen, follows Dad around the workshop, gets a couple of stories before bedtime -- that's math, language, and pre-reading.

Physical skills? Enrolling your 3-year-old in a local weekly soccer game is fun, but the exact same skills could be learned in an informal kickball game with a parent and maybe a neighbor child before dinner -- with no overt teaching, just playing for the fun of it.

Creative outlet? Yes, there are some darling art classes for toddlers, and it's so cute to see the kids all bent over their hunks of clay, but give a child access to paper, glitter, glue and playdough, and they can learn/experience all that at home. No problem.

So, why sign a child up for an activity? When you're the parent of a baby and/or toddler, the extra-curriculars are for YOU -- for your own social needs, to find your support group, to enjoy the sight of your child playing in a new environment, to get a break while someone else amuses them for an hour. There's nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, parent-nurturing is an excellent reason to sign a child up.

If you want to enroll your child in something, go right ahead. Make sure they enjoy it, keep it to one or two activities a week, and have fun! But if that's just not your style, you can relax in the awareness that the only compelling reason to do it is for you. If you don't want to, you don't have to -- and your child will be just fine!

About the Author

Mother of three (teens), step-mother of five (teens), home daycare operator of five (todders), and STILL SANE!! NOTHING is impossible...

Read more by MaryP

8 comments so far...

  • I'm really glad I read this article. I have tried to sign up my older son, now 8, for any and every activity since he was 3. I felt like I had to because everyone around me was involved, so why not my kids? It was exhausting and unnecessary pressure that I put on myself, because my son didn't enjoy being signed up and it showed. I think he was just perfectly content playing outside in an informal, unstructured way.

    I now feel that kids should be exposed to different activities, but I don't want to force them into anything they do not want. I don't want to convince them they should sign up for a sport or activity, because it should be something they want to do themselves. No one would force me, as an adult, to sign up for an extracurricular activity - so why shouldn't the same freedom be extended to my kids as well?

    My boys are currently enrolled in tae-kwan-do -- and nothing else. So maybe I won't be raising a soccer player, club scout, or football player... but I'm OK with that. This is what makes them happy.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by NJMom on 30th September 2010

  • I agree. My kids were happy to do the things with me around the house until they were about 3 or 4 - folding laundry (respectively jumping in the laundry pile), "cooking", etc, and I felt as if they were learning and developping just fine doing these things with me. On the other hand, I really liked activities and classes because I could meet other mothers there. I don't think my son benefitted much from his Gymboree class when he was 6 months, but I met a great friend there. So, ultimately, I think these baby and toddler activites are really more for moms to get together :)

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 27th September 2008

  • Good article. When my daughter was a few months we joined a local music class in our town. We did it twice-it helped me to meet some other mothers and children. It opened us up to playdates and new friends. I was glad we did it, but I could never do something every day. Even when she is older I would hate for her to be too busy. I think kids need some free time. Glad to see the article.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Christine on 23rd February 2008

  • I think the same thing can be said for older kids as well.

    Even with children in school all day, I know many parents who also have their 7 -12 year olds signed up for at least one sport, a Scout or Guide Program and an art class...all weekly programs.

    These kids go from one structured activity to another for up to 9 hours in one day and are still expected to do homework.

    That always just seemed to me to be too much. When do these kids just get to hang around and be?

    Great post.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Sheri on 19th February 2008

  • Florinda - We've developed this oddly saintly version of mothering, whereby it's entirely things we do selflessly, and to do anything for your own needs is a cop-out or something. It's a terrible, destructive standard. Bad for moms, and bad for children, and bad for marriages... It's just BAD.

    Kim - Parent-nurturing is not only allowed, it's *essential*. If you can nurture yourself while doing something your child enjoys, it's even better!

    Dani - You've raised an issue that didn't fit within this short piece, and that is the child with particular, quantifiable, diagnosed needs - medical, developmental, emotional. In this case, however, I think we can agree that the activities are not "extra-curricular", but are in fact a necessary part of their growth and development. I suppose it's possible to overdo even these, but when they're prescribed by a professional, they're as "optional" as wearing glasses when you're near-sighted.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by MaryP on 19th February 2008

  • So true that these days we overschedule our own lives so much that we tend to do the same thing with our children. Jeffrey has a few activities planned but I try to keep it flexible. It's no big deal if we don't go or can't make it. We do Little Gym classes with Jeffrey once a week. They were recommended by his physical therapist and he loves it and I love watching him interact with the other kids and learn new skills.
    He also has physical and occupational therapy once a month (although they will be ending quite soon). They come to the house though and interact with him there.
    Good post.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Dani on 19th February 2008

  • Thanks Mary! I do Music Together (once a week) and a Zoo class (about once a month) with my 2 year old (will be 3 soon) and I confess I have as much fun as he does. Thanks for recognizing the parent-nurturing side of these activities.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by clumberkim on 19th February 2008

  • Another great article, MaryP! In my observation, your point about toddler extracurriculars being more for the parents than the kids is totally true - but not always openly acknowledged, probably because it might sound "selfish." But it's not.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Florinda Pendley Vasquez on 18th February 2008