Once, while I was waiting outside my son’s chess class, I saw the mother of a three-year-old engaged in a heated discussion with the chess coach about why he refused to coach her son. The coach kept trying to explain that chess was not a game that a three-year-old could grasp, but the mother wasn’t convinced.
It’s easy to feel that your child may fall behind if you don’t put her in a club everyone else is joining. But not all enrichment programs are the right fit for your child or family. Consider these tips to help guide you towards choosing enrichment programs that will benefit your preschooler and family.
Ask Yourself Why
When my kids were in preschool, it was easier for me to take them to a structured activity than have them at home demanding my attention or making a mess. Activities were also the place for kids to socialize since they met other children their age. Still, enrichment does not come cheap, and I realized that there were far more cost-effective and fun ways to achieve the same objectives. We started participating in informal play groups where a couple of parents took turns every week hosting playdates while the other parents took a break.
In their book, “The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap”, authors Nicole Wise and Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld warn that over-scheduling activities has contributed to family stress and lower self-esteem among kids. When children are constantly ferried from one activity to another, pressed to practice or rehearse, they feel they must perform well at all times. The authors argue that parents and kids need down-time together instead of engaging in frequent self-improvement pursuits.
Set a Budget
If you have more than one child, the cost of enrichment can quickly ramp up. Each September, my family creates a budget and list of activities that the kids will participate in for the year. This ensures that we are not jumping into every new activity that comes on the market.
Giving A Head-Start
Enrichment starts early these days. Many math programs take in children as young as two and a half years old, while music and martial arts lessons are available to three-year-olds. As parents, we often feel the need to give our kids an edge by starting activities at a young age. Depending on the child and the club, it may or may not pay off. For activities that require focus and following directions (such as chess), you may not find strong benefits for young children since they’re not developmentally ready for these skills.
Group Activities vs. Individual Pursuits
Preschoolers are still learning to share and play cooperatively with other kids. Activities that give them an opportunity to practice these skills can be helpful. In the early years, group lessons may be a better choice than private coaching, which you can start once the child is older and shows interest in a particular area.
Attend the Trial Class
Many enrichment classes offer you the option to attend a trial class with your child. Don’t miss the opportunity! This is especially helpful when it comes to franchise-based classes, since the trial will allow you to test out which branch best meets your needs.
Keep It Fun
Take the pressure out of performing well, and let the activities be a space for exploration. Keeping the fun element is important to ensure that preschoolers don’t lose interest in the pursuit.
There is no limit to enrichment opportunities for our kids today. As parents, we need to recognize our own motivations in enrolling kids in programs and be practical about our choices and expectations.
You might also be interested in reading: Preschool Choices for Your Child.
You can also use Noodle to search for enrichment programs for your child.
Dr. Alvin Rosenfed & Nicole Wise: Hyper-Parenting : The Overscheduled Child, 2001.