Another mum and I were talking about various classes and activities in our local area the other day. She had just signed up her 18-month old son for Little Kickers and was telling me about what they did in the first class. Several of my mummy friends take their toddlers to similar classes and some mums I know fill up the week with all kinds of scheduled activities each day. Swimming classes, music classes, physical play classes like Gymboree and Tumble Tots, there are loads on offer. My friend and I were discussing what was the best balance in attending classes and having time for less structured play and exploration.
I haven't taken my son to any of these types of classes. I take him to our local library for singing each week. On a Tuesday we go to a brilliant local free playgroup where they have all kinds of toys and activities like water play, painting and varied forms of creative play. Every day we go to the park and meet up with a group of other mums and toddlers so he plays outside and mixes with other similarly aged children . A lot of the aforementioned activities require you to sign up and pay for a whole term in advance. I prefer a more flexible approach so if my son's ill or if we're away, I'm not wasting money on something we can't attend.
Having said that, I recognise that the range of classes available provide a great deal to children and parents. They can encourage physical development, confidence, creativity and social skills. Most programmes offer a free trial class initially so you can try it out and see if it's for you and your child before commiting to a term. Even if you don't plan on signing up to them or find them too expensive, it can be fun to do a round up of all the free trials in your area and try them out anyway! One of my friends told me she asks relatives for money towards classes for her two children, rather than more toys and clothes for birthdays and Christmas. I think that's a really good idea.
As children grow older and start school, they invariably take an interest in a few activities and might attend classes a couple of times a week after school. At that stage they are able to voice opinions on what they enjoy and want to pursue. Before that age, I think it's good to encourage a well-rounded, diverse series of activities. It's really down to personal preference and the services and facilities available in your local area as to whether you choose to provide activities via structured classes or not. It also depends on the type of parent or carer. If you or the person looking after your child enjoy creative play and have the time to spend trying out new things, going to groups or play areas, then that works well. For others, it works better to take the child somewhere where the creative environment and activities are readily provided for them.
Down time is equally important. Letting your child be, to play and explore surroundings as he or she likes, without any pressure to do something or perform is time well spent. It helps encourage their independence and their ability to play by themselves, to enjoy imaginative play and to develop their own sense of curiosity in the world around them.
How do your children spend their time? Do you take them to some of the kinds of classes mentioned at the beginning of this post or do your children have a less-structured social calendar?