Monday, 5 July 2010

Keeping them busy but not too busy

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?


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  1. This post really got me to think about myself. I guess I prefer to be less scheduled in my own life, and did the same with my children when they were younger. We did lots of activities and play dates, but not classes. We too had many friends who did the classes and enjoyed them I just chose not too.

    Now my children are six and four and like you said are able to choose what they are interested in. We have done swimming, gymnastics, baseball, horseback riding, and are actually about to sign my son up for soccer. That will put both kids in one scheduled activity right now. For us that works well.

  2. I think it's really about balance, the individual child and personal preference of course!

    I'd suggest one or two classes per week for young children work well.

    I wouldn't like my own children to be over-scheduled and not have enough time to themselves, but equally I think that children can get a lot out of more structured activities and classes :)

  3. My kids are a little older now but I never over scheduled their activities when they were little. They've grown to be teens who enjoy have free time, being able to just be at home without any kind of commitment. It's good to let them flirt with boredom. In my experience that's when creativity takes over and the best games are invented, the best pictures drawn.
    I agree with your other readers: one or two classes is a good balance. A great exposure to what's out there.

  4. My boys seem to be at their best when they're engaged in some sort of structured activity so I've always taken them to quite a few classes (Tumbletots, swimming lesson, playgroup, sing & storytime @ the library) - they tend to go up the walls a bit if they're stuck at home for too long and it also helps me plan the week. Having said that, I have cut back quite a bit now though, as we were just too busy - its easy to forget that 'free play' or even things like helping to hang out the washing is all good for their development.


Thank you for reading. I'd love to have your comments and thoughts!