Does My Preschooler Need Extra-Curricular Activities?

Categories: Making Time, Parenting, The Juggle


tiny soccer players.jpgThere’s an old joke about what happens with kids in a large family.

With the first kid, the joke goes, you take her everywhere — playgroups, Mommy and Me gymnastics, the park, music lessons, the library, baby ballet, etc. When the second kid comes along, you take them to playgroups, the park, and the library. With three, you take them to the park. But by the time numbers four and more arrive, you’re taking them everywhere again — to the grocery store, the drug store, the dry cleaners, the doctor’s office…

It’s certainly true in our family.

Our 14, 12, and 9 year olds are plenty busy, but I think our 15-month-old has set foot in the library maybe three times in his life (and he slept through each visit). We have about a kajillion books at home, of course, but still. On Saturday, our 3-year-old wanted to “Go out and DO SOMETHING,” and when I asked her what she wanted to do, she said, “Let’s go to COSTCO and RUN ERRANDS!”

I’m not sure how guilty to feel about this. On the one hand, I’m all for kids having plenty opportunities to learn and grow and do things that have captured their interest, but I’m talking about a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old here. They’re in preschool and daycare while my husband and I work full-time, and, honestly, we’re so busy during the week that it’s kind of a relief to not have extracurricular commitments on the weekends. But, on the other hand… am I depriving my kids?

A New York Sun article described the mind-numbing array of mind-enriching activities available to well-heeled toddlers in specialty schools in New York City. In addition to its American Sign Language classes, miniMasters offers Suzuki-method violin, piano, and guitar lessons for children 3 and older; and courses in French, Spanish, and Mandarin to its members,” the article points out.

So, is my 3-year-old missing out because she’s never taken an art class (let alone Mandarin)?

According to the experts, maybe not. Studies on overscheduling tend to focus on the effect it has on older kids and teenagers, but even toddlers and preschoolers may be feeling the burnout. “Kids are often kind of overscheduled even as toddlers, even as preschoolers,” Kenneth A. Haller, assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. Other articles point out that stress may lead little kids to act out at school — or beg you to let them stay home.

Scheduling and stress aren’t the only issues, though — there’s also the expense. Highly specialized classes can cost $700 and up per session; it’s not uncommon for parents in major metropolitan areas to spend $75 or more per piano lesson for their preschooler.

Yes, getting into a great college is a concern, but how well-rounded does one have to be for pre-K? It makes me wonder how many guilt-ridden working parents parents are trying to buy quality time for their kids instead of spending quality time with them. Or how many moms and dads have signed junior up for soccer and art and music because “all her friends are doing it.”

Keeping up with the Jonses? I can barely keep up with the Alphonses.

What extra-curricular activities do your kids do? How old were they when they started?

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8 comments so far...

  • I have to agree with you, Lylah. Activities are nice for first-time moms (like me!) because they get mother and baby out to meet people and socialize. But as more kids arrive it’s not really so necessary. Nice, but not essential. And I so agree that everyone, kids included, are overscheduled. Children should have time to relax, rest, and play!

    Diane  |  February 11th, 2008 at 11:55 am

  • I agree with Diane, above. I’m home full-time with my 3-year-old and 1-year-old, and my older daughter attends nursery school 2 mornings a week. Beyond that, though, we do one (or less!) structured class/activity at a time–i.e., toddler tumbling, mommy-and-me-type early childhood classes, etc. They don’t need more than that at this age! And I find that we all do better with a more relaxed schedule. I keep thinking, life is going to get a lot more hectic when they’re in grade school and up—why rush things now?

    Shannon  |  February 11th, 2008 at 1:58 pm

  • Between work, school, preschool, and daycare, I tend to think there’s quite enough scheduling going on already. And while doing chores and errands with your kids might not sound like “quality time,” it’s real-life time. Things have to be done to keep the household and the family running, and I don’t see why the kids can’t be included in that.

    You point about kids “having plenty of opportunities to learn and grow and do things that have captured their interest” is important - emphasis on THEIR interest. Sometimes it seems that kids are in activities that their parents want more than they do - and kids’ interests may be fleeting when they’re very young, so does it make sense to invest a lot in classes at that stage?

    But Lylah, your three-year-old made me laugh - that’s a pretty typical weekend activity for my family. :-) My stepkids get excited about going to Target.

    Florinda  |  February 11th, 2008 at 2:50 pm

  • Diane: I think the socialization-for-new-mom aspect is a great point… I have to say that I do wish I had done more as a new parent for just that reason!

    Shannon: You are so right… it gets so much more hectic later, and then you’ll wish you had slowed the pace (and the expectations) earlier…

    Florinda: Target is addictive! My kids love Target, too…
    Great point about “real-life” time. I’ve heard horror stories about older kids who don’t know anything about real-life work and then hit college and have no idea how to take care of themselves. And I’ve heard horror stories about younger kids who are enrolled in classes that their parents think they ought to want instead of one that they actually want to attend themselves — or parents who’ve shelled out a lot of $$$ for, say, a great cello and then the kid wants to quit after a lesson and a half…

    Lylah  |  February 12th, 2008 at 11:44 am

  • We signed our 3.5 yo up for soccer classes (8 weeks one 1 hour session a week) and let the 1.5 yo play in the toddler section. It is something that they both can do at the same time in the same location. Each “sports” session is about $80 and the play section for the other child is $10/visit or $50 if a sibling is in a class. We have done two sessions so far and he loves it. He wants hockey next, but I’m not sure we’re ready for that type of commitment.
    The boys run errands with me or the nanny and don’t have a busy schedule. I’m not too worried about it and can’t see paying big money for a class that is nothing more than paint smocks and fancy paper.

    Both my boys love going to BJs and fight about who gets to hold the receipt for the man to check on the way out of the door.

    klg  |  February 12th, 2008 at 9:11 pm

  • klg: See, that seems reasonable to me. It’s something your boys enjoy, it’s not a ridiculously huge time commitment, and it’s a reasonable cost…

    I’m also looking at it from the other side of the equation… I was one of those kids with tons and tons of extracurricular activities. I loved most of them and did most of them for many years (though i hated my ballet class by the time I finally quit — at age 15, after having taken classes for more than 8 years). It’s only now, as an adult, that I’m shocked by the money my parents must have shelled out and by the time suck — at one point, I was on a statewide gymnastics team that practiced 5 days a week for 4 hours a day! And I was taking violin, piano, and ballet at the same time!

    On the flip side, I was so busy that I didn’t date until I went to college, which may have been my parents’ intent after all…

    Lylah  |  February 12th, 2008 at 9:27 pm

  • I am sorry but the
    “makes me wonder how many guilt-ridden working parents parents are trying to buy quality time for their kids instead of spending quality time with them”
    hardly applies . Taking your three old to Costco is not spending quality time with her… Its perfectly fine to choose a park outing over an expensive music lesson; but running errands can hardly be counted as quality time or grossly beneficial to her development.

    Pallavi  |  April 27th, 2009 at 6:04 pm

  • Hi, my daughter is 5 years old and has just started Girl Scouts this fall and will be beginning private piano lessons next month with her current Pre-K music instructor that has a program set up with her preschool. I don’t plan to enroll her in anything else, like you said it can be stressful if they are over-scheduled. I chose these activities because we can do Girl Scouts together and have more life experiences based on our faith, I never got to be a Girl Scout and thought it would be nice to do this with her because all of my friends growing up had so much fun. My daughter has a genuine interest in music and I chose to enroll her in lessons because of the many benefits such as better focus, better grades, and being involved in something constructive rather than sitting at home in front of the television. I have read in many studies that music is a wonderful anti-drug as well. Thanks for the insightful blogs, keep them coming!

    Shandi Foster  |  December 13th, 2010 at 2:16 pm