Let them play: 6 reasons why preschoolers don't need extra-curricular activities

Kinderling News & Features

Susan Taylor tried all the ‘kid’ activities when her firstborn was little – from sports to the arts. But it all got way too much, and here’s why you should reconsider enrolling into a dozen extra-curriculars for your little pre-schooler.

When my son was little, I got him involved in all kinds of different activities – swimming, indoor soccer, dancing, music, children’s library classes and literacy lessons – all before he went to school. It was the worst thing I could have done and here’s why I’m NOT doing it again with my youngest.

1. Life is busy

Life is so fast paced now and both parents and children are feeling the effects. Instead of simple, old-fashioned activities such as playing with blocks and playdough, helping out with the gardening or cooking, and going to the local park for a swing; young kids are now thrown into the car and bustled to and from various lessons and playdates.

We talk to other parents who have their toddler or pre-schooler doing everything on offer and feel pressure to do the same. We also want to give our child the best start possible and think that exposing them early to sports or music and arts, or even school readiness programs, will give them the edge they need. But in most cases, we’re wrong. It’s simply too much, too soon.

2. It's a struggle

I learned this the hard way with my first son who very quickly started resisting his little soccer classes after initially loving the activity. Suddenly it was a fight to get out the door and then when we were there, he would erupt into all kinds of tantrums, which was so stressful for me and of course terribly upsetting for him. I didn’t initially quit because we had paid for a whole term, and he had originally loved it, so each week I thought I could get back to where we started. But it just got worse until eventually I gave it away.

I only wish I’d done it sooner, or not signed up in the first place. We could have kicked the ball around in the back garden instead and saved us both a lot of hassle!

3. Kids can be fickle

I also found the same thing happened with other activities I got my son involved in, because children change their minds ALL the time when they’re little – one week they’re into Peppa Pig and the next it’s all about trains. And when it comes to extra-curricular activities, as parents we mistakenly take that initial interest as an ongoing passion and sign them up, forgetting that they’re still too young to really know what they’re into or how to be consistent with their commitment.

Sometimes we also want them to be exposed to something because WE like it, or think it will be good for them, without stopping to check if they like it too. And then you tell yourself the tantrum from last time was because they were tired, so you rearrange naps to make sure they’re rested before the lesson, but most of the time it doesn’t work.

4. Pressure can make them push back

If kids are resisting an activity and it becomes a constant struggle, then there can be a lot of negativity associated and they may not want to try it again in the future – even if they happen to have a natural talent for activity. So introducing them too early to certain things can actually end up having the opposite effect.

Even the literacy lessons I did for an entire year before my son started school (to give him a jump start on his education) didn’t work out so well in the end. While he liked the classes okay and did quite well, by the time he started Kindergarten he didn’t want to do writing anymore. In his mind he’d already been there and done that! As a result, it wasn’t until about term two that his teacher actually saw evidence that he could in fact write; until then he had simply refused to do it both there and at home.

5. Practice these skills at home

Why do we feel the need to drag our kids to these lessons when they don’t have to? Once they start school, we have YEARS of taking them to different sports training, dance recitals, and music lessons. And once they’re older, it’s easier to identify which of their interests is genuine and worth pursuing, rather than wasting time, money and energy on something that’s not working for anyone.

If you want to test the waters with an activity – do it at home! Whether it’s dancing in the living room, practicing letters with crayons, playing the family piano or throwing the footy around; just incorporate it into your time with them which is not only a great bonding exercise but completely free!

6. There’s one exception

Of course, as with anything, there are always exceptions to the rule. One area where I think preschool activities are beneficial is swimming lessons. We live in Australia where swimming and going to the beach is part of our culture and knowing how to swim is important for little ones. Other areas that can also be beneficial are when they really do need help in a particular area – such as Speech Therapy or Occupational Therapy (OT) – or where your child genuinely loves an activity and doesn’t ever resist it – which is what happened with my second son, although I still feel it wasn’t that necessary for him to do soccer and rugby at such a young age.

I’ll be avoiding this error next time

So no, I won’t be doing any special activities with my youngest unless the need arises. I will NOT go back to unnecessary tantrums that could easily have been avoided and focus instead on fun things to do around the house or neighbourhood instead. Being a third child, he’s already been exposed to lots of different things because of his older brothers, and that’s more than enough right now.

This article was originally published on Babyology.