Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Does My Preschooler Really Need To Take Ballet?

A confession: I realize that my youngest child has barely ever been to the library and my 3-year-old thinks a fun weekend is one spent buying groceries. Her classmates spend their free time at dance or art or music classes, and affluent New York City toddlers can study anything from American Sign Language to sushi, so I wonder... should my preschooler be doing more?

There’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?

No comments: