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Are our children doing too much?

Toddler playing football

While there are many benefits to participating in group classes, it’s wise to start slowly and keep plenty of playtime on your tiny tot’s schedule.

Participating in extra mural activities offers children a variety of benefits. For one, they may reach many mini milestones that they perhaps would otherwise have struggled to accomplish. They also have a chance to learn vital social skills, such as turn-taking and winning/losing gracefully, while participating in team sports especially.

Children learn how to manage frustrations, and this tolerance promotes success in all learning areas, especially in the classroom. For many children who have low postural tone, having a busy extra mural activity schedule helps build up tone in their muscles, which they need for maintaining an upright sitting posture.

While learning new sports and activities, children also learn about rules and how to follow them – this helps them to follow instructions in other contexts too. Some sensory sensitive children need to participate in calming sensory extra murals (such as swimming) to help them get through a stimulating day without becoming overloaded and thus teary, aggressive or emotional.

But, rather than worrying that if you don’t start early enough your child has less chance of becoming the new generation Margot Fonteyn, Ryk Neethling or Tiger Woods, focus on fun and building confidence, and their interest will last longer.

How do I know he’s ready?

You will know that your little one is ready for some quality time with mom/dad/nanny or granny in a group setting if:

  • He is comfortable and enjoys the attention he gets while at the supermarket
  • He is able to interact easily with some background noise
  • He is alert and wide eyed, seemingly ready for stimulation
  • He enjoys watching others
  • He doesn’t become quickly overwhelmed by music and movement as many groups incorporate these elements
  • He can remain awake for 30-45 minutes
  • He manages a play date with one or more little friends without it ending in a meltdown
  • When you as a caregiver feel ready and up to embarking on a weekly outing with your baby
  • For older toddlers, can they wait their turn and share?

Focusing on fun

“Children tend to pick up on their mom and dad’s and other important carers’ attitudes. They are very sensitive and understand more than we realise,” says occupational therapist Lourdes Bruwer.

Encouraging them to focus on the fun rather than on competition really starts at home. Providing them with opportunities to both win and lose in the safety of their own home, with their own family first, is important to help them practice being a graceful loser and winner. Initially it may be helpful as a parent to over exaggerate your response to winning and losing gracefully. Children learn best from modeling. Playing games such as musical chairs, pick up sticks, snakes and ladders, card games, jumping or crab races and so on can provide the opportunity for you to help your little one.

How do I choose the right activity?

Children tend to show us what skills are in their developmental spotlight if we look closely and carefully enough, says Lourdes. Watch your little ones and see what skills they are honing. If they wriggle every time music is being played – they may be showing you they are ready for a musical extra mural. Many extra murals offer a trial class, so pick 2 or 3, trial them and involve your little one when making the final choice.

How much is enough?

Children will show you that they are doing too much with their behaviour, says Carly Tzanos, one of Nubabi’s occupational therapists.

“These warning signs may include: becoming more tearful, aggressive, whiney, overly quiet, withdrawn, boisterous, loud, clingy etc. Being too busy may impact your little one’s ability to fall asleep – they may take longer to settle down, or their ability to stay asleep – they may toss and turn and wake frequently. If they do not receive the just-right challenge in the extra mural you are excited for him to try, they may have an initial negative experience which will colour their willingness to participate in that or any other structured extra mural long-term,” says Carly. When you are first starting extra murals – try choose one that you can attend with him. This will help your little one get into it.

“Start with what they are interested in, as then you will have their motivation and thus active participation – remember learning happens best when they are having fun,” says Lourdes. Also don’t break the bank – stick to your budget so that you can fulfill the initial commitment to the extra mural long term.

Let children play as long as possible without pressure; when they are ready let them enjoy a variety of activities, while still making time for daily down time, ‘free’ play and unstructured play.

This way they get the best of both.

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