Whether it is summer break, school vacation, or just the regular day-to-day of the school year, parents struggle to find a balance between structured activities/lessons and down time at home. And while toddlers and preschool age children thrive with routine, children can be over-scheduled or struggle from a lack consistency. The discussion about the importance of play is not new and there is yet another body of research that supports organized activities (such as music lessons) at an early age. So what is the right answer? How do parents know when they are planning appropriately for their child?
As with many areas of parenting, there is no clear right or wrong answer. Finding the right mix for your family can depend on each individual child as well as a parent's schedule. What we can say is that there are some helpful recommendations to consider as you organize the right approach for your family.
1. Evaluate the Daily Schedule. Whether you are a stay at home or working parent, finding the right mix of activities can be a challenge. Toddlers and preschoolers are developing social skills and enjoy the opportunity to interact with other children their own age. Consider these recommendations as you plan:
2. Allow for Independent Exploration. Many parents feel pressure to be their child's playmate at all times. While there are benefits to your participation in play (e.g. role modeling), it is actually valuable for your child to explore and create independently. For example, pretend play is an important part of a toddler's or preschooler's overall cognitive, social and emotional development. Skills such as seeing the perspective of others and divergent thinking (the ability to come up with different ideas and story themes) are fostered through pretend play as well. As you plan for unstructured time in your child's schedule, consider how he/she might enjoy playing alone in those moments.
3. Visual Cues. No matter how simple or complex your family's schedule might be, keeping a weekly calendar in the kitchen (or other common space) allows for your toddler/preschooler to anticipate what activities happen when. This tools does not need to be fancy or elaborate, but can include a picture of your child at an activity (e.g. at the pool for swim lessons) or a symbol (e.g. musical note for music class). Knowing what to expect is helpful for your child and the outline of activities will help parents see what the balance is between structured activities and opportunity for free play at home.
When it comes to planning with a toddler or preschooler there is no magic recipe that works for every family. Ultimately, you should utilize the strategies that work best with your personal circumstances. In doing so, make sure to plan for down time and to provide strategies that will support your toddler or preschooler along the way.
Have a strategy for balancing structured activities with free play opportunities at home? Join the discussion below and share your ideas!
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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