little girl wearing ballet shoes
I get a lot of flak for the amount of classes in which I enroll my toddlers

My daughter (3.5) takes ballet, gymnastics, yoga, art class, soccer and spanish class. My son, who is 2, takes soccer, art class, yoga and spanish class. And although some of these classes happen over the course of their (pre) school day, I probably do have the "overscheduled" children everyone worries are going to burn out at the age of four.

But here's the thing: they love it.

The naysayers all say that children this age should be playing free form, building their strength on the playground and in playgroups and my children do those things, but they also crave the structure and discipline of classes.

The classes are also geared toward little learners. We are not talking screaming gymnastics coaches telling my 3-year-old to lose weight and focus on form. Her teacher is a kind, gentle woman who lets my daughter just explore the ropes, the parallel bars, the trampoline and the obstacle course.

The other kids may turn somersaults while my daughter rolls, but she is smiling and laughing and begs to go back on the floor when her class ends. That is success.

Obviously I also want my children to be coordinated at an early age and to start thinking about what they want to specialize in now athletically. I am a very driven runner and my husband was a Division One decathlete who won many state and national awards. Sports are vitally important to both of us.

I don't expect my children to excel in everything they do, but now is a great time for them to explore what they like and don't like. My daughter may decide she hates soccer and prefers gymnastics and then we know what she can pursue. I never force any activities on her. She was bored and hated the last music class we took together and so we quit.

It is also individual. My daughter is much more eager to do organized activities even when she was little. My son is a little more free form and benefits more from mommy and me classes and open space play time. His "soccer" is really more of a roll balls around and kick them with mommy and daddy than learn the rules and Win! Win! Win!

But I always wonder what is wrong with wanting our children to excel. "Slow parenting" sounds all fine and good, but it is also nice, wonderful, in fact, to have a passion and to pursue that passion hard. For me, running (and running fast) has been a point of pride, something that makes me feel good. I am not professional, but running a 3:48 marathon is a life accomplishment I feel really good about. It boosts my confidence. Why would I not want the same for my daughter?

I believe in nurturing talent from a young age and I also know my children better than anyone else. When I saw how fast my daughter can run, how she loved to climb and tumble and how muscular and compact she is, I knew she would be a natural at gymnastics. 

At the end of the day, I can always tell when my children have not been stimulated enough because they don't sleep as well. Yesterday, my toddler had four hours of park time, two hours of gymnastics, time to run in the backyard and dinner with family. When we got home, she slept for 13 hours straight.

If my children ever tell me they feel stressed or they are doing too much, I will let them slow down, but in the meantime, I want to expose them to a variety of things so they have a better sense of where their true passion lies. Yes, even as toddlers.

Do your children take classes?

 

Image ©iStock.com/mguttman