Music lessons, art programs, soccer clubs, karate classes…the range of enrichment options available to the under five crowd seems to grow and grow. The benefits for enrolling preschoolers in these types of activities can be numerous – if the program is a good one. So what should parents be looking for when evaluating an enrichment class or program for their child?
While formal enrichment programs certainly aren’t mandatory in a young child’s life, kids that have the opportunity to take advantage of these types of experiences can really benefit. “Young children are sponges that are absorbing everything around them,” says Lisa Soper, Youth Services and Programming Coordinator for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County “They learn through play and interaction with others. It is especially important to provide opportunities for open-ended exploration, which allows children to develop skills like creativity, independence and problem solving.”
Molly Meiners Dressing, a Cincinnati parent of two preschool-aged children, has found that choosing an activity that capitalizes on her children’s interests has paid off. “My son loves music, so we enrolled him in a Kindermusik class and he has already taken to it. He is thrilled to see his friends, teacher, and participate in class,” she says. For her daughter, she chose an activity that allowed her to develop her natural ability in the pool. “My five-year-old daughter was a good swimmer at the beginning of the summer, so I decided to enroll her on the swim team, which I knew would be a stretch for her. As a result, she improved her swimming abilities, learned the importance of working together as a team, and hard work/practice.”
What to look for
What are the key considerations when choosing an enrichment program? Rachel Kramer, President of the Baldwin Music Education Center, says that parents often choose a program based on location and price. “These two considerations are important but should not be the end of a total vetting system when choosing a quality program.”
Kramer advises parents to look for places that have longevity and a proven track record. “Asking to observe a class with their children should be welcomed. Price should be considered in terms of total class time, materials, registration fee, discounts and compared accordingly.” She encourages parents to consider the inclusivity of a program, the resources utilized and any expectations parents or caregivers may have for their children. For music classes in particular, she says students should be taught by teachers who have a music degree and experience working in a teaching/pedagogical/group setting.
The best enrichment programs plant a seed of interest, says Soper, while also allowing for growth beyond an initial experience. She also believes that activities that follow a rigid structure or a pre-set outcome may be less beneficial than programs that allow children to explore and learn about their interests. “I also want to stress that children can learn from any experience,” says Soper. “Parents don’t need to spend a lot of money (or any money) on an activity to make it an enriching experience for their children.”
More than anything, a preschool enrichment program should be fun. Dressing says she likes to expose her children to a variety of experiences and “if a teacher makes the activity fun, I view it as a success.” Forcing a child to participate in an enrichment activity they don’t enjoy is likely to backfire. Spending a little extra time up front choosing the right program for your child can make all the difference – and encourage their willingness to try new experiences now and in the future.
Questions to consider when evaluating a program:
- Does the program have a good track record of consistency and longevity?
- Has my child expressed an interest in the activity I’m considering?
- Has the program been personally recommended by someone I know?
- Is the curriculum developmentally appropriate with reasonable expectations for preschoolers?
- Is the staff experienced – and do they enjoy working with young children?
- Is the staff to child ratio appropriate for the activity?
- Are there safety and discipline policies in place?