Kindergarten is fast approaching for my daughter and I find myself constantly answering questions about whether she will attend preschool. The answer is no and most parents are just asking but some have felt the need to have a firm discussion with me on how preschool helps with socialization skills. I am not opposed to preschool, I just prefer to continue teaching my daughter at home until the kindergarten adventure has to begin.
I agree that preschool can offer children an opportunity to develop many skills, including very important socials skills. However, these conversations started me thinking about other non-preschool opportunities for socialization that may be available in your community. As social skills are best taught through real life situations, I have listed a few alternatives to preschool that will help develop or enhance your toddler’s social skills:
- Gymnastics/Tumble Class. These classes are structured to teach the children to work as a team, sit quietly in a circle and pay attention, wait their turn, learn new physical skills, follow directions, perform in front of others, and provide much needed exercise that our children need. Not only will your child develop social skills within their own age group, but their self-esteem will grow week after week as they master somewhat complicated tumbling and gymnastics techniques. Be sure the class coach has a patient, encouraging and enthusiastic manner when working with the children and your child will grow into a more social, confident human within a short time.
- Gymboree Play and Music Classes. Yes, the clothing retailer. The company has an early childhood educational division that operates Gymboree centers throughout the US. Programs include classes such as music and art, and Centers even offer a two-hour schools skill class designed especially for 3-5 year olds. The Center offers a free class for every course offered so parents can preview a class before committing to a monthly plan. Parents are welcome to stay and observe or leave their child to experience the class on their own.
- Discovery Centers. If these centers are available in your area, take advantage of them when you can. Discovery Centers can offer 2 hour classes to weeklong camps for preschool age children. Children learn about science, are offered hands on experience such as working with clay, learning textures, art, playing music, etc. Brace yourself because some of the camps require you to leave the child with the instructor but remember that this exercise is to help the child develop social skills.
- Art Museums. Many museums offer storytime, camps, kids clubs, and kid related areas where the real fun begins. Children have a hands-on experience with other children their age including arts, crafts, using chalks, textures, etc. They have to learn to follow instructions, take turns, and share art supplies. Be sure to stand back and let your toddler learn to respond to the instructor and find his way in an unfamiliar group of kids.
- Your Local Zoo. Check your local zoo for toddler related classes. Some Zoo’s offer kid yoga classes, art classes, and toddler classes with arts and crafts, storytime, and the opportunity to touch and learn about select zoo animals. The toddler classes especially teaches the children to sit in a circle, learn to keep quiet, raise their hand to participate, and to listen and follow instructions about the assigned class project.
Whether you choose preschool or choose to keep your child at home until it’s time for kindergarten, you have options for teaching them valuable socialization skills. Do your research and look for the opportunities that will expose them to as much as possible. Yes, sometimes that will mean standing back and letting them learn their way but each little step they take will be one giant leap toward the self-confident beings we all want our children to become.