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Ready, Set, Learn!


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Aviva Patz

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Ballet, piano, French lessons, soccer practice. You and your child have dozens of fun-sounding classes to choose from, but how do you know which activity to choose and when to start? And how do you know if you're pushing your kid too hard? "What's most important is simply exposing kids to a variety of activities so that they'll discover what they like and are good at," says Ellen Booth Church, a Key West, FL-based former teacher and author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Preschool But Didn't Know Whom to Ask . Want to find the right class for your kid? Here's how.

Dance

When's my kid ready? Introduce him to dance concepts, sometimes called "creative movement," at 2 to 3 years old. He can start instruction in ballet, modern, jazz, or even hip-hop at 4 to 5 years old.

Who knew? The running, skipping, and twirling in dance moves can boost reading and math ability because they require counting steps, noting patterns and rhythms, and progressing in a sequence — all skills that are also involved in both.

Is it for my kid? If your child spins down the street — rather than preferring to sit quietly in a sandbox — dance may be a good outlet for her physical energy. It's also valuable for kids with language delays because, as Church explains, "They may find it easier to express themselves physically than verbally."

Find a class near you: clickforlessons.com; arthurmurray.com.

Drama

When's my kid ready? She can start with creative dramatics or imagination games at 3 to 4 years old. By age 6, most kids are ready for full-on theater classes.

Who knew? The act of improvising — inventing characters, plots, and dialogue — lays the groundwork for creative writing, storytelling, and independent thinking down the road, Church says. Socially, kids learn to become part of a group, which means cooperating and using some self-control (because not everyone can go first). Kids also get a crash course in listening — they have to pay attention to the lines being said so they can respond accordingly.

Is it for my kid? Drama is a great outlet for kids who enjoy being the center of attention. "In a class, there are lots of stars, and a child learns that stars shine at different times," says Church. But drama can also be beneficial if your child has trouble expressing emotions — or if the family is going through a divorce, a new baby, or another transition that can leave kids unsettled — because acting can bring those emotions to the surface or help provide a release. Melissa Sanders, 45, of Montclair, NJ, enrolled her daughter Laurel in a theater program at age 5. "She was the kind of kid who didn't raise her hand or speak up in class, but in theater she'd get caught up in the creative process, and her shyness would vanish," Sanders says.

Find a class near you: tadatheater.com; helenogrady.com.

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