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Ready, Set, Learn!

Sports

When's my kid ready? Introduce your kid to basic sports moves (e.g., tossing a ball back and forth) around ages 2 to 3, and striking a ball off a tee from 4 to 5. She can play T-Ball games from 4 to 7. Hold off on other competitive sports until age 8.

Who knew? Sports actually enhance brain development and functioning, according to Stephen J. Virgilio, Ph.D., author of Active Start for Healthy Kids . Exercise primes the brain for learning by increasing circulation and upping the flow of oxygen.

Is it for my kid? Sports are a great outlet for energetic children, and they can also draw out a child who is socially withdrawn, as long as the activity is age-appropriate. "Before age 8, kids are not developmentally ready for competition," Virgilio says. "When something goes wrong — say, they strike out — they see it as a personal failure rather than an athletic failure, and they can't distinguish between the two."

Find a class near you: gymboreeclasses.com; thelittlegym.com; soccertots.net; littleleague.org.

Art

When's my kid ready? "Creative arts" (e.g., finger painting) can be introduced between ages 1 and 3, while lessons in technique (e.g., how to work with watercolors) can begin from age 4.

Who knew? Children who take part in an art program improve in a range of literacy and critical-thinking skills, according to a recent study from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. "Art is a precursor to reading and writing because storytelling starts happening," says Church. "They draw a picture and tell an entire story based on these scribbly things. And the scribbles gradually become symbols, letters, words, and full stories" — the building blocks of literacy.

Is it for my kid? Art, like music, is a universal inclination, but kids who sit still easily for projects and those who tend to graffiti everything in the house may tune in to it more. Painting and drawing can be good for kids who need work on fine motor skills, and art is a great confidence-booster for those with developmental delays.

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

Stick With It or Quit?

Before you throw in the towel on swim class, find out why your child doesn't like it: Talk with him afterward, when the situation is not so emotionally charged, suggests Goldberg. Maybe the teacher yells or the class is too difficult. "In some cases, you may uncover a problem that's easily fixed," says Goldberg. If your child is preverbal, look at everything from the teacher and students to the timing (is the class close to naptime?). Know your child and gauge his comfort level. "If you can get your child to cooperate, do it," Goldberg says, because your kid will learn and have fun. "But if an activity is causing too much discomfort, stop and try again another time."

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