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Health & Balance

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Swimming continued...

Who knew? Swimming helps build coordination; it's also a huge confidence-booster, says Goldberg. "Kids understand that it's a valuable life skill, so when they master it, they feel extremely accomplished," she says.

Is it for my kid? Learning to swim is great exercise for both mind and body, not to mention a basic survival skill, so all kids should give it a shot. The sooner you get kids in the pool, the more comfortable they'll feel getting their head wet, going in the deep end, and eventually swimming (if you wait too long to start, kids can become fearful). Jodi Arlen, 43, of Bethesda, MD, says her daughter Sydney was initially terrified of the water -- but that all changed when she started taking swim lessons at age 2. "I think because she was doing it with her friends it became less scary and more fun," says Arlen.

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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 Sports are a great outlet for energetic children, and they can also draw out a child who is socially withdrawn, as long as the activity is age-appropriate.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."

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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.

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