Pros & Cons of Classes for Young Children

by ChristinaPilkington on October 26, 2011 · 2 comments

Every Tuesday morning I drive my kids to their swimming lesson.  I watch through the glass as they make their way across the pool, clutching their floating boards and tentatively letting go once in a while. A half hour later they walk, shivering, into the towels I hold open to them, talking about how they want to earn their next string (level) and how hard it is.

I hesitated about enrolling them in lessons. Not because they hadn’t asked for them because they had. My daughter says she wants to scuba dive someday, so I suggested it might be a good idea if she learned how to swim first J . It also wasn’t because they were enrolled in any other lessons, either. This would be the only scheduled, formal class they would attend.

 No, it’s because after the initial excitement wears off, there’s usually a downside to any class – there’s a focus on competitiveness in some cases, it’s a commitment that prevents you from taking advantage of other opportunities, and they’re often highly structured and limit creativity.

My children have been in ballet, basketball, a gym class, a farm class, and gymnastics. They’ve had both good and bad experiences with classes.  But do young children ages 3-9 need to take classes? What are the benefits and disadvantages of enrolling your children in classes?


Here are some pros and cons that I have experienced in enrolling my children in outside classes.

1. Pro – Classes offer a way for your child to spend time with other children.  If your children do not attend school, you might consider signing them up (if they are interested) in girl scouts, or a team sport, or another class where they can spend time with other children. We attended a farm program where the kids were able to feed and care for farm animals each week. They had a lot of downtime to talk with other kids and even play some games.

Con – Classes are often structured in a way that your child can’t communicate and play freely with other children. Many people who do not send their children to school get asked the socialization question: how do your kids get to spend time with other children? So we feel the need to sign them up for activities to put those fears to rest. But are they really getting to spend time with other children? Or is the class so structured that they barely have time to speak with anyone at all?

I’ve found that the best way to provide plenty of time for unstructured, free play with other children is to simply frequent playgrounds, parks and nature centers as often as you can. Let your kids play freely, without imposing rules or structures on their play.

2.  Pro – Classes can provide an experience for your child you cannot provide yourself at home.  My rule for classes with the kids is that I’ll only sign them up for a class if it provides a resource, knowledge, or skill that I cannot give them on my own. With young children, you can provide almost everything they need at home.  However, my daughter wanted to dance in a recital. I couldn’t give her that. The kids also wanted to walk on a balance beam.   I didn’t have a balance beam, so I enrolled them in a class so they could experience that.

Con  – Classes could be an experience they are not yet emotionally or developmentally ready for yet. The basketball class my son attended at our local YMCA is a good example of this. The class only had three boys in it, but the man running the class wanted them to focus on drills and exercises instead of simply allowing the boys to shoot, dribble and have fun playing basketball. My son lost any joy he had in playing after that.

I’ve learned to always ask detailed questions about how the class will be structured, how much input the kids will have in shaping the class, and how much free play there will be before enrolling in the class.

3.  Pro – Attending classes can be a way to get out of the house and into different environments. The farm program we attended was a great example of this. The kids were able to be around animals – feeding for them, and caring for them- in ways they would never experience in our immediate neighborhood. We’re going to have the opportunity to attend a one day, free class at the end of this week where the kids will learn the fundamentals of archery. We’ll get to be in a rural setting outdoors using equipment we wouldn’t normally use.

Con – Classes can be time-consuming and restrictive. Children that attend classes all day, every day have the worst of this. They spend the majority of their days indoors, often in the same room, doing many of the same things every day. Children who don’t attend school have much more flexibility, but it’s easy to fill up your schedule with so many commitments that their free time is greatly limited. I like to keep our fixed weekly commitments to two things at the most while my children are young.

Play is the most important activity for young children – free, unstructured play. This time should be guarded against at all costs.

4. Pro – Classes can provide a goal for children to work towards. In my kids’ swimming class they can earn different colored yarns that get tied to their suits. Each color represents a new set of skills they have mastered. They want to work hard to get to the next level; they can see each week how better of a swimmer they are then the week before. A recital is a good example of how classes can provide a real, authentic way to showcase the skills they have learned in class or in lessons. Classes that provide meaningful, authentic ways to show new skills or knowledge can be very beneficial.

Con – Classes may not necessarily provide a goal your children want to achieve. Grades in school are, for the most part, very artificial and not a true measurement of learning or progress. Children are required to be there and shamed if they do not receive As. When I attended school, I’d rush through homework and tests, memorizing enough to earn my A, just to please the adults in my life. I wasn’t asked to do anything that would make a meaningful difference in my life or anyone else’s life. If winning a trophy or contest isn’t personally meaningful for your children, or if they’re taking a class just to make you happy, then the class is probably just taking away time from more meaningful, personal projects and activities that your children would enjoy.

How about you?  What are your experiences with enrolling your young children in classes?  What have been the pros and cons?

Photo credit:

Have you signed up for my newsletter yet? Sign up below today and receive e-mail notice whenever I post something new. You’ll also receive a free copy of my e-book – A Thrift Store Curriculum.  PLUS you’ll also get bonuses, tips and news not found here on the site.


Previous post:

Next post: