Managing the Preschool Years : Weighing Activity Options for Preschoolers & Striking the Right Balance

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Weighing Activity Options for Preschoolers

Back in “Participating in Enrichment Activities,” we discussed ways to select the structured activities in which each member of your family will participate.

Table 1. Should You Involve Your Preschooler in an Enrichment Activity?
Answer the question on behalf of your child.Enter the number of your answer
a. Do you want to find out if your preschooler will like the activity?
  1. No

  2. Yes

  3. Already know your child will like it

b. Does something about it interest your child?
  1. No

  2. Don't know

  3. Yes

c. Does it sound like fun?
  1. No

  2. Yes

d. Will participating in the activity make your child a more well-rounded person (for example, add physical activity to an inactive lifestyle, expand the child's knowledge)?
  1. No

  2. Yes

e. Will the activity help your child attain a goal (for example, physical fitness,improved coordination)?
  1. 1. No

  2. 2. Maybe

  3. 3. Yes

f. Do you and your child like the people involved with the activity?
  1. No

  2. Don't know

  3. Yes

5–7Don't spend your time on it. 
8–10Try it if it fits easily into your family's and preschooler's schedules. 
11–13Try to work it into your schedules. 
14–16Give it priority over other choices. 

You'll want to keep in mind a few considerations that are particularly relevant to a preschooler's schedule:

  • Although your child may express an opinion as to whether he would like to sign up for a certain class, discovering what sorts of things really hold your preschooler's interest is largely a matter of trial and error.

  • All preschool activities require adult time, too. First, there is the time to get your child ready for the activity. Then there is the time to transport her there and back. In addition, many programs require a parent to stay in the room.

  • Some classes are designed for parents to actively participate along with their children. If you think you or your child would like for the two of you to spend a little more time together, then one of these classes may be the answer.

  • On the other hand, if you feel you could use a little more time in your day without your preschooler at your side, then you may want to steer toward an activity or two that let you go accomplish something else—or just sit quietly and read—while your child expends some energy.

Try to remember that no matter how appealing an activity sounds, if it doesn't fit smoothly into your family's schedule, then it's not the right choice. On the other hand, if the family's schedule doesn't allow time for the preschoolers to have activities of their own, then the schedule needs some adjustment. Allocating time to benefit all family members is always somewhat of a balancing act.


Because the average preschooler requires a minimum of 11 hours of sleep a day, whereas the average adult needs only 8 hours, parents should have at least 3 hours a day to spend at home preschooler-free.

To do list

Use the guidelines in Table 2 to adjust your preschooler's activities to create a balanced schedule

Table 2. A Preschooler's Day
Activity and Target TimePlaceSchedule A (Hours)Schedule B (Hours)Schedule C (Hours)
Sleep Target = 11Home11.0011.0011.00
Personal care Target = 1Home1.001.001.00
Target = 2Preschool 0.250.25
Day care  0.25
Enrichment activitiesHome2.00  
Target = 2Preschool 2.002.00
Day care  0.50
Quiet time or nap timeHome2.001.751.25
Target = 2Preschool 0.250.25
Day care  0.50
Structured timeHome2.001.00 
Target = 2Preschool 1.001.00
Day care  1.50
Self-directed timeHome2.001.500.50
Target = 2Preschool 0.500.50
Day care  1.00
Flexible timeHome2.002.000.75
Target = 2Day care  0.25
Total 24.0024.0024.00

Schedule A: Home all day

Schedule B: 4 hours of preschool a day

Schedule C: 4 hours of preschool + 4 hours of day care a day

Striking the Right Balance

Striking the right balance for your family means making sure that the needs and interests of everyone are taken into account and accommodated on an evenhanded basis. In one sense, that's what this whole book is about: organizing the family's schedule so that it works for everyone. Striking the right balance for your preschoolers means making sure that they are not just relegated to tagging along with the rest of the family.

But we don't mean that you have to cram every free moment with a structured preschool activity. For a young person, everything in the world is a new experience. Every task, no matter how repetitious to an adult, is a learning opportunity to a four year old. So, although preschoolers don't always need a structured activity, they do always need time to process what they've experienced throughout the day. In part, this is why young children need more sleep than adults. Some quiet time during the day also helps their learning.


How many times have you, or another parent or older sibling you know, said something like, “She helped me bake the cookies, and it took me three times longer than if I'd done it by myself”?

A simple adjustment to this way of thinking will help you feel as though your schedule is much more on track. Let's say baking the cookies by yourself would normally take you 30 minutes, but with your child's “help,” it takes you an hour and a half. And let's say that you would like to spend an hour of “quality” time with your child every day, but you find that making the time is difficult. Now, instead of saying that baking the cookies took you an hour and a half, why not think of this situation as having spent an hour and a half of quality time with your child and having managed to get freshly baked cookies as a bonus. You've exceeded your goal of time with your child and still managed to bake the cookies!

So, next time you're ready to tell your young child you can play with him after you've dusted the house, remember that preschoolers love to emulate and help you, and then hand him a feather duster. Why is it that he sees vacuuming the carpet, scrubbing the sink, and doing the laundry as fun, and you don't?

After you take into account the amount of time a preschooler needs for sleeping (11–13 hours), eating, and personal care, you'll see that her day can fill up pretty quickly. How you need to structure her time at home will depend on whether she is at home all day, or in preschool, or in preschool and day care, for part of the day. Table 2 illustrates how a preschooler's time might be allocated. You should take a close look at your preschooler's schedule to make sure that her use of time is properly distributed.

To do list

  • Select chores for your preschooler that match her abilities

  • Set up a preschool planner

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