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If only parenting was cut and dry. We all want the same for our children—the very best, whatever that is. Unfortunately, the best can be very elusive. Is it better to hover over our little ones when they take their first steps, or is ‘parenting from a distance’ and allowing scrapes and falls the better course? How much pressure or gentle reminding does a child need to do well in school? And how many extracurricular should he or she be signed up for—is more better, or should substantive ‘down time’ be scheduled as well?
Which is better for the little guys—scheduled gymnastics classes, or unorganized, almost uncontrolled free play?
Benefits of Gymnastics
Gymnastics classes have lots of benefits, especially with the small amount of physical activity many of our children get in their daily lives. Regular participation in gymnastics can give a small child wonderful flexibility and agility, help regulate weight, and increase strength. Success at gymnastics is likely to give a good boost to your child’s self image, and make him or her walk with more confidence anywhere. And a good gymnastics workout ‘wakes up’ almost all of your child’s muscles– very beneficial, to say the least.
Benefits of Free Play
But simple uncontrolled play has many benefits as well. Not only does your child exercise during playtime, he or she also gives her mind a workout— in social, analytical, and emotional areas. Research shows that young monkeys who weren’t given opportunity to play ended up, as adults, controlled by fear and unable to cope with novel situations. Children who don’t have self-directed play time end up dull, incapable of independent thought, and prone to emotional disorders.
Back to the Question
What to conclude, then? Gymnastics are a good thing, and they’ll give your child some wonderful ‘extras’ for life. Free play, though, doesn’t fall in the range of optional: it is an essential for proper development. In fact, child who doesn’t get enough free play ends up far more deprived than one who grew up in the ghetto. So if you have to choose one? Free play wins every time. Gymnastics are wonderful if your child has a relatively unstructured schedule and lots of downtime, but if you’re looking at one of the last few unscheduled slots on the schedule, don’t do an organized activity. Give junior some time to be himself.