15 Top Tips for Helping your Child Settle into Toddler Activity Classes
We as parents always have both the trepidation of taking our child to their first child activity class merged with pride, excitement and of course hoping that they settle and enjoy the experience. New environment, new people sounds and experiences can be daunting for our little ones.
- Excite them during the week
Toddlers are excitable creatures – that’s why so many people want to work with them! Building up the excitement with your child throughout the week through simple statements such as “We’re going to gymnastics on Saturday!” to “…only three more sleeps until gymnastics” can really set a high level of anticipation for our toddlers. We all know how to push our own toddlers buttons – so let’s get them excited about their toddler activity class.
- Ask lots of questions beforehand and Tell your child what to expect
There are a number of tips for choosing toddler activity classes and during the decision process, it is important to ask lots of questions about what will happen in the class. What kit is required (if any) for the class? Do you need to bring a drink? Who will be teaching your toddler? What activities will your toddler be taking part in? Higher level questions might include asking about the philosophies behind the teaching methods and what levels of progress to expect from your child’s first session. The best activity class providers will provide this information without being asked – but all of the information provided will allow you to manage your own expectations and understand what is in store for you and your toddler.
Toddlers are pretty smart cookies. While our 18 month old might not understand that the majority of toddlers only participate in 30% of their first toddler football class, they will understand you telling them that the most important thing is that they have fun! If you have asked about the sorts of games that your toddler will be taking part in, you can create excitement, but also comfort. If you know that the class involves learning to stretch like different animals and that your child’s favourite animal is a giraffe, this can provide a familiar reference for them. Familiarity is the key to toddlers settling into a new environment, so anything that we can do to provide this feeling can really help.
- Arrive Early
A toddler activity class can often provide a child with their first encounter with a structured learning environment. A new location, a new room or sports hall and new faces of teachers and other parents and children can create quite a daunting environment for any little one (or parent for that matter)! Arriving early allows our toddlers to adjust their new environment and meet their teachers and coaches. This period of adjustment will also allow them a chance to sense out the new environment and become comfortable. Ask your coaching team if your toddler can borrow a piece of equipment – a set of cones or a rugby ball – to help them settle in and increase that sense of familiarity.
- Don’t push them
Is your toddler quite shy? Does he or she spend a lot of time hiding behind your leg? Do not worry! This is entirely normal and any toddler activity provider worth their salt will only employ teachers who are patient and possess skills to assist you in teasing your tot into their new environment. The danger here is being over-pushy – we need to place ourselves in the place of the toddler and see what they see. The whole experience can be quite daunting for your little one and pushing them only makes them more anxious. Allow them to sit and watch with you for as long as needed. The best teachers will continually pop over and try to entice your toddler into action with little toddler teasing techniques.
- Maintain Realistic Expectations
Many parents discontinue toddler activity classes because they are frustrated at their child’s lack of apparent progress, only to find that a week later, their toddler starts to mimic some of the learnings from the class. We need to exercise patience at all times. The best toddler activity classes will use a cycle of repetition, as this is one of the key techniques in toddler learning. It is very unlikely that you will see large improvements in your child’s abilities after one session – in sport, these improvements are generally observed after 4-6 weeks of a course. Remember – our toddlers can’t always tell us what they are learning – but they will often show us later on.
- Celebrate Every Achievement
Lose yourself in the class – celebrate not only your toddler’s first forward roll, but also the time that the coach asked them to sit down with the other children and they did! Each of these little learnings benefit their social and cognitive skills. Reinforcing these behaviours and praising children for them means that they will be more likely to repeat them…meaning that they settle far faster into their new activity.
- Ask for feedback.
This has two parts – firstly, ask your toddler what they liked most. Can they remember who the coaches name was. What did they learn today and even remind them of a great goal or cone they knocked over or picked up for the coach. Who did we meet today and pick out one of their friends. They will often then ask to go back and see Coach Lizzy or Coach Matt. Better yet, you may well find them pretending to be their favourite teacher around the house!
The second part is to ask the teacher for feedback – how did your toddler perform? Was it in line with their expectations of a first class? What can you do to help them learn? Are there any activities that you can practice at home with your toddler? Most organisations will provide this feedback as a matter of course and excellent activity providers will be able to show you the areas of the curriculum that you can practice with your toddler.
Sometime our toddlers are just not up for a new experience. They can have an attack of shyness, they can feel overawed or just that feeling of being exposed and sensitive to the new environment. It pay to persevere. There are many things to get used to and they may take some time to settle. So perseverance is a great asset to have. Bringing them back a few times will let them get used to the new setting, the new instructors and new activities. Remember – at 2 years of age, our toddlers are going through all sorts of changes – from growth to vocabulary spurts – let’s give them time to settle in to the new class.
- Have Fun
They know when mum or dad is having fun too. Kids feed off our own vibe – so make sure you are engaged, looing excited and having a laugh and joke with the activity coach other parents. Smiles all round makes for a far easier environment for a toddler to set into, rather than a concerned gaze.
- Invite One of Their Friends.
Often kids settle when they feel familiar with their peers. If you can go with other parents and a child they are familiar with then this helps. It can turn into a familiar playdate but just in another setting! All the new environment, the coaches, teachers and games become a lot palatable for a child to cope with a little help from a friend.
- Get involved
It can often help if parents go and support the child on their first few sessions by getting down and dirty on the floor with them. But be careful that they don’t rely on you too much. Gradually pulling away once they build up the slightest confidence can avoid them clinging to you as opposed to joining in fully. A great technique here is to have your child hold not only your hand, but also the hand of one of the coaching team. As they become more comfortable with the coach, they will learn to hold only their hand and you can sit back, relax and enjoy the show from a distance.
- Pull Away.
Sometimes, toddlers and children will go through an extremely clingy phase. This can cause a number of parents to get a little frustrated with their little one and one technique that can be tried is to leave the room entirely. Now, this is not a good idea if your toddler is red in the face and streaming with tears, but it can give them a gentle nudge to leave you and join in. Often we find that the toddler might be more attached to mum or dad in particular and that when a different parent attends a class, the child behaves completely differently. Have a chat with your toddler’s teacher about nipping out of the room at regular intervals (and peering through the glass without being seen). Most organisations are happy to do this, but don’t wander too far!
Practicing the activity between lessons is a great way for making your little one feel comfortable. You might want to repeat a chant they learned or what they are meant to do with a ball. And remind them in the days that follow. Which foot did you kick with? What part of the foot do you kick with? Children settle more when they understand more and remember what they can do – they feel even more settled when they can achieve even the slightest new skill or talent. This helps them feel familiar, to remember and then to feel less overawed in the next session.
- Introduce them to a new friend.
Speak to other parents at the class. Get to know the parents and their own children. Teach your child the name of one their peers. Get them to copy their new friend. Making friends yourself and being relaxed can rub off on our little ones. Making a new friend themselves has natural benefits of them feel more at home in their surrounds – plus it might even allow for some social relationships for mum and dad!
- Siblings can help too
An older sibling can really help a child settle into a class. As a family, young toddlers always aspire to be like their older brother or sister, so having them involved in the class can really help. Speak to your toddler activity provider before suggesting this to your children, but most will not have a problem if it helps tease your tot into action. As the weeks go by, the older sibling can retract from the class, leaving your fully engaged toddler in their place. If their older brother or sister loves it that much – why not try them in their own class?
All in all new activity classes are a great way to introduce your child to new experiences, new environments and new friends. Whilst it can be daunting for our children it can be so, so so rewarding for them. Getting them to enthuse, feel comfortable and generally submerge themselves in the whole experience may take a number of these tips. No doubt you will create your own tips, trick and knacks of getting our little ones to settle – remember, we are all learning.