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My daughter is 4.5 and this year I would have been taking her to activities such as swimming, dance, gymnastics, music lessons or the like. Since we haven't done any of that, I'm worried that she will not develop appropriately in interests that she would otherwise have. What skills are important for her not to miss out on during this shutdown of activities? I'm not looking for her to be a pro athlete or dancer or anything, but I do worry she's not being exposed to interests that begin to develop at this time. Thank you!

Activity-less in Arlington

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Whitney Henderson

Whitney Henderson is EdNavigator's Chief Program Officer. She brings more than a decade of experience as an award-winning teacher, school leader, and instructional expert.

Dear Activity-less,

This is such a great question. You and so many other parents are in the same boat, knowing how important extracurricular activities are to your children’s development and yet not sure how to nurture those interests, given the lack of safe choices right now. But I assure you, with your daughter being almost 5 years old, her thirst for new interests will only grow stronger from this point out. It’s so normal for younger children to float between various activities and not necessarily express a passion for any particular one. As she gets older and her patience grows, you’ll start to notice her commitment and passion toward one or two particular activities grow.

Of course, that doesn’t answer your question about what to do right now—just know that if she doesn’t start dance or soccer or whatever in earnest until a little bit later, that’s going to be totally fine.

Luckily, lots of local extracurricular activities have moved online, if that’s of interest to you. In many communities, local studios are trying hard to accommodate families (and stay afloat themselves) by offering music or dance courses virtually or in safely distanced settings, so I recommend checking on your local parent social media pages or parent newsletters for leads. (Just a heads up—they will probably require you to co-participate, at least at first!) YouTube also has an array of introductory courses across many interests, from these kid-friendly hip hop tutorials to drawing lessons to cooking classes (probably a little advanced for the pre-K crowd, but you get the idea!). And many museums and cultural institutions have increased their online programming in response to COVID-19, too, so you may be able to find virtual tours or other online experiences that could spark a future interest in topics like astronomy, natural history, the arts, and more.

Alternatively, you can let her explore new interests by creating opportunities at home. At this age, children need opportunities to develop their motor skills, so if your child is into creating art (and most kids are!), this is a great way for her to do so. Take a trip to the local art store for inspiration or choose an affordable art bundle online to create an art supply station and hold at-home “art class” a few times a week. This doesn’t have to be a formal “make this” session each time (although holiday or seasonal themes can be fun!). Mere exposure to materials and having the opportunity to create things independently will go a long way.

To help her develop her gross motor skills while sparking new interests, backyard games like corn hole, hop-scotch, or Double Dutch are a great start, as is working on basic tumbling moves on a soft mat or couch cushions on the floor. Indoor or outdoor obstacle courses can be fun and offer some exposure to participating in team activities, which are great for promoting empathy, collaboration, and so much more. You can even join her and get a workout in while you’re at it.

Finally, if you or someone in your home has a hobby, that’s a great way to share a new interest with your child. For example, if you know how to sew or cook, offer her a lesson. This doesn’t have to be anything over the top—just bring your daughter into the process, have her contribute ideas for what she’d like to do or learn, and let her help set things up. Simple projects like getting her involved in making dinner—mixing, measuring ingredients, even starting to work with a knife—could spark a real interest (and if it doesn’t, you still had some nice time together!). Bottom line, you are always her best (and probably favorite) teacher, so what she learns with and from you will always be among her most memorable developmental lessons.