"It's very important that toddlers have a structure and routine, but parents should not be the recreational activity director for their preschoolers," says Ingrid Kellaghan, mother of two and founder of Cambridge Nanny Group.
"Some preschoolers are so used to parents or caregivers running them from activity to activity that they aren't learning how to create their own fun or develop self-awareness," says Kellaghan.
What things should be scheduled?
Meals, bedtime and naps all should be scheduled and built into your child's daily routine. "Having a routine allows preschoolers to feel safe so they can develop the emotional security they'll carry with them their entire lives," says Kellaghan.
"Besides bedtime and meals, I did not have much of a schedule for my preschoolers," said Karen, a mother of triplets. "There were times when we couldn't stick to the schedule, but things were easier when we did. Tired or hungry kids can be cranky."
Build in downtime
"Every preschooler needs downtime," explains Kellaghan, but downtime doesn't always mean nap. "I knew it was downtime when my daughter started to twirl her hair," says Kellaghan. "It didn't necessarily mean she was sleepy -- she may simply have needed time to spend in her room with a quiet activity."
Alice's daughter gave up naps completely at just 18 months old. "Being with her non-stop from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. was brutal for both of us," said Alice. "So I started putting her in her room after lunch (with the monitor on). She found ways to occupy herself for an hour or so, and I used the time to call a friend, catch up on some housework or just gather my senses."
"The lives of today's children are so scheduled and mapped out for them that they scarcely have time to themselves," says Kellaghan. Unfortunately, overscheduled preschoolers may lose the opportunity and ability to use their imagination.
"Downtime is a very important and often overlooked part of preschoolers' development," says Kellaghan. "Downtime gives kids time to sort things out, to process life around them and the confidence to feel that they don't have to look to Mom or Dad to be their 24/7 activity coordinator."
Says Sabrina, a mom of two young boys: "All of our friends have their kids in soccer, dance and other activities, but we haven't signed up our kids yet. They'll have plenty of time for those things when they are bigger. Right now, they're busy enough just being boys at home!"
Adds Kellaghan: "Combining a structured routine with unscheduled downtime sets the framework for healthy independence."