What is Normal Behavior for a Preschooler in Class?

It is almost time for school to start! This is also the time to sign up for many fun activities! For many of you, this may be the first time you are thinking about signing your child up for a class. That is an exciting time!

My daughter wanted to do it all when she was in preschool! She would tell us she wanted to play every single sport, take dance and theater, play piano and violin etc. We still have to focus her to choose what she likes the best. My son, on the other hand is another story. We are not quite sure what he is interested in at this point. He is only four so we just starting to try a couple classes out here and there to see what he likes.

I was one of those eager parents that wanted their children in classes early. I had both my kids in “Mommy and Me” music and gymnastics classes when they were one or two. My daughter started dancing in my classes when she was two and she was definitely ready. I started my son at age three in a dance class and he just ran around and licked the mirrors!!! Let’s just say he took a break after a few classes. Every child is different as to when they are ready for class.

On my WUAB Coloring Book Cover2Wish Upon a Ballet website teacher Meg wrote a blog post about how to decide whether your child is ready to take a class. Now we will discuss what happens after you have decided your child is ready.

You and your child are super excited when that first day of dance class rolls around! However when class begins you may notice that your three or four year old doesn’t follow their teacher the whole class. They wander off every once in a while to dance on their own or look at something in the room. You may worry your child is not being a good listener. Did you make a mistake signing them up for class?

I had my children in a gymnastics camp this summer that was for ages 3-8. There is a window between the gymnastic space and the waiting area for the parents to view the classes. Everyday just before the the end of the camp many of the parents were there waiting for the class to finish and watching their children.

At the end of one particular class the instructors asked the children to sit in a circle so they could talk about class. They were asking the students what their favorite part of class was and singing their goodbye song. One little girl who seemed to be about three years old wondered off for a moment to look at some of the equipment. A mother and grandmother were observing this child’s behavior. I heard one of them say, “Oh! There she goes. Not listening again.” with a disapproving tone.

This had me thinking. Since I have been teaching preschoolers for so long I knew immediately that this child was not trying to misbehave she was just three. As a parent I understand the need to feel that your child is behaving in class. As a teacher however I know that for this age that is not possible all the time.

This child just thought to herself, “Wow! Look at those cool bars! I bet I can hang on those and it will be super fun!” And she just got up and went to the bars. She never for a moment thought that she was being disobedient or rude to her teachers.

As a teacher of preschool dance I have seen this many times. I have witnessed students who can’t focus for an entire class and I have seen parents and grandparents disappointed in this behavior. We all want our child to behave in class however what should the expectations be for this age group? Is it realistic to expect your child to behave for an entire class?

So what is normal behavior for a preschooler in a class? Children who are at the preschool age cannot focus for long periods of time. This is a fact. Teachers can do their best being the most fun and energetic but sometimes no matter how fun and how amazing the teacher is preschoolers won’t listen for a whole class nonstop.

If an instructor has the “magic touch” which means they have the right energy, skills and techniques to keep students interest in a class students will be less likely to wander off. If what the teacher is doing is more more fun than what the children might do on their own the students will pay attention for most of the class. If a teacher is less experienced children will wander around and look for something more interesting.

Sometimes however there needs to be a learning curve for the student. The first day of a preschool dance class can be less organized than subsequent classes. Students who have never been in a class setting before do need to learn how to follow directions in a class. A good teacher will keep positively reminding students until they get the hang of how class is run.

There will also be students who just are not ready for class. They may not follow directions no matter how hard a teacher tries. If this is the case a student may need to take a break from class and try again in the future.

Sometimes when a parents sees their child is not paying attention for a whole class they will feel they shouldn’t bring the child back to class. This is unfortunate when this happens. If a child doesn’t pay attention very well at first that doesn’t mean that the next class will be the same. They will learn. For some children it may take a couple weeks and for others it will take longer.

I had a student this year that just lit up my heart. The second she heard music you could tell she couldn’t help herself but to dance around. She didn’t think twice about what I was doing or saying. Normally I would be a bit discouraged if a child didn’t follow along more than she did but I could tell she was overcome by the music. That didn’t mean I didn’t try every trick up my sleeve to get her to join in the class. As the weeks went on she did more and more. But I was happy her mom didn’t give up and I actually saw a tear from her mom when we performed our first dances for the parents in the dance studio at the end of the session.

If your child doesn’t seem to listen however they are enjoying class I encourage you to stick with it. They are absorbing what the teacher is doing even if it doesn’t seem like it at all times. As long as they are not disruptive to the point that the other children are not learning it is fine. Be open about your feelings to your instructor. Talk about ways that you can encourage your child to participate more. Talk to your child before and after class about what is good listening. The more we give reminders in a positive way your child will learn to follow more.

However remember if your child wanders off every once in a while that is normal preschool behavior. Your child wants to learn and explore and that is great!

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