Start informally with lots of fun and games
Dr Rebecca English, Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology’s School of Teacher Education and Leadership, says the best results come from starting informally with a lot of fun and games and building on those skills.
“The best way to introduce music and sport to your children is at their request,” Dr English says.
“Children need to be agents in this space because that will enhance motivation, as well as participation that continues over a long time.”
Dr Robert A. Cutietta, Dean of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, says informal activities with music should start soon after birth, followed by more systematic classes around age three, and lessons with the goal of learning an instrument between six and nine. He warns however that these are only guidelines and exceptions occur based on the child or teacher.
Dr English says the age of music and sports introduction are often determined by the spaces in which you enrol your child.
“Music schools often have an early childhood program that leads to a more serious and rigorous program of musical instruction,” she says.
“My children, for example, started at a music school at the age of one and did the children’s class, then the older children’s class where they played games, but also learned the Solfege notes. Now they’re are doing their piano, and in my seven year old’s case, the violin as well.
“Dr Cutietta also suggests that the earlier you start, the more likely the child is to enjoy the practise of music, to appreciate music and to be committed. That intrinsic motivation they also get from sports.
“Due to the risk of injury, sports instruction (as opposed to informal play) usually starts at around the age of three. And, the options are virtually endless.
“My oldest tried gymnastics at walking age, the age of enrolment at the gym nearby, but hated it.
“Mostly, she struggled to follow the instructions of her teacher and didn’t like being barked at when she couldn’t coordinate her left arm and her right leg. So, we changed her to circus, which offers many of the same skills and she loved it.
“The earliest they can do circus is three years of age, so that’s consistent with the other sports. But shop around and listen to testimonials. If what other parents say about the activity is consistent with your beliefs about early learning, that’s a good sign.
“The age that’s right for your child will depend on the sport and the child.
“Children struggle with turn taking and delayed gratification so it can be hard for them to participate in sports where they are expected to understand and follow structure, rules and have independent thinking.
“Dr Peter Gray, Ph.D., a research professor at Boston College says informal sports are superior to formal ones in the early years and teach lessons that cannot be taught as well, by adult-directed formal sports. These include playing well and having fun, modifying rules, keeping everyone happy and settling conflicts.
“The best kinds of sports are informal and at the children’s behest. To start sports too early may establish negatives in that it entrenches in-and-out group thinking, deference to rules that are set by others and may lead to conflict.
“It also means that children do not learn the value of the skill and the joy of playing, rather just the joy of winning.”