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Is Your Preschooler Ready to Take Lessons?

Whether your pre-schooler loves watching swimmers or you always thought she'd make a great gymnast, now's a good time to figure out whether she's ready for formal instruction. Ask yourself:

Who really wants the lessons? When kids are the ones to express an interest, they're more likely to succeed and have fun. If it's your idea, just be realistic about how much your child can accomplish at this early stage.

Can she follow directions from someone other than you? If she doesn't have experience listening to a sitter or another adult, a laid-back class may be a good first step. Just make sure she knows that you expect her to pay attention.

Does she share well? In a group class, the teacher's attention will be divided. Can your child handle sharing a grown-up with other kids? Does she at least have a basic grasp of turn-taking and the patience to wait? If she has a lot of trouble with these skills, consider a small or individual class at first.

How long is her attention span? People who teach kids this age are well aware, of course, of their charges' wandering minds (and feet). But your child will need to focus for 15 minutes or so at a time  -- or longer if you sign her up for one-on-one lessons.

What else is going on in her day? Many children pick up the same skills in lessons that they'd learn in preschool or daycare. If she's already busy with school, playdates, and family activities, she may enjoy lessons more if you wait a while.