Phew! Having a child at school can be exhausting: supporting children in their routine, organizing schedules and focusing on academic challenges. For many, there's also the question of whether or not your child should do an extra-curricular activity in their free time.
Before you rush to enroll your child in sports, music, dance, another language and whatever else is advertised on your local noticeboard, stop and take a few minutes to think about what are the best options for your child. In particular, you should think about whether the main goal of doing the activity is to:
- Occupy your child after school
- Make sure they’re safe and well supervised during that period
- Help them relax
- Develop their talents
- Expand their circle of friends
…or maybe a combination of these.
The answer – surprise, surprise – will depend very much on your own family and the individual child, so spending time really thinking about this to evaluate the best option, is time well spent.
It is important for parents to take a few minutes to think about why they want their child to do an activity and, based on this, to evaluate the best option.
For example, some parents want their children to do an activity outside school because they simply need a safe place for them to be looked after between the end of lessons and when they can be collected. Some are looking to enhance the child’s ability to make friends, or to get them involved in a physical activity that will help in building up their eye-hand coordination, or fine or gross motor skills.
In other cases, the chosen activity is something the child already takes part in at school, but by doing extra classes they can spend more time enjoying something they like. And activities can also help encourage a child to take an interest in something in particular, to help the child to explore a hobby, sport or activity – whether it’s something they already know and love or something new.
DON’T TAKE ON TOO MUCH
What about children who already face long hours travelling and doing chores and homework? To avoid overwhelming children, make a point of always allowing for things they enjoy, regardless of the goals you may have established. If, for example, your child does after-school tutoring in mathematics, look for another activity that’s fun and relaxing.
And if your child isn’t enjoying the extra-curricular activity, it’s worth reconsidering and reevaluating the goal. Is having your child be a chess champion so important if they actually hate chess?
DISCUSS THE OPTIONS
When it comes to negotiating with children about what activity they do, especially older children, discuss choices and options with your child. For example, you might say: “Your school offers these two activities. Which one do you prefer, and do you think there’s one that would be better for you than the other?”. “Well, I know you want to do such-and-such, but I can’t pick you up late that day. So is there a way we could do that?
Parents also need to think about what activities are possible – and affordable – and evaluate whether or not the activity encourages skills, styles or interests that are valuable. A child may want to go to a video games club but you may not think it’s such a good idea!
ALL IN GOOD TIME
Although your email inbox may be flooded with newsletters and offers of new class times for children, there’s no need to start everything immediately. It’s a good idea to wait until your child has settled into the rhythm of school first, and then to limit extra activities to no more than two outside activities (or two days of extra activity).
And don’t forget, children also need leisure time, in which they’re not always being directed by adults, so that they can play, create freely and come up with their own things to do. A little bit of boredom is good for kids, and certainly better than being constantly rushed around from one activity to the next. Balance is the key, so keep your goals in mind, keep the conversation going with your child, and enjoy watching them learn and develop.