My daughter is in first grade. We want to dip a toe in the after-school activity pool but don’t really know where to start. Suggestions?
Tonya, in Memphis, TN
How do you pick an activity? There are three steps.
First you need to decide what level of commitment fits your family’s philosophy and your child’s personality.
How many children do you have? How many afternoons/evenings a week do you want to have free? How much time are you willing to spend at an activity or travelling to and from the location?
Are there times of the week that are “protected” for your family? Some families choose a day a week that they make no outside commitments. Perhaps you are not willing to get involved in activity that conflicts with going to church, or to the grandparents for Friday night dinner, or that would interfere with family game night. These are all valid decisions and teach good lessons to your kids about prioritizing.
Also consider the in-between commitments to a new activity. How much practice time are you willing to structure each week? Do you want an activity that requires daily repetition or something that meets once a week and requires no thought between meetings?
What level of interaction best suits your child? Does she throw herself whole-heartedly into a new activity? Does she need down time? Does she take a while to warm up to new situations?
Second, you need to decide what types of activities fit your family’s philosophy and your child’s personality.
Please don’t sign up for a new lesson or sport to prepare your child for the Olympics. Most children are not going to end up with a Nike sponsorship. Instead, consider what the activity can do for your child.
Consider the lessons learned in a particular activity. If you are against fighting, you may not want to enroll your child in boxing lessons or even hockey. If you want more fitness, you may steer away from softball and towards swimming or soccer. If you want to encourage personal creativity and accountability, a singular activity, like art or music lessons or tennis may be more appropriate.
What skills do you want to reinforce in your child? Or do you want her to delve into a new area? Extracurriculars are a way to encourage your child to grow in new ways.
Remember, however, to grow the tree you’ve got. Putting a shy child in a musical theater class may not be the best way to urge him out of his shell. Put a clumsy child in a dance class and you may help grace develop or you may diminish her self-esteem.
Which is why it is so important to consider the organization or teacher or coach. This is an important part of choosing an activity. For example, soccer leagues have different philosophies – some keep score, some don’t. Some allow parent comments from the sidelines, some actively discourage this. Do your homework.
Lastly, you and your child need to decide on an activity she wants to try!
Ask your child for her opinions! Kids don’t get too much decision-making power in the school years. Give her the opportunity to explore with you, online or in your community, and express her desires.
If she chooses something that is not acceptable to you, it is important to explain the values that lead you to deny that request. Engage her in explaining what she likes about that activity and then help her find something that is acceptable and meets her requirements as well if possible. If she wants a dance class because her friends are doing it, but you don’t like the values of the studio (revealing costumes, fierce competition for roles), help her find a different activity with friends.
When you both agree on an activity, make sure he understands the commitments involved. This “buy-in” at the beginning will lessen any conflicts later about practicing or missing a friend’s party to keep his commitment to this activity.
Extracurricular activities, in moderation, are very valuable for children.