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Choosing Extracurricular Activities

Parents often ask the following questions: Is enrolling my child in extracurricular activities in addition to school or camp a good thing? How many activities are considered too many? What do I do if my child doesn’t like the activity, even though I know it is good for them? How do I choose the best activity for my child when there are many different activities available?

The answer to these questions always begins with, ‘It depends.’ It depends on the temperament of your child, any special needs your child may have, time and financial resources available, and a whole host of other factors unique to your child. Taking into consideration who your child is and using these guidelines, you can make extracurricular activities a wonderful experience for your child.

It is important to ‘set up for success’ by first asking and answering the following questions:

Commitment questions:

  • What do I want my child to learn and why?
  • Is my child asking to do more than one activity?
  • Is it a ‘just for fun’ activity?
  • Am I willing to provide incentives for lessons I want my child to learn but they aren’t much interested in (e.g. piano)?

Quantity questions:

  • Does my child have enough energy at the end of the day for another activity?
  • Is my child getting enough quality sleep at night?
  • How much am I willing to pay for an activity and for how long?
  • How much time do I and/or my child have for extracurricular activities?
  • How will my child get to - and be picked up
  • from - these activities?

Quality questions:

  • Is the instructor qualified?
  • Is the environment conducive to learning (i.e. clean and organized)?
  • Does the activity centre have a good reputation?
  • Do I feel comfortable leaving my child with
  • this professional?
  • Choosing extracurricular activities

Once you have honestly answered these questions, your next steps should be easier. To show you how to go from questions to answers, here are a few examples of how this is done:

Q: Sara asks, “Should I enroll my son Michael (age five) in more gymnastic classes?”
To consider: Michael is showing advanced skill in gymnastics and does more tumbling around the house. He has already taken beginner level gymnastics, gets his full nine hours of sleep a night, and has no other activities other than school and Hebrew class once per week. There is a new gym with reasonably-priced gymnastic classes taught by experienced, professional coaches.
A: Yes, he sounds ready for more gymnastics.

Q: Brian asks, “My daughter Kelly (age 15) is asking to learn the guitar, should I enroll her in guitar lessons?”
To consider: Kelly takes and enjoys piano lessons at her home, is on the basketball team at school during the winter, and travels between mom and dad’s home each weekend. She does not appear to be reaching her full potential at school and often stays up late. There is a great school nearby that teaches guitar in group classes for teens.
A: No, this is not a good time. Ask Kelly if she would be willing to switch guitar for piano lessons for a period of time to try the guitar out. I also suggest Brian use guitar lessons as an incentive to help Kelly focus on improving her schoolwork prior to signing her up for lessons.

Q: Jennifer asks, “My son Brandon (age seven) has Asperger Syndrome and has trouble making friends and being a part of group activities. Should I continue to push to get him into extra group classes?”
To consider: Brandon excels at schoolwork but doesn’t know how to include himself in projects or games with his peers. Social skill advancement is needed and unlikely to develop on its own without some assistance. Brandon does struggle at first with new tasks but once he knows the routine, he likes to follow the rules.
A: Yes, Brandon needs as much structure as possible to help him advance socially. I strongly suggest Brandon learn a martial art since martial arts training is an individual skill-building activity learned in a social setting. This activity inherently also includes improving motor coordination and self-esteem, and staff are usually responsive to working with children with diverse needs. Also, some Dojos offer some financial assistance to families who cannot afford the full fees.

I hope these examples have been helpful in seeing how just a few extra minutes of thinking through the issue can bring clarity into your decision. Also, there are a few more suggestions here to make sure your child’s extracurricular experience is great and fun for all.

Remember, you have all the information at your disposal to make a good decision about extracurricular activities. You know your child best, you have done your research, and you have listened to your gut. With these things in place, your decision should lead you only in a positive direction.

Additional guidelines

For kids, having at least one day off a week to do something with a caregiver at home and spend some time entertaining themselves is a positive thing.

Never take away an extracurricular activity as punishment. Remember, you have enrolled your child for other reasons: skill-building, break from schoolwork, making friends.

Always introduce yourself to your child’s instructor and explain any special needs your child may have. Remember, instructors want to do a good job and will only be able to do their best job if they have all of the necessary information about your child.

Julia M. Rahn, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and owner of Studio for Change.


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