Monday, 24 September 2012

After-school activities: how do you choose?

Once upon a time, when you got home from school you did a little bit of homework before being unleashed on the street to play with your neighbours. If you were lucky you might have a piano lesson once a week, or play football for the local club. But for the most part, kids amused themselves.

But since the mid-90s, there has been an exponential surge in after-school activities, and also pressure on parents to make sure their kids are exposed to just the right amount of everything – music, sport, language, art… the combinations are endless. Hearing that little Annie takes French conversation classes on Monday, guitar on Tuesday, football on Wednesdays and Saturdays, karate on Thursday and drama class on Friday is enough to make any parent worry that they’re not giving their kids the best opportunities.

So here are five tips to remember when it comes to selecting what after-school activities are best for your family.

1.      What does your child want to do?

This is the most important consideration – are they interested in music and show an aptitude or is it just a thing that’s “good” for them? There is a fine line between encouraging and enforcing an activity. For instance, learning to swim or taking part in some kind of exercise is fairly essential to leading a healthy life, but make sure that the particular sport works for your child. Team sports are good, but perhaps more individual pursuits like athletics suit your child. You may have to try out a few options before hitting on the right one.

2.     Time for unstructured play is important

Being stimulated by after-school activities is great, but time to experiment, play videogames, get bored, watch TV, be alone and read are also important for kids’ development. Too much structure could lead to kids being unable to come up with ways to amuse themselves, and a decrease in ability to take initiatives on their own. So don’t overload the schedule too much.

3.     Budget

Some activities are simply going to cost a lot more than others.  Horse-riding: expensive activity. Swimming: cheap activity. Think about hidden costs like getting to and from the activity (are there distant away games for sport), uniforms, specialist gear, musical instruments.

4.     Scheduling

Don’t forget that you yourself will usually have to juggle drop-offs and pick-ups. Look at what each of your kids are doing and make sure that timings work. Consider signing your kids up for activities that friends do to maximise car-pooling potential, or start a car-pool with other parents whose kids also participate.

Remember that when considering after-school opportunities there is no right or wrong way to do things, as long as your child is getting something enjoyable out of their activity.

What after-school events do your kids participate in? Do you feel pressure to sign them up for lots of activities?

Vivienne Egan writes for Baker Ross the arts and crafts suppliers

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