A Balancing Act
For many parents, especially working parents, the day doesn't end with the school bell. There are sports to be played, pictures to be painted, songs to be sung, and good deeds to be done. It all adds up to keeping kids active and out of trouble.
But what is the right after-school program? And how much is too much? Here are a few things to consider when choosing the right extra curricular activity.
1. It's not free babysitting
Extra curricular activities require parental input. What would a soccer game be without parents cheering on their little sports heroes from the sidelines? How can a brownie troop run without a volunteer leader? Even parents who work can find ways to support their child's outside interests – by encouraging those screeching attempts to play the violin or throwing the ball back and forth under the streetlights or selling raffle tickets at work.
2. Do the research
Meet the adults who supervise the program your child covets. Find out what your obligations will be – are you expected to buy the uniforms and mow the field, or just show up and cheer on the team? Read the written materials and ask questions if you don't understand. Attend school-based activities fairs to get an idea of all of the different options your kids have.
3. Think of yourself, too
While the point of after-school activities is to expand your kids' horizons, they shouldn't stretch you to the breaking point. Having one child in five different activities each week might be reasonable. But what if there are two kids? Or five? Unless you have a chauffeur on the payroll, things can get out of hand quickly.
4. Know when to quit
Young children, particularly, need to try lots of things. Not everything will work for them. While you don't want to encourage quitting, you don't want to make extra curricular activities a burden on kids. First, find out whether there's a reason the kid dislikes the program – make sure it's well-supervised and there isn't a bully picking on your son. Assuming everything is OK, ask him to give it a few weeks to see whether he learns to like it. If not, move on to something else.
5. She may not be the prodigy you were hoping for
All those stories about the tennis star who held a racquet before she could walk make parents believe that if only they had identified their kid's talent early on, she would be the next tennis wunderkind. But it isn't necessarily so and it shouldn't be the reason for after-school activities. Instead, look for activities your kids enjoy and enroll them in programs with an eye toward cultivating a lifelong interest rather than making a million.
6. Look for a balance
Search for activities that round out your child's personality. For a bookworm, an after-school sports program might be just the ticket. Or maybe she would prefer a math tutor who can help her get into that advanced calculus class. For the jock, the perfect after-school program might involve playing another sport where he can hone his team leadership skills – or it might be a chess club where he can gain a little solitude.
7. Your kids have the answers
No matter how many rules you read, this is the only one that really matters. After all, what keeps one kid happy, healthy and out of harm's way could leave another overwhelmed, overwrought and overdone. Look for signs of burnout.