Choosing extra-curricular activities for your children

Choosing the right outside school activities for your kids.
Choosing the right outside school activities for your kids.  

Multiple activities can encourage development of different types of skills such as artistic and athletic abilities but more than 2 or 3 activities in one period like a school term or throughout one season can be expensive and will lead to an exhausted child. Children may be better off playing one sport during the winter season and a second sport during the summer season such as rugby in winter and cricket in summer, or focusing on one year-long activity rather than several throughout a twelve month period.

All parents want their children to be well-rounded, balanced individuals and extra-curricular activities give children the opportunity to develop their skills in various areas so children develop a number of interests and talents.

The extra-curricular activities that are available to children these days is endless, with some being offered by organisers as early as infancy right through to the late years of high school, comprising:

- Team sports ranging from contact sports (football, soccer, hockey and volleyball) to non-contact sports (netball, basketball, cricket and Nippers), many of which can be played both indoors and outdoors in boys, girls and mixed groups.

- Non-team sports based around individual performance but often with a group of people so there is an opportunity for social interaction including golf, squash, Little Athletics, swimming, rowing and kayaking, sailing, surfing, martial arts, dancing, gymnastics, skiing and tennis.

- Creative activities which encompass all art, craft, music, singing, drama and theatre groups.

- Adventure/outdoor activities including Scouts, Cubs, Brownies, Girl Guides and Cadets in Australia.

- Academic activities such as debating/public speaking, chess, language and photography classes. 

- Youth, church and community service groups that involve interaction between peers by getting involved in the local community through volunteer or charity work, often with retreats and camps to encourage bonding.

- School-related activities which can consist of any of the activities listed above that are arranged through schools, including school sports teams, academic competitions against other schools and school performances such as musicals and Rock Eisteddfods.

Ideally the instructors at your child’s after-school activities should not only be qualified, accredited people (preferably with first aid training, especially for sports) with plenty of enthusiasm for what they teach but should also be willing to help extend your child’s exposure to the activity at a competitive level such as into regional, state or national competitions.

Is my child over-scheduled?

Even if a child is enjoying multiple extra-curricular activities, it may be best not to continue with all of them if there is no time to do anything else.

“A parent can tell if a child is over-scheduled when they are feeling tired and stressed, especially when the parents themselves are tired and stressed from ferrying their children everywhere,” says Nathalie. “Other signs are when children are struggling with homework, having difficulty waking up in the morning, having mood swings and not eating well.”

It’s also important to remember that if a child is enjoying and doing well at an activity, and also still doing well at school, that there is nothing wrong with allowing them to spend one afternoon a week watching television or engaging in other unstructured free play that teaches children to entertain themselves without the presence of other people.

How can I juggle the extra-curricular activities of all my children who participate in activities which take place at different times throughout the week?

The easiest way to ensure two or more children are able to be involved with extra-curricular activities that may pull parents in different directions is to ask children to pick their favourite activities and work out a schedule based on this. Some parents may be lucky enough to have children who like to do the same activities but for those who don’t and with most sports matches taking place on weekends, parents may have to divide and conquer, taking turns to attend their children’s games, or if possible, parents should try and arrange one child’s activity for during the week and the other child’s activities on the weekends.

One child’s activities shouldn’t ever be prioritised above the other children’s and attendance at events such as Grand Finals and end of year concerts by both parents (if possible) is important in helping children to feel that their activities and the effort they put into them, are equally valued.

What sort of extra-curricular activities should my child do?

By allowing children to select their own extra-curricular activities based on their interests and personality type, rather than the ones they are persuaded to do by their parents, children are more likely to enjoy them, so it’s important for parents to listen when kids express interest in certain activities, especially if it’s something they ask about on an ongoing basis and that is related to how they already spend their free time. For example, a child who draws for fun will be well-suited to art classes and similarly a child with plenty of energy and a competitive nature will get the most benefit from playing sport.

Keeping children enrolled in activities they are not enjoying and/or are not good at, can impact negatively on their self-esteem, as well as their confidence to try new things in the future so as a parent it’s best not to force anything. Nathalie Brown, a child behavior consultant from Easy Peasy Kids says, “If the child is passionate about their chosen activity they will continue of their own accord.”

Children who are inclined to start but not finish activities may be better off doing short bursts of the activity during school holiday camps or by trialling the activity only for the first few weeks before any financial commitment is required, particularly for expensive activities that require a lot of equipment such as horse-riding, ice-skating and musical instruments.

Additionally, parents who become involved with the organisations where their children attend their activities in ways such as carpooling with other parents for transportation to and from the activity, fundraising, coaching or just attending the regular meetings or events, will help their children to develop relationships with the organisers, the other children and their parents, something that can be very helpful for shy children and which may also help children to stay committed and interested in the long-term.