When the Bell Rings

Navigating afterschool activities

by jennifer molk

As summer is coming to an end, back-to-school reminders are everywhere, whether it is the subtle hints from all the shiny new school supplies that are popping onto store shelves, or the cute new fall clothes that are slowly moving in to department stores.

Along with all of the clothing and supplies , we’re are also hearing about soccer sign ups and the new shoes we need for dance class.

It’s easy for parents to want to foster our kids’ passions, from sports to science to Boy Scouts to music. However, how much is too much, and when should we encourage our child’s passion or pull back and say no? How can we find the right balance while still promoting a healthy combination of after school activities?

The benefits of extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities, when paced correctly, can lower your child’s risk for depression and potential alcohol and drug abuse, build their self esteem and feed their soul. Activities are also a great resource for kids to build coordination, foster creativity, and learn to work well with their peers.

The key to keeping extracurricular activities a positive experience lies in keeping a good balance.

Things to consider when choosing activities

How much homework will your child have?

Consult with your child’s teacher at the start of the school year. Some grades are more extensive than others when it comes to what is expected from home.

How old is your child?

Younger children will likely be capable of juggling less after school activities, compared with older children. Refer to years back to see how your child has coped with extra responsibilities.

Also, be sure to choose age-appropriate activities. Don’t ever push your child to go unreasonably beyond his capabilities.

Who is your child?

Is he really interested in learning guitar, or is that your passion for him? If there is one thing that is certain, children will surprise us with what interests them, and all too often it will be somewhat different that what parents might have originally envisioned.

What is your child’s opinion?

He may not come right out and tell you he has no interest in football, but it should be obvious in his levels of enthusiasm and participation. Don’t be afraid to redirect him to something he will get excited about and truly enjoy doing.

Participate together in achieving a balance.

Encourage your child’s participation in weighing the pros and cons of choosing a healthy schedule, and make sure he understands why you say “yes” and “no” to certain activities.

Practical tips to make after school schedules successful:

Keep a family calendar that is centrally located and easy for everyone to follow, with timely updates. Encourage participation in updating the calendar from all family members.

Let other family members know they may have extra duties for awhile to make this new schedule work, and that there will come a time when siblings will pull extra weight for them one day.

Delegate! Don’t be afraid to hand off parental involvement with your spouse, or split the driving with a neighbor if you can.

Above all, keep the balance. Make homework a priority, complete with consistently good grades. Perform regular quarterly updates and hold family meetings to discuss progress or problems, and the solutions that are necessary.

Now, where did you put all those sign-up sheets? SFM

What activities are age-appropriate for my child?

Kindergarten/1st Grade

This is a great time for children to try at most 1-2 different activities such as classes or a league activity since at this age, children can understand the concept of a “game”.

Activities at this age should focus on teaching age appropriate skills. Competing shouldn’t play a large role and children should all get an equal opportunity to “play”.

Parents are a great asset at this time as many activities look for parent volunteers and often it help your child feel more comfortable if you are involved.

2nd/3rd Grade

At this age, kids start to display definite interests and preferences. Let them help in the decision of what they would like to do.

Team sports are good at this age, as kids begin to be social. They can follow rules well at this age.

This is also the age kids are ready to learn to play piano or another appropriate musical instrument due to their ability to read.

4th/5th Grade

Kids at this age are introduced to the need of managing stress, as social pressure starts to mount. Keep them busy and focused.

Keep in mind that homework responsibilities start to increase around 4th grade, and it is commonly around 5th grade when kids start to feel over-scheduled. In juggling it all, your student might be a little on the irritable side. Have patience and pull back on after school activities as needed.

Most importantly, Keep family and homework priorities in check. Now is also a good time to introduce community service as an option.

Middle School

What a great time to get your student off the couch and away from the television! Steer him toward school clubs and encourage him to be a leader.

Instill the value of volunteering for the upcoming job hunting years.

Don’t over do it – your middle school child should spend no more than 20 hours a week with extracurricular activities.

Jennifer Molk is a freelance writer in Billings. She enjoys writing about topics and issues that she herself seeks the answers to. She is a mother of two.