Extracurriculars give kids a well-rounded education, but there's a fine line between just enough activities to balance academics and going too far. If they get in the way of family time or cut out daily free play, you can be sure your kid has too many extracurriculars.
At school, kids learn primarily academics. While they may take an art class or learn a little bit of hockey, the school day is generally filled with math, language, and history. Children benefit from extracurricular activities, which balance the rote memorization and book learning they take on during at school.
Parents today want to educate the whole child. They want to provide their kids with experiences and opportunities for creativity and movement. Children as young as six take on piano lessons, dance class, karate, and soccer. All of these activities have many developmental and social benefits for kids. However, taking on too many extracurriculars can be problematic. Overload can even negate the advantages of each individual activity.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT KINDS OF EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
When it comes to extracurriculars, less is more. Focusing on a few quality activities that your child enjoys is ideal. Try to choose a balance of movement-based activities and creative activities. You may also want to mix up group activities with solo ones.
Here are a few examples of activities with physical movement:
- ballet lessons
- swim team
Here are a few examples of creative pursuits:
- piano lessons
- model making
- cooking classes
You want activities that stimulate your child's problem-solving skills or improve their awareness of their body's precise movements. Extracurriculars should be educational and challenge your child. It is, however, best to avoid activities that basically mirror school learning, unless your child has an intense interest in a certain topic that they'd enjoy pursuing. Remember that these activities are meant to balance the dreary parts of school by providing a different type of experience.
KNOWING HOW MANY EXTRACURRICULARS TO KEEP
All of the above extracurricular activities have many wonderful benefits for children! However, if you chose them all, it would clearly be too much to handle. So how to narrow them down?
First, take a look at your child's day without any additional activities. Write out their schedule from the time they wake up to the time you put them to bed. You'll probably have a morning routine, then off to school, and next, an empty block of time before dinner and bedtime.
Before even considering a single extracurricular activity, look at whether your child is getting the following on a daily basis:
- 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise (most of which should be vigorous)
- 2o minutes of downtime to read and relax alone
- 10-13 hours of nighttime sleep, depending on the child's age and needs
- Time to play freely, preferably outside
- Time to enjoy with family
Pencil all of these into your child's daily schedule before thinking about extracurriculars. If you are short on exercise, you already know you should choose a sport or movement-based activity first.
WHO DECIDES WHICH ACTIVITIES A KID DOES?
It is a parent's job to guide their children through life, and set expectations for them that benefit them over the long run. However, kids are people with interests and preferences too, and parents should keep this in mind.
Allowing children choice and freedom is very important. Kids who feel forced into certain pursuits may come to reject them completely as they grow.
Parents might set limits such as requiring their children to choose one sport and one other activity. If kids are struggling in school or have trouble completing homework, they might lower that requirement to just one.
Parents also might require their children to try certain activities, like piano or swim team, for a set period of time before allowing them to quit. Alternatively, some parents might insist that younger kids take part in the activities they choose but allow them to decide whether to continue once they reach a certain age or level.
Extracurriculars are important, but they should not take the place of kids' basic needs like sleep or free play. They should also allow for some level of choice on the child's part.