Today’s middle class parents are facing a severe problem of plenty when it comes to extracurricular activities for their children aged 3 to 13. There are all kinds of classes on offer. Some are offered within the school and others outside.
These classes are for activities like reading, writing, speech, drama, elocution, dance, drawing, art, painting, different musical instruments, vocals, all sports, physical activities and so on.
Last year my son enrolled for Piano lessons in school and this year he wants to become a drummer. My daughter took swimming classes for a year or so and now she wants to get into soccer. Creative writing is another area where we use the services of a teacher.
While growing up myself, I never had the luxury or irritation caused by so many options. Earlier, it was the domain of a higher strata of society. Certain people who considered it their duty to imbue cultural skills in their children also sent them for few classes.
But never before in history, we have had a big rush of parents sending their children for such a large variety of extracurricular activities. This is most prevalent in middle and higher middle class sections of society. The parents in these sections have been successful in what they do and want their kids to succeed in life at any cost. While it can be a fairly difficult task to find out what one is naturally good at, the easier way is to enroll for whatever appeals to you or the child within available time and budget.
The real academic pressure starts picking up after the age of 12 and money is generally not a problem when it comes to kids. Parents are either able to afford or are willing to compromise on their own expenditures.
Based on my experiences and those of a few others that I have observed, I can think of the following guidelines.
Guidelines to choosing extracurricular activity for your children
- Decide how much time you wish to devote for extracurricular activities. Children should have a fair bit of free time in early growing up years of life. This unstructured time is required for their free development in physical and mental space. Other than school, fifty percent of balance time should be kept free for unstructured playing with friends and entertainment. Keeping aside twenty percent of time for academic work leaves approximately thirty percent time for extracurricular classes outside school.
- Have a discussion with the child. My view is to choose classes entirely based on the child’s choice. Even you want your child to become a ballerina but she prefers hip-hop, let her choose hip-hop. Same thing applies to sports. By giving them the option of extra-curricular activities, we are trying to help them discover what are they good at. Hence, it is important that they start with a positive attitude. My daughter wanted to go for Bharat-Natyam dance classes whereas we were inclined towards Kathak, so we let her choose former.
- Even if the child wants to try his hand at many things, please make it clear that at one point in time, they can do only two or maximum three activities. If there are three classes a week for each activity, it means a total of nine hours in seven days. This is perfectly manageable and the child is not overloaded. Once they are done with a certain activity like swimming and don’t want more of it, they may do something else.
- Allow them to change classes. Our kids went for Karate classes for a couple of years as we thought it was good for self-defense, but they didn’t want to continue and we didn’t force them to continue. Every child learning karate doesn’t reach black belt and that’s perfectly fine. Children do something for a while and either get bored or don’t want to excel in that field. It is ok not to make these an ego issue and allow them to change activities. Changing activities need not be seen as a failure.
- Factor in travel time when deciding for classes. This is very obvious but I am pained to see so many kids spending useless hours in cars traveling from one class to the other. And you can guess what they do while travelling – they spend time on their tablet or Ipad. This is completely avoidable. Don’t be so picky about which place the child has to go unless it is a state level coaching. Choose a place close by.
- Choose to live in a condo. For children below teens, living in a condo can make life much simpler and enjoyable. Most condos have in house classes for children as the teachers or coaches get a critical mass of kids for each class. If your neighborhood gives you an option of living in a condo on rent or as an owner, choose that.
- Related point, As far as possible, choose classes conducted at the school. There are specific periods assigned to music and games in school. There are outside agencies that conduct classes during these periods or just before or after school at the school premises. This cuts down travel time drastically. It is a bit of extra work for parents as the child is not able to use the school bus due to early arrival or late departure. Believe me, some inconvenience to you is still better than unnecessary road time for children.
- Once the child shows promise and liking for a particular activity, you need to narrow your focus to that particular activity. Remember in today’s world, winner takes it all and there is no place for mediocre performance. If your child is doing very well in swimming, you need to drop everything else and let her do swimming.
- Contrary to last point, many children just want to keep on doing one activity after the other. There’s no need to fret over it. Every child is not meant to be an Olympic champion. This only means that the child is multifaceted and may take more time to figure out his or her specialization. Doing multiple activities over many years, helps the child as well as the parents to figure out the general inclination of their mind. Some children are good at art and craft kind of activities, others at physical activities and still others at academic activities.
Children will figure out what they want to do like a river finds its way down a mountain into the sea. Parents’ job is only to provide guidance and finance for whatever they wish to do. I leave it to you to decide how much you wish to stretch financially and physically to enable your child to pursue his passion.
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A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.