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Published on September 28, 2017

young girl doing gymnastics

Gymnastics and Chess Club and Football, Oh My!

School is back in session, and once parents and kids make it through the first few weeks, their thoughts may start turning toward extra-curricular activities.

Extra-curricular activities are activities outside of the school day and can include sports, lessons, and clubs. Experts have long recognized the benefits of these activities for kids—building self-esteem, learning a new skill, practicing team work and sportsmanship, keeping active, and beginning to learn about frustration and losing.

There are lots of activities to choose from these days. But how do parents know when their child is ready, and how do they know how much is enough?

Think about your child’s developmental stage and temperament. A toddler is not ready to pay attention and follow directions in a one hour dance class. A child with a very active temperament might not enjoy chess club.

Parents should try to avoid living vicariously through their children. The fact that Dad was a college wrestler doesn’t necessarily mean that junior will follow in his footsteps. Look at your child’s skills and interests. Gymnastics class might be an option for a child who loves balancing, jumping and tumbling. A child who loves singing, acting things out and pretending may enjoy a children’s theater group.

Children under the age of 3 should usually participate in activities that include the parent. For kids ages 3-5, it’s best to have parents remain on site for the activity if possible. Be sure your school age child is handling school work well before taking on extra activities. If your child is still struggling with separation, or if he or she has trouble with social skills, it may be wise to wait a bit.

When you’re ready, be sure to thoroughly check out the program, the adults who will supervise it, and the program’s philosophy. For preschool and elementary kids, the focus should be low pressure, positive encouragement, learning the skill, and equal participation. As kids get to middle school and beyond, you can expect more pressure, higher expectations, and playing time based on ability. Kids that age should be able to handle it.

When are kids’ activities too much of a good thing? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can the child still get enough sleep?
  • Can the homework still get done?
  • Can you still have family time?
  • Can your child still have friend time?
  • Is your family’s stress at a reasonable level?

Help your child keep expectations in line as well. Realistically, your child will probably NOT play professional football, sing the lead at the Metropolitan Opera or be on the U.S. Olympic Team.

But he or she probably will have a great time being part of a team, enjoy learning a new skill that could last a lifetime and grow in self-confidence.

So go for it!

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