Do you ever wonder if you may be taking the whole over-scheduling taboo too seriously? For years, parents have been hearing that kids have too many activities, too much homework, too-heavy backpacks, too much screen time, too much sugar…and on and on.
Personally, I find most parents are intelligent, conscientious and trying to find a healthy middle ground for everyone in the family. They want their kids to have just the right amount of after-school activities. The vast majority seem committed to helping their kids become happier, healthier, more well-rounded citizens without pushing them into activity overload.
Why not focus on what kids stand to gain from after-school activities instead? I contacted a half-dozen after-school activity pros, and here are some of the many benefits.
Fit, Confident Kids. As Elle Woods reminds us in the film Legally Blonde, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” But, motivating kids to get off the couch is not always easy for parents. Your kids are not typically looking to you to motivate them to run some wind-sprints or do a series of gut crunches. They need someone else to step in and motivate them to get moving. This is where after-school activities come in, preferably with dedicated, motivating coaches and instructors leading the way. Physical activities increase coordination, inspire discipline and provide energy outlets for restless kids. So, let another trusted adult be in charge for a change, and enjoy your down time while your kids get more fit.
Lights Who Shine. As much as we would like our kids to carry on our values and ideals, it’s really up to them to communicate who they are and what they believe. And while we may like to think that our children are born whole and complete, the truth is kids often discover what they are made of after they become immersed in activities that stretch and challenge them. Engaging kids in activities where they feel fully immersed in the experience and are responsible for their own mastery helps them discover what makes them tick. When it comes to finding an activity for your child, look for outlets that challenge them while providing gradual instruction and skill development.
Part of Something Greater. After-school activities offer kids outlets for expressing their energy within a safe learning context. Feeling part of a group with a purpose is a beautiful thing, so make sure the space where your child spends time is safe, fun and growth-centric. Often, kids become as attached to a center, a studio, or a routine as much as they do to a group of peers. When kids go off to their activities, they should feel like they are going to one of their favorite places – to their home away from home. If this is not the case for your child, then you might want to check out other possibilities.
Memorably Connected. If there is one thing all after-school activity professionals agree on, it’s the importance of making memories via meaningful connections. Engaged, smiling, busy children are typically happy children. Whether your child’s activity happens in a place rife with variety or in a more specialized space, your child is sure to grow over time, make memories and understand herself better with regular participation in after-school activities. Why not let your kids have the continuity of years of ongoing participation. It’s hard to advance up the activity ranks if you dabble in one activity and then another. Give your child a few years in elementary school to try different activities, then see if they want to commit to an activity or two during middle school. They can always switch to different activities once they get to high school, if they wish.
Aptitude-rich. Some students need extra help to keep up academically, so don’t panic if your child turns out to be one of them. Your child may need extra help that addresses specific needs like standardized test preparation or responding to learning gaps. Other kids simply need help becoming more satisfied students. Tutoring can definitely increase not just aptitude but also enthusiasm. And just as parents don’t always make the best coaches, we also don’t always make the best tutors, either. Besides, kids often progress faster and more willingly when they work with mentors they don’t already know. Raising academic confidence by teaching learning skills in one subject can pay off in increased academic confidence across the board. So if your child is struggling with critical reading, vocabulary or math skills, why not try a local tutoring service? Your child has nothing to lose and much to gain.
Kids need to feel successful today to become successful tomorrow, and activities can help them experience positive growth gradually. If you don’t channel your child’s energy, playing video games, TV watching, and other sedentary activities will always be a temptation. If you want engaged, involved, smiling kids, find them some activities they enjoy. You will be so glad you did.
Christina Katz is a journalist and author grateful for the opportunities she had to contribute to the school literary journal and newspaper. She also worked off some of her teenage angst on the soccer field, on the softball diamond and in the school pool. Her latest book is The Art of Making Time for Yourself.