Ok, great; you’ve gotten the kids settled into the school year and now you can sit back, relax and sort through the mail that took a back seat to back-to-school preparations.
But, oh my, look what’s in the mail!
Brochures about swimming and gymnastics classes at the Y, kiddie computer classes at that new center across town, reading and math enrichment classes at the college up the street, everything from art to yoga at the city rec center, ballet and tap at different dance studios – and yes, there really is a music class for your 18-month-old.
You’re tempted to just toss it all, but there’s this nagging feeling that the kid who has been beating on your kitchen table is really the next Stevie Wonder.
In the ever-expanding arena of organized activities for kids, where does a parent draw the line between broadening children’s horizons and overwhelming them? I’ve seen too many kids who you practically have to make an appointment with to see because they’re so busy.
Parents are right to try to introduce youngsters to sports, art, music, dance and other creative pursuits. In the elementary school years, it’s important to try to expose your child to a whole variety of experiences.
The more different types of experiences the better; you especially want to exercise different parts of the child.
The key to determining how much is enough is knowing your child and letting his or her personality be your guide. Even children within the same family have very different temperaments and interests. Some kids don’t do well with too much stimulation. And there are kids who have more energy and interests than others. They get bored quickly when they don’t have something to do. Children are more likely to get in trouble when positive activities have not been planned or made available to them.
Exposing children to a variety of opportunities doesn’t mean they have to be involved in them all at one time. Children, like adults, need balance in their lives, between their school life, family life, social and religious life.
Is there any night when everyone’s home, or does home become simply a taxi station?” You don’t want children coming home and watching three to four hours of TV. . . . Still, children need some down time. We all need time for rest and rejuvenation.
Before school age, experts suggest exposing children to art and music and other activities in less-structured ways for short periods to correspond with their attention spans. Classes for preschool-age children are generally no longer than 45 minutes.
Some places offer classes especially tailored to the very young child, such as Kindermusik (www.kindermusik.com), a music and dance program for little ones as young as 18 months.
But formal classes aren’t the only way to expose your preschooler or older child to the arts. You might take them to dance, music and theater performances that welcome children. Free concerts in the park can be especially enjoyable for the entire family.
For most school-age children, three after-school activities are probably sufficient: a sport, a service club such as scouting, and an arts activity such as dance or music. As much as possible, parents allow children to try different activities without reprimanding them for dropping one thing and starting another. A child may want to try ballet one year and jazz another. The early years really ought to be exploratory years.
You should never say, “If you don’t continue this you’ll never be able to do this again.” Too often parents get the idea that if a child stops something, he can’t pick it up again.
On the other hand, it’s important to help children stick with a class long enough to know whether he or she likes it. Perhaps more encouragement is called for. The really important thing is that the child really enjoy what he or she is doing. You can’t force a youngster to enjoy it, and after a while, it’s not worth the battle.
In rare instances, a young child will show exceptional talent in one area. Parents should follow the child’s lead and encourage that gift.
As a rule, middle school and high school students know what extracurricular classes they’re interested in. That doesn’t mean parents should stop offering suggestions, but it does mean being more willing to listen to and discuss their ideas.
Indications that a child is suffering from too much to do include irritability, sleepiness and failure to keep up with school and homework. But poor schoolwork doesn’t automatically mean too many extracurricular activities – other factors may be to blame. In fact, excelling in an area outside of school can provide the boost in self-esteem a child needs to do well in school.
Often, parents don’t have to pay high prices to expose their children to opportunities. Community recreation departments and community organizations such as the Y offer a wide variety of low-cost classes. In other cases, financial assistance may be available.
Many other free or low-cost cultural opportunities are available as well. Take regular trips to museums and art institutes. Seek out one-day or short-term workshops or seminars. Regularly check public broadcasting television and radio station listings for offerings that may appeal to your child, then watch or listen together.
The music and dance departments of many colleges and universities offer concerts and recitals at no or low cost. Once they start looking, parents often find that they can do a lot to enrich their children’s lives without special classes.