After-School Activities – Finding a Balance

Many parents feel that it is important for children to participate in after school activities. Certainly, sports, gymnastics, music and language classes do serve to create a well-rounded child, but overscheduling our children can become an issue. We as parents may be hard-pressed to find a balance between home life, school life and after school activities. We want our children to have fun and be creative outside of school, but we also must step back and give them room to grow and to breathe. How do we decide how much is too much?

In Kindergarten, even if your child has attended preschool, he is just getting into the routine of “real school”. In many districts, kindergarten is becoming more and more academic and structured, emphasizing reading and writing over playing and socializing. In additional, if the kindergarten is full day, then your little one is ready to cut loose at the end of the day. Keep it simple. Perhaps a swimming class on Saturday mornings or one day during the week, or an art or music class. You may even choose not to enroll your child in after school activities at all, choosing instead to let him “hang loose” in the after school hours.

By the time your child reaches first grade, she has gotten into the “swing” of the school schedule and has matured. The concentration level has improved slightly and she may be less antsy after school is over. Who likes sitting at a desk for six hours anyway? Either way, let your little one have a healthy outlet with a playground visit or a playdate with a classmate. Give her this time to romp and have cause and effect a good time as well as expend some energy. Physical activity is the best as it allows for growing bones and stretching muscles to do their thing. Personally, I would not recommend competitive sports – children need this time to grow and become comfortable with themselves and the physicality of their bodies.

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Second grade is the grade to watch! By this time, your child is astute enough to observe what’s going on with his peers and can make an informed decision on his favorite after school activities. The best thing for parents to do is to ask what the child wants to do and follow along; allow for experimentation and exploration. Although the child may begin musical lessons at this time, it is not recommended that you purchase an instrument unless absolutely necessary. Above all, still allow your child some time to just relax and be himself.

Your third grader is much more social. She is interested in friends and at this time may be able to handle team sports. Sports help develop motor skills and the beginning of learning about teams and good sportsmanship. In addition, the artist in your little one may make itself known; painting, drawing and other art classes may be in order. Again, allow your child to explore the areas in which s/he is interested and don’t look for too much commitment. Always remember to schedule in quiet time and family activities.

The fourth grader is an interesting little person. He’s not quite primary, but not yet upper elementary. This a transition period for a lot of children. Involve your child in activities that will help boost the confidence. By doing this, he will be able to combat some of the peer pressure that may come into play at this time. At the same time, however, ensure that you are scheduling enough time for concentration on homework and if extra help is needed, take advantage of tutoring services that are available.

Your fifth grader is now growing up a bit – moving into the upper elementary aspect of her academic career. Her social life is also beginning to move to the forefront. Channel that desire to be with others into community service – teach your child that it’s nice to do for others! Remember that homework and family time comes first; be sure to schedule for both.

Middle school is a real turning point for many students. Keep television to a minimum and keep up the good habits that have been formed thus far. Hopefully, the middle school and/or the community has activities such as the chess club, math club, Girl/Boy Scouts, 4-H and the like. Keep up with the team sports, if the child is willing.

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