How to Make Good Choices about After School Activities
Families today are always looking for the "best" ways to spend their valuable time. It seems that we're always overbooked, and that new options are always being added to our choices of activities. While we may not be able to help with picking-up and dropping-off the kids, we can help navigate the confusion of choosing beneficial activities for your children.
Follow the Child
In line with Montessori practice, the first step towards selecting beneficial after school activities is to "Follow the Child." Trust your children when it comes to their decisions and interests in activities. Assess what is meaningful to them. If they show interest in something, help them explore that.
One of the biggest concerns for parents is that they want their young children to explore the world and figure out who they are on their own terms. However, they also want to present valuable, enjoyable activities to enhance that feeling of discovery and exploration.
Anxiety over After School Activities
Often, parents are anxious that the activities their children engage in, or don't take part in, will be the deciding factor in what schools they eventually enroll in—and all of the associated anxieties there. Parents tend to put too much emphasis on which activities are chosen. The truth is, schools aren't as interested in which activities they see a student take part in; they are more interested in the students' passion, dedication, and ability to address their curiosities and interests head on.
When speaking with representatives from middle and high schools, they are always impressed when candidates speak about their extracurricular activities with passion and enjoyment. You don’t want them to feel like this is one more thing they have to do, but instead something they want to do.
It's important to talk to your children about time management; this is a valuable lesson that will help them throughout their lives. Children may want to explore a number of activities, (e.g. engineering, arts, sports) all at the same time. It can be hard for younger children to understand the importance of organization and time-management, and how you can’t do it all at once.
Remind them that they have a lifetime of activities ahead of them, so coming up with a plan to manage all the things they want to try is a great first step! This is an important conversation and helps them grow and understand.
Chores vs Learning Practice vs Other Activities
This section is adapted from a Question and Answer session with our Head of School, Steve Farley; our Chief Academic Officer, Jorge Valcarcel; and our Director of Auxiliary Programs, Tyler Nay.
Q: How do you balance chores with work/reading/activities?
A: Chores are important. They contribute to the community of the home. It also helps in school when students have experiences doing chores. It contributes to the mindset that they are part of a community.
One of our favorite ways to maximize "chore time" is to work together, and create rituals for those times when you are together. This could be as simple as talking about your day while one person washes the dishes, and another dries them and puts them away. This creates a sense of community, and enforces the idea that chores are a way to support each other.
Discussing Interests and Activities at Different Ages
Q: At what age do you start talking about interests? My toddler shows interest in things but I can't really "talk" to him or her about it.
A: This dialogue can begin even before your child has a firm grasp on language. You can begin to grasp their interests through observing their reactions to various activities. At this age, you can also initiate this conversation with your children's teachers. They may have different opportunities to notice specific interests budding in your child.
When your child is ready to start discussing their favorite activities, you'll know—they'll want to discuss them with you! Ask the children questions, rather than providing the answers. Help them to think deeply about what activities are really interesting to them. Around the age of 5 or 6, these types of conversations really start.
My Child Doesn't Seem Interested in After School Activities
Q: What about a child who shows no interest in After School activities. Is it important to push them?
A: Sometimes children are happy with independent play. Independent play is important, and children can benefit from spending time engaging in thoughtful, independent activities. Sometimes, though, it’s important to show them options.
Often, children will have an interest in something, but they aren't sure how to get started, or are worried that it will be too difficult. Talk to children about what interests them, and discuss the fact that it takes practice and dedication to become great at something. It's easy to become discouraged with difficult tasks, but often the reward is so much greater than the temporary discouragement.
It's beneficial to let children explore things that they enjoy, even if they are struggling with the activity. They may realize that they aren't naturally gifted at a certain thing, but that they can still have fun doing it. This is a very powerful and liberating realization. You don’t have to be excellent at everything to do it and enjoy it.
My Child Wants to do it All
Q: What about a child who wants to do everything? When is it too much? Is my child afraid to be bored?
A: This is definitely an issue that we see with younger children especially. Thankfully, as the child gets older and has more obligations, this will start to sort itself out. It’s good for children to sometimes not have a focus or choice of exactly what they want to do just yet. It opens up a lot of space for them to make choices later in middle/high school.
At this age, it's better to bounce around between lots of activities, rather than spending too much time a specific things—especially if the one thing they gravitate towards is sedentary, or screen-based. That being said, the ability to be alone, reflect, and just do nothing, is a life-long challenge for many people. Having some time to be "bored" and explore the ways that you can handle that is equally important.
So How do I Know Which Activities are the Right Ones?
In conclusion, your children will let you know which activities are the right ones for them. Start paying attention young, and start asking teachers and mentors what they've noticed even if your child is too young to convey their ideas yet.
Support those activities that your child shows a passion for, and use those activities to help them develop their sense of self, and their own intrinsic motivation. Some of the world's most successful people started their careers by tinkering in the family room of their childhood home. You never know what might spark your child's imagination, and lead them to amazing new heights.
Learn more about how Kingsley supports a collaborative, integrated community of learners throughout the school year and beyond!