Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to help kids find the right extracurricular activity

Today's kids are busier than ever before. Be it the increasingly competitive nature of scholastic life or the increase of two-income households where kids need something to do other than come directly home after school, children today are much busier than their school-aged counterparts of yesteryear.

While it can be fun and beneficial for kids to participate in extracurricular activities, finding the right fit isn't as easy as it sounds. When helping kids find an extracurricular activity, it's best to consider a host of factors. Especially keep in mind that not all kids are the same with respect to interests. And what was enjoyed by their parents won't necessarily be enjoyed by them.

Getting Started

The best place to start is to speak to kids about their interests. Just because Dad loved playing football doesn't mean Junior is destined to be a gridiron great. Kids have their own interests, and those interests can be cultivated with the right extracurricular activity. For example, a creative child might enjoy an after-school art class a couple of times per week. Parents should also consider extracurriculars that can help kids grow as people. For instance, a child who's shy in public but loves hamming it up at home might embrace an after-school theater program.

Once options have been discussed with kids, take in a session or two before committing to anything. The shy youngster might visit the local theater program and enjoy it thoroughly, or he or she might decide against it. Either way, a visit will give kids and parents a sense of what the program is like and whether or not it's the right fit. When visiting, observe the nature of the program. Is it an encouraging, vibrant environment? Do the adults and kids involved appear to be having fun?

Get the 411

Parents want their kids to be as safe after school as they are during it. When looking for an extracurricular activity, inquire about the staff-to-child ratio and about the staff's professional background. Any staff-to-child ratio that is greater than 12:1 likely indicates a program that is understaffed, which could mean kids won't get the attention they need. Also, ask for the staff's references and work history in the field of child care. If certification is necessary or recommended, make sure the staff meets all requirements.

Parents should also inquire about program costs. Though many programs are upfront about fees, some have hidden fees that can add up. Such fees can be for uniforms, equipment, class trips, etc. Extra fees don't have to exclude a program from consideration, but it's better to know about them in advance than have them come as a surprise.

Consider a Child's Grade Level

A child's age and grade level should also be considered when choosing an extracurricular activity. Consult teachers about finding an age-appropriate extracurricular activity. For example, less competitive activities that emphasize fun might be more appropriate for kids in kindergarten and the first grade. For second graders, activities not offered at school, like learning to play an instrument, can help cultivate a child's interest in a noncompetitive environment. As kids reach third grade and beyond, consider more rules-based activities, including team sports, as kids at that age are more capable of understanding rules and handling losing than younger kids. As children get older and move on to middle school, look for activities that reinforce learning and help develop a young person's character, including their ability to interact with others.

When looking for an extracurricular activity for kids, parents should consider a host of factors, including the child's interests and age.

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