Balancing act: Choosing extracurricular activities for kids – Part 1

Already for a while I am pondering about extracurricular activities for our kids. When I was a kid myself I did a whole bunch of stuff – gymnastics, figure skating, languages (English, French, Spanish, Modern Greek), self-defense (street fight), aikido, theater, modern dance, salsa and some others. I was a busy kid. However, I also studied in a different system. During my school years we had much more time for extracurricular activities (further – ECA) with lessons starting at 8 o’clock in the morning and frequently ending shortly after noon. On the contrary, the schooling system in Belgium is different than that in Latvia. Our kids will study longer hours and basically will only have time on Wednesday afternoons or on Saturdays to do something else. Additional issue here is that every kid in Belgium has, for instance, Wednesday afternoons off, meaning that there are a lot of different ECA organized at the same time slot. All this calls for a fairly selective approach – you simply cannot have it all!

The subject of ECA in general has two main aspects:

  • the first, is a purely applied one – which practical considerations need to be taken into account when making a choice, and
  • the second, is a much more complex aspect of how to define which talents and/or preferences does your kid have in order to make (or help him or her make) the best choice.

In this post I will start with the first aspect, namely I will try to identify practical considerations worth keeping in mind when choosing ECA for your kids. So here we go:

  1. time – that’s probably the most obvious one. The chosen ECA has to fit your kid’s schedule. You normally cannot skip school to do sports for example, can you? Don’t forget to factor in time to get there if the activity in question is organized in a different location than the school of your kid.
  2. getting there – linked to the above. If ECA is not organized in the school itself, your kid needs to get there and unless he or she is already a teenager and able to do it him or herself, somebody needs to bring your kid there. Thus, you need to take into account your own schedule and perhaps that of other kids if you have multiple. Of course, there are also options like hiring a nanny / supervisor / driver, but here we come to the next point which is:
  3. costs. It is not only that you have to pay the organizer of ECA, but it’s also the cost of equipment and special clothes, for example. Add to this travel costs, be it by public transportation or by a car. Likewise, as mentioned before if a kid is not able to get there him or herself and you are unable to be a driver, you need to incorporate costs for hiring somebody to do it for you. So, see if you can actually afford that.
  4. household chores and homework – those two should not suffer. It is not the idea that your kid has to do dishes now and that is why you don’t allow him or her to go to the gym. However, it is also not the idea that somebody else has to pick up kid’s clothes and toys while he or she does yet another ECA. Likewise, if a kid is failing in school, ECA have to be reconsidered. Everything needs to be rightly balanced! That is why it is important to carefully pick:
  5. the amount of ECA. It is best to start with one and build up from there, evaluating the effect it has on other aspects of life.
  6. family time. I strongly believe that family time is very important if not the most important aspect to consider. If because of the huge amount of ECA there is no time to even sit together with your kids and simply talk, what is it all for?
  7. finally, ECA although teaching some important skills, first and foremost are supposed to be fun for a kid. It is not because you always wanted to do ballet, that you have to now force your own kid into a ballet school against his or her will.

The last point is already linked to talent / preference considerations when making a choice of ECA. This part is much more captivating, yet also much more complex than just practicalities. I will share my thoughts on it and points of attention I have defined for myself in one of the following blog posts.

Stay tuned!


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