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Extracurricular Activities for Your Child

Help Your Child Find Extracurricular Activities

With the advent of cable television, CD players and the Internet, the idea of extracurricular activities may seem outdated. Technology, however, has yet to capture the same level of interest with the 6- to 9-year-old crowd as does hands-on experience.

By age 6, most children have already been introduced to some type of extracurricular activity, according to Joan Bergstrom, author of School's Out: Resources for Your Child's Time. The problem is finding a balance between school and these activities.

Mother of three Marie Ramirez started attending Gymboree classes with her first child when her daughter was 3 months old. Ramirez has a master's degree in human resources and corporate training but is now a stay-at-home mom. "I mainly (started Gymboree), because I wanted contact with other moms," she says. Ramirez's second child joined a music and movement class at age 1, and her third child started the same class last month.

Bergstrom recommends that you make sure the activities are geared for your child's age group. Ramirez's oldest child now takes ballet, swimming and tap lessons – a mixture of both her child's and her wishes. "She loves ballet and tap – those were her ideas," Ramirez says. "I pushed swimming because I feel it is a mandatory skill."

Taking the Plunge

Helping your child embrace a new activity may seem daunting at first. There are many options open to children today beyond Little League and piano lessons. Parents should keep in mind the purpose of extracurricular activities.

"Activities widen a child's world and allow him to go into something in-depth and gain self-confidence," Bergstrom says.

Ramirez adds that extracurricular activities teach children to have an appreciation for sports and art. For children who require a little coaxing, Bergstrom suggests looking at what kind of materials excite them. Some children like going to hardware stores, looking at old cars, making masks or studying dinosaurs.

"Look at what speaks to your child and engage in a conversation with your child," Bergstrom suggests. "Then, look at what's available and present your child with a choice."

Bergstrom does not encourage allowing your child to drop in and out of activities. Once they have made a commitment, they should stick with the activity for at least six weeks. "I've interviewed parents who say they wished their parents would have made them stick with something," she says.

Some children need time to warm up to an activity, the group or the leader. Bergstrom adds that allowing your child to drop in and out of activities permits this type of behavior later in life. If a child really wants to quit the activity, look for physical signs of stress like headaches or vomiting.

Archery or Algebra

Once a child becomes involved in extracurricular activities, he may never want to do homework again. Ramirez's daughter loves the activities she does. "My daughter has wanted to dance since she was little, and after each session she asks when the next will begin."

Her daughter also was involved with T-ball. Ramirez, however, limits the activities to two or three, because that's all the driving she can manage.

Sometimes, two extracurricular activities plus a sport can be a strain on a child. To make sure there is no strain, parents should sit down with their children to map out a schedule. "Children shouldn't be involved in extracurricular activities more than six to nine hours a week," Bergstrom recommends. "Remember to figure in time for school, homework and play time."

Ramirez did exactly that. "I think it's important to stand back and take a look at each child's schedule and evaluate how they are doing. If they are in several activities and are managing to keep up with school work and do not seem tired, then it's fine."

Because her oldest child was only in kindergarten last year, Ramirez may reduce the number of activities depending on how her daughter's first grade year goes. Time will have to be managed carefully, and that is a difficult concept for children to grasp. "But, parents can walk their children through each day the night before," Bergstrom says, noting that she typically recommends no more than two scheduled activities a week.

Parents should make sure that children are not involved in activities for the wrong reasons. "I talked to one little girl who said she was in a particular activity because everyone else on the block was," Bergstrom says. Doing an activity she does not feel good about does not helping your child gain self-confidence. If your child is not interested in extracurricular activities, that's OK, "as long as she's not watching TV instead of joining an activity. "

To get your child involved in activities outside of school, try calling community centers, talking to other parents, writing national organizations, local theater and dance studios and the Boy and Girl Scouts. With all the options available these days, your child should be able to find an activity he enjoys.

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