In an era of technology, screens, and physical inactivity, encouraging your child to pursue an extra-curricular activity can offer him a welcomed diversion. Extra-curricular activities offer many benefits and advantages to children, however, choosing one can be a daunting task. So how do you decide?
Follow Your Child’s Lead
Obviously, the best way to choose is to simply ask your child what he is interested in. Of course, until he has actually tried it, an activity will only be an idea in his mind and he won’t really know if he likes it enough to continue with it. Your child may try and reject a number of activities before finding the one he likes and that’s okay. With Aristotle, I have always made it a point to let him try an activity and give it up so long as he has given it a real go – that is my only requirement before quitting. If it seems a bit troubling to watch your child flounder with a lack of focus, there is an interesting article from the Life Learning Magazine on Dabbling, Digging Deep and Quitting: the Real Costs of Parental Pressure that offers a different perspective on this and may help you rethink this concern.
If there is an activity that you feel is important for your child to pick up (e.g. swimming for water safety), it is still important to speak to your child and have an agreement about it. There is no point choosing an activity that your child really dreads because you risk putting him off that activity for the rest of his life. Some children may quit an activity but revisit it later and go on to really enjoy if they are given a chance. If you force it, you are likely to kill of any possibility that your child may discover a passion for it in future.
What are the Benefits of the Activity?
Consider the added benefits that the activity might offer your child. Here are some benefits of various extra-curricular activities we have covered in the past:
- Art classes
- Chess (also helps enhances academic performance)
- Music (especially learning an instrument)
- Drama and Musical Theatre
- Second Language
- Sports and Physical Activity
Any activity that takes your child outdoors will also have the added benefits of being exposed to nature.
Who Wants it More
A parent’s role is to guide and encourage. However, the lines are easily blurred when emotions are involved. Probably the greatest pitfall with an extra-curricular activity is wanting it more than your child does. A lot of us have memories of activities we wished we could have done when we were children and we try to rectify it by living vicariously through our children. We view the ability to do this activity as a privilege for our child that we did not have growing up but no matter how wonderful you think this opportunity is, your child may not agree with you. It is important to remember that your child is not your chance to relive the past.
The Value of a Good Mentor
In Nurtured by Love, Shinichi Suzuki (inventor of the international Suzuki method of music education) writes about the importance of having a good teacher for talent education. He compared it to the nightingales that are trained to sing beautiful songs. Nightingales learn to sing by listening to other nightingales singing. How well a particular nightingale will learn to sing depends on how well the “master bird” sings. If a nightingale listens to a good “master bird”, it will also learn to sing well. If the “master bird” sings poorly, the young nightingale will also learn to sing poorly.
Similarly, if you want your child to pick up an extra-curricular activity and be good at it, it is important to get your child a good mentor rather than to try to teach your child the activity yourself. For instance, if you would like your child to learn a second language, even if you could keep ahead of your child’s learning progress, your accent would never be as good as a native or fluent speaker. It would be worthwhile, therefore, to engage a specialised teacher or to arrange for professional lessons.