How to Choose After-School Activities
Find the right extracurricular fit for your child's interests.
When Sara Nash was looking for an after-school activity for her 12-year-old daughter Trystan, the Oreland, PA mom thought fencing would be perfect. “My daughter started making some really violent drawings and I thought, ‘There’s some aggression here that could stand to be channeled,’ ” Nash recalls. That was a year ago, and today Trystan (pictured here) loves fencing — and the way it challenges her both mentally and physically.
With literally hundreds of extracurricular activities to choose from, finding the right fit can be a daunting task. Is your child sports-oriented, dramatic, creative, a deep thinker, outdoorsy? Once you’ve hit upon an area of interest, you’ve got more choices to make: Would your athlete prefer golf or ice hockey, your musician bassoon or bass guitar, your artist sculpture or still life?
Richard Selznick, director of the Cooper Learning Center in Voorhees, NJ encourages parents to “give young kids a smorgasbord of different activities to expose them to different things. Once they turn 10, around fifth grade, they are best prepared from a developmental point of view to specialize on a specific activity.”
According to KidsHealth from Nemours Center for Children's Health in Wilmington, DE children who are involved in after-school activities have better school attendance and higher grades. Because attendance cuts down on unstructured, unsupervised time, kids who partake in extracurriculars are less likely to struggle with drugs, alcohol and cigarette abuse.
Furthermore, slipping after-school classes into busy family schedules teaches kids time management and how to juggle priorities. Many activities also expose children to competition and managing emotions about winning and losing. “It’s a time when kids learn skills they need for coping with the real world,” says Kate Thomas, owner of Delaware Valley Fencers Club in West Conshohocken, PA.
- Keep age and stage in mind, says Selznick. Don’t put too much pressure on young kids to perform; just let them have fun.
- Select a class that jibes with your child’s interests, not yours. Selznick suggests using pictures to represent activity categories and letting your child rank them in order of interest.
- Audit a class. “There’s no substitute for going to see how the teachers interact with the kids and if the kids are having fun,” says Thomas.
- Do your due diligence. “Accreditations help to provide credibility,” says Cheri Astolfi, dean of The Music School of Delaware.
- Get reviews from friends and neighbors on specific activities, venues and staff.
- Don’t underestimate the “cool factor.” Can they play the role of rock star or filmmaker? “The most attractive part of fencing is that there are swords; kids get really excited about that,” says Thomas.
- Many activities offer need and merit-based scholarships or work-study opportunities. Inquire about these if finances are an issue.