Soccer and piano and scouts, oh my! Choosing activites for your kids

Are you ready to start your child in after-school activities like music lessons or sports, but aren't quite sure how to find the best fit? Start by considering their natural abilities. Read on to find out more.

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  • There’s a fine line between raising a well-rounded child and being so busy with activities that free time is non-existent. For each family, finding a balance is a little different. Activities like lessons, sports, scouts, and church groups help children discover their interests and what talents they’d like to develop. They also teach valuable social skills and allow children to make friends with similar interests. Consider the following ideas when choosing activities for your children.

  • Natural talents

  • You know your child best. Notice things in which he excels, then find an activity that will help him develop that talent. My two-year-old has strong motor skills, so I put her in a gymnastics class we attend together. My son was constantly beat-boxing and hitting objects in rhythm, so he started taking drum lessons. If your children are new to organized activities, choose one that best fits their natural abilities. They will be more likely to enjoy it and be successful.

  • Survey them

  • Your children might have a good idea of which activities to try. Ask them for their input. If they don’t have any ideas, or seem uninterested in any activities spend some time discussing options. You may have to narrow the list to 3 ideas and have them choose, or try again in a few months. Children younger than 8 often enjoy playing at home and with friends more than organized activities.

  • Do your homework

  • You want to find a teacher, coach, studio, or team that will fit your child’s personality and be a safe place for her to learn. Different teachers have different methods and styles. Researching beforehand might eliminate future problems. Search online reviews, ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, and visit facilities before committing.

  • Start small

  • Before committing to a year of dance or karate, try to find a short session. Community centers often offer more casual classes at a lower price that run for just a month or two. Swim lessons are a good activity for all children. They are usually 2-8 weeks in length, and all children should learn to swim. Sometimes neighbors or friends teach small children music or dance lessons in their homes, or even preschool. Because I have some basic piano and musical skills, I started teaching my children to play piano at home. When they show an interest in continuing and practicing I will enroll them in proper lessons.

  • Be flexible

  • . My middle-schooler doesn’t enjoy team sports like basketball and volleyball. However, her dad and I want her to be active, so we had her choose between track and swimming. She chose track. Now, she runs three times a week. She also loves animals, but I am allergic to many kinds of animals. Instead, she helps a family friend care for her dogs or takes a friend to visit the animal shelter. Our family schedule has had to be more flexible as our children participate in activities. We try to keep the family dinner hour intact as we schedule our days.

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  • Let them dream

  • You may have been a ballerina, or your husband an ace pitcher, but your children’s aspirations may be different. If your son would rather play the trumpet than football, support him. If your daughter shuns tap shoes but takes up a paintbrush, go with it. They will be happier exploring their own interests.

  • It’s okay to quit

  • Kids need to be able to try activities without feeling pressure to become an expert at each one. As a parent, it’s your job to help them navigate through life and gravitate towards the things that will bring them happiness. Part of this process is recognizing when to let something go. If gymnastics was fun at 5, but becomes a chore by age 10, let them move on. If after a few months, trombone practice is torture for everyone, try a different instrument.

  • I do offer a caveat to this idea as some children become serial quitters. Kids who are natural perfectionists don’t enjoy the learning curve that comes with trying new things. Others are shy in group situations and will beg to stay home. Parent your individual child as you see fit. My husband and I have decided that our children have to reach a certain level of proficiency before they will be able to stop piano lessons. They have to be active through organized sports or other fitness activities. Beyond that, I try to let them choose their own activities and support their decisions.

  • Don’t overschedule

  • Much has been said about the overscheduling of children in today’s busy, success-driven society. An interesting article published in 2003 by Psychology Today notes that children need play time and may have anxiety and sleep problems if their lives are too busy. As a parent, you must ensure your children’s activities leave plenty of time for the most important work of childhood, play.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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