Extra-curricular activities are important for kids’ social and emotional development, but with so many activities to choose from, knowing what will be right for your child can be a challenge. Keep these tips in mind when filling your child’s calendar.
Put Your Child's Interests First: “It’s really important to find something that your child is interested in, not just because their brother played it or it’s convenient because their sister’s already in it,” says parenting author and mother of four Kathy Buckworth, who experimented with many extra-curricular activities for her four children. She once enrolled her son in hockey simply because his sister was playing, they had all the equipment and a lineup of car-poolers who could make getting to games easier. The only problem? Her son hated hockey!
Look For Activity Camps: Signing up for a March Break or summer camp that offers a wide variety of activities can provide kids with a great sampler from which they can identify their interests.
Find Community Programs: Community programs offer a variety of activities at a reduced cost and have the bonus of being nearby. Specialty studios or professional leagues, on the other hand, will often require you to buy expensive equipment and pay hefty fees which can be a huge financial burden if your child decides they don’t enjoy the activity after a couple of weeks.
Avoid Long-Term Commitments: Some studios will ask you to sign up for an entire year. “It’s a huge expense and commitment, especially if you’re not sure your child will really like the activity,” says Kathy. Choose activities with the option to sign up for eight- or 10-week sessions until you know your child will be able to commit.
Set A Time Frame: Determine with your child how many lessons must be taken before deciding whether he or she will continue. Some activities, such as learning an instrument, require a bit of time to develop some profi ciency. If your child finds it diffi cult, he or she may lose interest, but don’t miss out on this opportunity to teach persistence and perseverance.
Visit The Faculty: Has your child suddenly developed an interest in fencing or cross-fit? Check out the facility fi rst so you can both watch what really happens and so your child knows what to expect.
Limit The Number of Activities: “I never let my kids do more than two things at a time,” says Kathy. Limiting the number of activities they participate in forces them to really think about what their interests are, rather than simply filling a schedule.
Think Of Your Child's Personality: Is your child independent-minded? Do they prefer intellectual activities to physical ones? Whether your child loves team sports or prefers to play solo, there’s an activity for them.
Try one of these unique activities for your unique kid.
Ideal for: Intellectual, introverted kids
What it teaches: Fencing is a physical and mental sport that builds speed, agility, coordination and flexibility while also improving mental focus and discipline. “Kids learn how to outsmart their opponent and how to stay calm and not freak out when things don’t work out,” says Katya Belkina of My Fencing Club in Toronto. “It’s a mental sport, like physical chess,” she says. Kids also learn sportsmanship skills as respecting one’s opponent is one of the cornerstones of fencing.
Investment: Classes range from $60-$100 per month. Most clubs provide free equipment to beginners or allow them to rent it. Swords are always provided by the club. For kids who get serious about fencing, a new set of two jackets, a mask and pair of gloves costs around $200, plus another $300-400 for chain gear if they choose to enter competitions.
Ideal for: Intellectual children who love a challenge or may have trouble fitting in
What it teaches: Chess reinforces analytical skills and teaches strategy, but can also teach important life skills, such as learning how to recover from mistakes. “You never fail in chess if you learn from the experience. If you’ve lost a game it’s because someone made a move that you couldn’t counter. You can always identify what you could have done,” says Ted Winick, President of the Chess Institute of Canada. He’s seen kids with Asperger’s and autism who have trouble engaging socially with others excel at chess. “There’s not the kind of trash talk that you get on a sports fi eld. You sit quietly, you play your game, but at the same time, you’re interacting with others,” he says.
Investment: Chess is a low- to no-cost activity. Many public libraries offer no-fee chess clubs for kids. Lessons at private facilities, such as the Annex Chess Club in Toronto, cost around $15 per class. Tournaments can cost $15-20 to enter and you can buy a chess board for your child to practise on at home for under $20.
Ideal for: Creative kids who enjoy experimenting with food; and of course, those who love to eat!
What it teaches: Cooking reinforces healthy eating habits and can transform even the pickiest of eaters. “If they’ve made something for themselves, they’re more apt to try it,” says Greg Heller of the Chef Upstairs; a Toronto cooking school that offers kids classes and camps. Children learn important life skills including the proper use of kitchen utensils, food preparation, cooking techniques, how to follow a recipe, kitchen hygiene and team-building skills as they work together to create dishes.
Investment: Classes at The Chef Upstairs can range from $65-75 per class including all materials. Kids classes at the PC Cooking School cost as little as $20.
Ideal for: Kids who enjoy being physically active and get a thrill out of competition, but who don’t necessarily love team sports
What it teaches: Cross-fit incorporates a variety of physical activities including aerobics, weight training, running and gymnastics and can be a great compliment to sports such as hockey or soccer. A class may include five rounds of a 100m row, five ball slams (throwing a big ball to the ground as hard as you can) and 10 sit-ups. Although not a team sport, Colin Hill, coach at CrossFit Calgary says cross-fit instills a sense of community. “If you finish first, you support the person who is coming in last and cheer them on,” he says.
Investment: Classes cost $65-$100 per month depending on the studio. In addition, kids will need a pair of running shoes that are only worn inside and breathable exercise clothing.
Ideal for: Kids who love hanging upside down and playing in the jungle gym
What it teaches: Aerial yoga provides many of the same stretching and strengthening benefits as yoga, but the colourful sling adds an element of playfulness. The sling acts as a suspension support, allowing children to try more challenging poses, especially those involving balance. “Young children usually can’t balance on one foot for more than a second,” says Jane Danielson, instructor at The Flying Yogi in Toronto. By putting one foot in the sling and the other on the ground it gives them a chance to see what it’s like to balance on one foot and to try some of the balancing poses that are usually too diffi cult for kids. “The kids who are real monkeys are the ones who really love it,” says Jane.
Investment: You can expect to pay slightly more than a regular kids’ yoga class, around $15 per class.
Ideal for: Creative children who love working with their hands and are interested in robotics or engineering What it teaches: Building Lego models has tons of educational benefits, reinforcing math, science, engineering and architecture concepts. “Any child that likes to create things is usually a Lego fan,” says Kelly Noseworthy, franchise owner of St. John’s Bricks 4 Kidz. Kids work in pairs to build a motorized Lego model based on the theme of the week (such as space, inventions, or land, sea & air).
Investment: A six-week program costs around $75 including materials.
Ideal for: Children who don’t enjoy team sports but who love the thrill of competition
What it teaches: Archery teaches mental concentration and discipline which can help kids excel in other areas of their lives that require focus, such as school work. “As soon as they pull the arrow, their mind focuses on the target,” says Thomas Lok, trainer at Richmond Archery in Richmond, B.C. Archery is also a physical activity that develops arm strength, as children have to pull the bow. Safety is emphasized above all, reinforcing the importance of being responsible and exercising caution.
Investment: Most archery ranges rent bows and arrows to beginners. If your child takes to the sport, they’ll need their own set, which costs around $200. Range membership can cost around $65/year and range time can vary between $4-$20 per hour, with lessons around $20 per hour.
Lisa Evans is a freelance writer and mom to nine-month old Nathan whose favourite activity is swimming. She lives in Burlington, Ontario.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/ December 2015.