Raising Mary: Keep your child's extracurriculars under control

By Tracy Cooper on July 29, 2013
We’re in a conundrum. It’s about the girls’ extracurricular dance classes. Last September through June, seven-year-old Mary took ballet and jazz. Adelaide took ballet only. We arrived at the dance school Saturday morning at 9:30 and stayed until 1:30. While the girls flitted about and did pliés in the studio upstairs, I waited, sitting on little kid chairs in the waiting room that doubles as a preschool during the week. With legs bent like a praying mantis, my 40-year-old knees creaked.

This year, Adelaide turns six, so she will be old enough to take two classes, like Mary. Gotta be fair, right? But this would mean five-and-a-half hours at the studio on Saturday. No thank you. Instead, we are considering a class or two on a weekday after school.

And here’s the conundrum. These precious after school hours have until now been off limits, because school is priority number one. I’d rather not have activities more than one night during the week. (Not to mention Tom and I don’t want to be constantly ferrying children around.) Mary wants to do Brownies again this year – plus dance makes two weeknights. As the girls get older and become interested in more things, and the push to keep them active becomes stronger, I can see those spare hours dwindling.

So I have to ask myself, is it worth it? On balance, I say yes. We chose dance because my younger sister had such a good experience with it as a child. Working together with classmates on their dance recital encourages perseverance, focus and teamwork. We’ve also found that activities outside school expand our children’s peer groups. Mary has a pal who’s been in her dance class since they were four. They have lunch, play and chat together between classes and have playdates in the summer.

Another benefit is the chance to try something new or build a skill. Recently, the girls were given ukuleles and really want to take lessons. What’s better than playing a musical instrument?

As a stay-at-home mom, money is a factor, but even if wasn’t, we wouldn’t say yes to every activity that passes through our children’s transoms. Or next thing you know, we’d be signing up for “Family Evening Classes”.

Expert Advice ~ Psychologist Sara Dimerman says:

Children, like adults, can feel overwhelmed from always being on the run. By occupying our children every waking moment, we don’t teach them the value of down time and of enjoying their own company during quiet moments.

Having said that, activities outside of school can be really valuable. Ideally, parents should explore as many activities as time and money allows before their child goes into Grade 1, when both child and parent may have more free time. After Grade 1, it’s best to refine the choices according to your child’s interest and aptitude. Limiting extra-curricular activities to two per week is a good idea. Religious or cultural lessons may be a third, depending on your inclination and the age of your child. Your child might choose one of the activities, and the second activity may be something that you feel is an essential life skill, such as swimming. It’s all about balance and what works for you.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 7, and Adelaide, 5.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

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