Raising Mary: Keep your child’s extracurriculars under control

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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