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A Guide to Choosing After School Activities

By Shari Medini, The Today Show, 08/26/19, 8:15PM CDT

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After school programs are meant to be fun! But they are not required. What is most important is to give our children fun experiences - and that can happen anywhere - even at home!

As kids continue to grow and develop, you will find that they often enjoy exploring more of their own personal interests. Sure school offers opportunities for children to get involved with different types of educational and social activities, but most of the time these options are more general in nature.

After school programs are excellent because they tend to offer more specific classes that focus on a particular topic. These programs are often lead or taught by experts in that field, which allows the student to dive deeper and to really improve upon their skills.

I am a firm believer in allowing children to explore a variety of sports and activities before selecting just one or two that will fill-up all of their evenings. Not only does this open their eyes to many wonderful possibilities, but they just might surprise themselves and discover that they have a hidden talent. They might even realize that they actually do like running around outside with a team, or getting creative in the art studio.

Not only will they meet more people, but they will be exposed to different environments (outside, inside, in a classroom, on a field, in the woods, etc.). They will learn new things like teamwork, survival skills, new terminology, new technology, & different skill-sets. They will become more rounded and better educated within their community, and better understand all that it has to offer.

In order to do this though, consider looking for programs that are 2-3 month commitments, as opposed to programs that run for the length of the entire school year. This should give your child enough time to really dive into an activity and realize if they actually like it or not. And if not, then at least you are not obligated to finish out the rest of the year.

Obviously if your child wasn’t a fan of soccer, you will most likely sign them up for something very different when the next registration time rolls around. But if they really enjoyed gymnastics, consider signing them up for something similar, like cheerleading.

But don’t just think about the common sports. There are dozens of other options - music classes, art courses, STEM sessions, archery, fishing, bird watching, Scouts, knitting, crafting, cooking, horseback riding, photography, drama, and so much more!

Below are a few steps and things to consider when trying to decide what is right for you, your child, and your family.

Explore Your Options

While some schools do offer separate after school programs, there are also a lot of other options out there. Before you make a decision, take the time to do a little research. Then sit down as a family and discuss the possibilities before deciding which one to commit to. Also, many programs offer a free trial class. When calling around, be sure to ask if they offer one as well. It’s always a great idea to try before you buy!

  1. Find out what classes/courses your local schools, rec center, community buildings, youth associations, indoor sports complex, and local clubs are offering.
  2. Once you narrow down your interests, look at which facilities offer what it is that you are looking for.
  3. Consider the timing of the class - what time/day is this program offered? Does a parent need to stay, or can they drop-off? Will there always be someone available to provide the transportation?
  4. Cost - keep in mind that some activities may require additional funds beyond the program itself. Do you need to purchase special equipment, a uniform, etc?

Once you have taken all of this into consideration, hopefully the right decision will be more clear. And if you are only committing to a few weeks rather than all year, that should hopefully take some of the pressure off of making the perfect choice, and give you the flexibility to be more daring with your selection. Again, it’s fun to try new things. A little challenge can be good at times. And if it’s not working out as expected, the flexibility to just move onto something else is wonderful.

Something to Remember

While activities do have their benefits, they can also take away quality time that could be spent with family, on homework, at church, etc. We all strive to find the perfect balance, but it can be tough to obtain. When trying new activities, or when trying to decide if you should register again and keep moving up/forward through the program, I would encourage you to pause and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my child really enjoying or benefiting from this activity?
  2. Is it worth the time that we are missing from being at home as a family?
  3. Is my child handling the demands of their schedule both mentally and physically?

If the answer is “Yes” to all of these questions, then keep going and exploring! But if you see any stress or difficulty, consider taking a break. There is no harm in waiting another month, or year, before jumping back in. After school programs are meant to be fun! But they are not required. What is most important is to give our children fun experiences - and that can happen anywhere - even at home!

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