Last year, I asked my son what after-school activities he was interested in. He wanted to sign up for piano, martial arts, soccer, gymnastics, soft-ball, and hip-hop. Oh, and cub scouts. Did I mention he had just started transitional kindergarten?
We have a staggering array of options for after-school activities in Wine Country. Many of us also have the feeling that if we don’t sign our kids up for a million things, they’ll be at a disadvantage. So what it’s a parent to do? Here’s a formula I devised to help myself (and now you) select after-school activities that suit the family.
First off: know yourself and your situation
Are you content driving your child daily to back-to-back activities before picking up Chick-fil-A on the way home? Or does the thought of playing the role of chauffeur make you feel resentful?
Before you start filling up your days with endless after-school activities, think about what will work for you. Because if it doesn’t work for you, in the long run it’s not going to work for your family.
Tales from the field: how real families schedule after-school activities
I have a friend who has a teenager, a seven-year-old, and a toddler. Because of their varying ages, the two older children are allowed to select one activity a week. There are so many free events in Sonoma, Napa, and Marin Counties that this family would rather take advantage of these and have flexibility in their schedule. And more money in their bank account for family trips.
Another friend of mine has one daughter and works full-time running a non-profit. She only signs her child up for after-school activities offered at her daughter’s school. Their family knew they didn’t have the time nor desire to drive their child around town for after-school activities. So they deliberately selected a school with a variety of after-school activities. If this sounds like you and your children are not in school yet, consider taking this into account when selecting a school for your family.
In my case, I also have an active toddler to cart around. So I either needed to select activities where she would be able to run around at a nearby park, or take my son to activities when I had other child care arranged for her.
If you are a full-time working parent and you aren’t able to take your children to after-school activities, do not feel guilty.
There are other ways to impart the skills that after-school activities offer. The research is mixed on the benefits of after-school activities, especially at a young age. When it really seems to matter is in adolescence, when teenagers left alone after school equals more time to get in trouble. However, your school-age children receive structure within their school day. It’s important for them to have time where they can just play.
Find a formula that works for you
For our family, the formula that made sense was to allow our son to select one physical activity and one creative activity. He chose piano lessons and capoeira for his after-school activities.
Now he has three days during the school week to play after school. And I don’t have to get takeout from Chick-fil-A.