Finding the perfect extra mural activity for your child

Child on piano

Dashing around the netball court, tap dancing on stage, sprinting across the finish line or bowing before a martial arts opponent; these are only a few of the many activities available for your children to get involved in. So how do you make the right choice?

When your child is very young, parents could choose activities for their child, but soon the child will express an interest in ballet, for example, because a friend takes classes or swimming because they have experienced it at school.

Before you sign up for anything, let your child’s temperament be your guide. Remember that sport participation is not often driven by competition, but by social interaction.

Children have a desire to learn something new and through sport and recreational activities, they can gain the satisfaction of interacting with others as well as working towards a goal.

When you are selecting an activity for your child – ask yourself what your motivation is. Do you want your child to learn to ski because your parents could not afford it for you? Do you want your child to ride a horse because you were always afraid of them? Try and separate your desires from your child’s needs.

Finances may influence your choice too. If your budget is tight, look at community-based activities, which can be less costly and often offer fee assistance. Even if your child isn’t part of an organised activity, you can take her out and teach her to skate or him to kick a soccer ball.

Picking the right programme

Once you’ve narrowed your search down to soccer, ballet or guitar, how do you go about finding the particular programme that is right for your child and your family?

Ask yourself the following questions and ensure you’re comfortable with the answers:

  1. What is the goal of the programme? Is it for fun, mastery or competition? A shy, reserved child probably should not be in an environment where he or she is on show, such as tennis or gymnastics. Swimming may be a good choice because children receive individual attention and exposure to the group, but there’s no spotlight on them. If you decide on a team environment, ensure it’s not highly competitive.
  2. How much practice is necessary outside of lesson time? Music lessons, for example, call for almost daily practice whereas hockey, soccer, baseball and other sports generally require one game and one practice per week. Some martial arts demand twice-weekly classes. Dance lessons may only take place once a week but will eat up more time before performances or exams.
  3. Is the environment safe, caring and stimulating? At all times, leaders should treat children with respect and honesty, using positive techniques to guide behaviour. Look out for a focus on safety and well-maintained equipment.
  4. Those who coach or teach children, particularly younger children, should ensure the children have fun while learning the fundamentals. Look for an experienced teacher who is registered with a well known organisation.
  5. What are the instructor’s qualifications? Anyone can hang a sign that says ‘music lessons’ or ‘dance school’, therefore it is up to you to check out the instructor’s qualifications. What accreditation do they have in their field? Can you sit in on a class to make sure you’re comfortable with the approach? Do they offer references?

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