One of the greatest joys of parenthood is watching your baby blossom into a child with their own interests, talents, and personality. This development becomes tangible as your child becomes involved in extracurricular activities. Soccer practice, tae kwon do, piano lessons, art classes – there is an activity to match virtually any child's hobby or interest. While outside activities are crucial to child development, they require an equal of level commitment by both child and family.
Kristen Hilliard is well aware of the time that goes into kids' activities. Her 14-year-old twin daughters Laurel and Piper started ballet and gymnastics at age three, and have since participated in karate, basketball, cross country, tennis, and track. Son Louden, age six, also dove into extracurricular activities at an early age, participating in various summer camps, baseball, and basketball.
She says that she ultimately let her kids decide when they were ready to participate in extracurricular activities. "I didn't want to put them in something that they weren't going to enjoy," she says. However, Hilliard took into consideration time, scheduling, and price when deciding on which activities to put her kids in.
There are lots of factors to take into consideration when deciding whether your child – and family – is ready to get into extracurricular activities. Read on for some advice from local experts on how to choose the right activity for your child, how to determine when your kid is ready, and how to make the most of your family's time and resources.
Hilliard thinks that it's important to get your kids into extracurricular activities before school. "So many kids go to Kindergarten and don't have a lot of experience with social interaction," she says. Being involved in different activities teaches your kids social skills and other "invaluable lessons" they can't learn elsewhere, Hilliard concludes.
Many experts agree with Hilliard: "There are classes that start at a young age, such as Mommy and Me type activities — these would be good stepping stones before putting your child in an activity completely on their own," says Jill Kniptash, Fine Arts Day Camp Director at the Indianapolis Art Center.
According to Erin Mills, the Director of Early Childhood Education at the Indianapolis JCC, a parent will know their child is ready for their own extracurricular activities when the child seeks more social interaction or shows interest in a particular activity or specific topic. Each child is different, adds Mills, so parents should take care to follow their child's lead.
Avoiding an Overscheduled Child
Many well-intended parents can fall into the trap of wanting their child to be "well-rounded," so they enroll Susie in gymnastics, voice lessons, guitar classes, French tutoring, and Girl Scouts. This is how children can become burnt out and overscheduled.
"I would recommend getting a child involved in 1-2 activities and settling in before deciding to add in anything else," says Nerissa Bauer, Behavioral Pediatrician and Assistant Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She adds that each activity requires outside time for study and practice.
"Plus, remember that once kids get involved in one activity, that will always open the door to other events, such as playmates, sleepovers, other shared interests, all of which add to the family's schedule," she concludes.
Kniptish agrees with this recommendation, adding that parents should watch for possible signs their child is overextended. "If the child acts exhausted or throws a fit because they do not want to go to the activity, then that is a good clue that they either do not like the activity, or they are doing too much," she says.
Lessons Outside the Classroom
Extracurricular activities have taught Hilliard's kids time management, teamwork, and responsibility. She treats the activity as a commitment, ensuring that her kids follow through with what they signed on to do. "This is something that is applicable in the adult world," she says. "You can't just say 'I don't want to go today.'"
In addition to these practical skills, Bauer says that "extracurricular activities help expose kids to new and exciting experiences that may spark the child's creativity, physical activity, and personal growth — and in the process, the child is able to make new friends who share common interests."
Putting Family First
So now that your child is involved in piano lessons and soccer and is making friends and gaining self-confidence, it's vital that you maintain a sense of family. Setting time aside for regular dinners, special outings, and family downtime at home is key. "It is necessary to reserve and protect family time so that each family member has a time to reconnect with one another. This is especially important as your kids grow more independent," says Bauer.
Balancing family time with a busy extracurricular schedule hasn't been difficult for Hilliard, who has taken care to maintain a balance between home life and outside activities. One of her solutions: making each child's game a family event. "The kids' activities have become family time… the kids all support each other at their events." Both Hilliard and the experts agree, as long as you're doing things together as a family, that's what counts.
Arts and Enrichment Options in Indy
Tags: Enrichment, In This Issue
Ballerinas Academy of Dance
15262 Herriman Blvd
Noblesville, IN 46060
Children's Theatre Institute
Address: 7435 N. Keystone Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46240
Geist Sports Academy
11960 East 62nd Street
Indianapolis, IN 46235
Indianapolis Art Center
820 East 67th Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46220
Indianapolis Children's Choir
4600 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46208
Indy Dance Academy
9401 North Meridian
Indianapolis, IN 46260
IUPUI Music and Arts Technology
535 W. Michigan Street, IT 352
Indianapolis, IN 46202
6701 Hoover Road
Indianapolis, IN 46260
833 East 64th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46220
12725 Old Meridian Street
Carmel, IN 46032
8320 East Brookville Road, Ste. A
Indianapolis, IN 46239
YMCA of Greater Indianapolis
401 East Michigan Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204