After-School Activities Guide

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Help Kids Find Their ‘Thingʻ

School’s in. There’s a lot going on in young kids’ lives. I’m troubled by some of it because we’re letting devices take care of our kids’ every little need and while devices are great and everything, they are not and should not be babysitters.

When you’re in the deepest trenches of parenting — those years when you have so much kid maintenance going on you think you’ll go bonkers — it’s important to realize that it won’t last forever. Sometimes it feels like it will, but it won’t. And when your kids are old enough to leave your nest for school, they are also old enough for discovering activities that interest them in addition to school. The arts, sports, STEAM are just a few that come to mind. Like anything else in life, you have to bring your kids to try activities to see if they like them or not and to find out what sticks. Work out who gets to do what with each of your kids and get started on new adventures. You’re the leader of the pack!


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Choosing AfterSchool Activities

The intense demands of school work may cause you to hesitate when it comes to additional goings-on; dole out activities accordingly. 10 2021 10 2021

The After-School Alliance,

an information clearinghouse and advocacy group, reports kids who participate in after-school programs have better school attendance, higher grades and loftier aspirations about graduation and college attendance. They’re less likely to use drugs or get into trouble with police, and – because they log less screen time – kids in after-school programs are at lower risk of obesity. Kids also develop social and leadership skills in afterschool programs, as they interact with peers in cooperative roles and mentoring relationships. Now that’s an impressive list of benefits.

What to Consider

Before signing up, do your homework. These guidelines will help you sort the best from the rest.


“If possible, let kids choose activities based on their personal interests,” says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. Help your child find activities that reflect who they are and what they want to learn, instead of imposing your preferences on them. Kids flourish when they’re deeply engaged.


“After-school programs aren’t created equal. The best programs offer much more than homework help,” says Sara Hill, Ph.D., Senior Consultant for the National Institute on Out-ofSchool Time. “Discipline-based activities that allow kids to create a quality product over a period of time are best.” For instance, kids might learn math and science by building a boat or

practice art and leadership by putting on a play or musical.


You’re looking for more than a babysitter. Staff members should be professionals with bona fide skills and experience. “Programs with strong community connections usually have the best resources,” Hill says. “Kids may get to work with artists, scientists and athletes from local organizations, like museums and colleges. These opportunities expose kids to real-life role models.”


After-school sports show kids the value of practice and encourage persistence. But the benefits of exercise are even bigger. John Ratey, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, prescribes exercise for kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (and everyone else) because exercise boosts mood, improves learning and memory and relieves stress. Being a jock is anything but dumb.


“Extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, are ideal places for kids to explore what it means to be a group leader,” says Kuczmarski. When kids take responsibility for organizing group work and producing results, they learn valuable social skills. Encourage your child to take on leadership roles whenever possible.


”Rather than causing burnout, afterschool activities can provide balance to a class schedule that is overly academic,” Kuczmarski says, “if locations and timing fit your lifestyle. It’s okay to keep kids busy, but avoid signing

on to so many programs that you’ll be scrambling from one to the next.” Pay attention to cost as well. Good programs don’t necessarily cost big bucks. Many quality programs receive funding from grants and community partnerships.

“As you weigh the options, keep in mind this goal: You want your child to be a well-rounded citizen and a healthy, happy person,” says Hill. Afterschool activities can provide enrichment, adventure and variety. They shouldn’t be driven by high-stakes testing and they shouldn’t be box-fillers for college applications. Kids don’t want to participate in programs that are just more school after school.

Innovative programs promote learning without rote or repetition. If you can’t find quality after-school activities near you, contact your school district to advocate for programs you’d like to see. Out-of-school shouldn’t mean out-of-opportunities. 2021 11 2021 11
Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., is a mom of two kids who frequently lose track of shoes and library books. She is the author of Detachment Parenting
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Spot Your Child’s Gifts

Be intentional about observing your child and recognizing what they’re good at. They have hidden talents just waiting to be discovered! 16 2021

says Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code (Bantam; 2009). We all grow up to be something, but when we’re young, the inklings of our interests are sparked by our exposure to things we love. That’s why, when choosing activities, apps, books, outings and more for your kids, you should stay alert to who they are individually. Draw your child’s individual talents out by honing-in on them. “Your job is to expose your children to lots of different things and then observe what they choose to spend their time on,” says Paula OlszewskiKubilius, author of Early Gifts: Recognizing and Nurturing Children’s Talents (Prufrock; 2003).

“Letting your child lead the way in the elementary years without pressuring him to do what YOU want is a good way to go for his later success,” says Coyle. Let your child try as many different activities as he wants to, and then at some point, allow him to make the choice about what he will pursue further.

1) Stay Alert

Children will pursue their interests instinctively. Building with blocks or

not; painting with watercolors or not; climbing trees or not; asking to cook or not.

2) Provide Options

Talents need opportunities in order to come out. If no opportunity is given, a child’s proclivity for something can be suppressed throughout his formative years. It’s important to provide a range of opportunities for your kids so that any hidden talents can emerge and blossom. You can do this by introducing her to different topics, games, skills and activities, and helping him to pursue them.

3) Nurture What You Find

Praise and encouragement go a long way in developing your child’s recognized talents. Let your kids know you are proud of and support their passions and interests. Look for opportunities where your kids can demonstrate their abilities to friends and relatives; their support will reinforce yours. Teachers may be able to provide openings for your kids’ talents, too. For serious training, you may need to invest in private tuition and other support such as competitions and equipment.

4) Provide Enrichment

When nurturing an ability of your child’s, aim to broaden and enrich their understanding of the subject. Read biographies of others who have done the same sort of thing. If they’re a budding jazz saxophonist, take them to some jazz concerts. If swimming is their forte, let them compete. Open doors for your kids’ interests wherever you can. Activities for kids are only worth pursuing if they enjoy them. Being a champion tuba player, for instance, is no bonus to a child if they find playing it unbearably dull. When you discover things your child enjoys, keep at it — and remember, it’s your child’s life ... not your’s!

Sit Back and Observe

It can be tempting to sign your son up for a sport because you played it in high school, or to get your daughter involved in gymnastics because you wanted to be in the Olympics. But it’s important to be alert to what your kids are interested in and gravitate towards naturally. So:

• Does your girl draw a lot with Crayons or is she more likely to run around the backyard and kick a soccer ball?

• Does your son like to build castles and roads with blocks or is he more likely to be found with his head in a book?

After making your observations, seek out materials and experiences that can help your child explore their interests further. Talk to your child about the classes available in the area and go into them with the attitude that this is merely a way to find out if your child is interested in pursuing the activity further. 2021 17
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