No, your kid doesn’t have to do every extracurricular activity

Drawing? Ice hockey? Piano? With so many extracurriculars available for students of all ages, choosing the perfect after-school activities can seem nearly impossible. Where do you begin? With math or music? Art or athletics?

While your student’s preferences and strengths should certainly play a role in the decision-making process, it is more complicated than likes and dislikes alone. These tips can help you maximize the positive impact of after-school extracurriculars:

1. Note your child’s natural interests

Before you begin to research specific after-school activities, consider observing what your student instinctually shows interest in. For example, what is the first object she reaches for after the school day ends? Is it a blank sheet of paper and crayons? Or does she gravitate toward LEGOs or wooden building blocks? The best or “right” after-school activities are almost always those that allow your child to further explore an existing curiosity or passion, and observation can help you determine what she most enjoys doing.

2. Prioritize your student’s passions

One of the worst mistakes that a family can make in regard to extracurriculars is over-scheduling activities. Your child may love chess, knitting, soccer, tae kwon do, and writing, but she — or you — may struggle to manage all five activities alongside family commitments, homework, projects and the like. With this struggle may come increased levels of stress. To avoid this outcome, try prioritizing or ranking your student’s interests. This can be accomplished with your child’s assistance, with an eye toward selecting just one or two after-school activities. Should several activities tie in importance, you can also weigh them in regard to their educational applications. For instance, is one extracurricular more likely to address an academic weakness?

3. Observe the selected extracurriculars

The third and fourth steps in this guide involve slightly more traditional forms of research. Just as observing your student can unlock valuable information, so too can observing your child’s preferred after-school activities. If this option is available to you, assess whether the extracurricular is age-appropriate. What grades participate, and is the programming challenging without being impossible (or too simple)? It is also important to evaluate the instructors. Are they engaging and knowledgeable in the field? How do they address classroom management issues? Are they trained in CPR, first aid, and, if applicable, allergen protocol?

4. Investigate the logistics

If the after-school activity’s curriculum is age-appropriate and robust, your final step prior to registration is to investigate logistics. What is the cost of the extracurricular, and what does this fee cover? Are there additional costs outside the registration fee? If your student misses a class, can she make it up? Location may also be a consideration. Is the after-school activity held at your child’s school, or at another building? How difficult is it to reach this location? If it is far from your home or work, will you be able to drop off or pick up your student on time?

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