Parents

'What does your child do?': What to consider when choosing activities for kids

"What does your child do?" Do? Ummm, he plays a little, sleeps not enough, smiles at me, and has a lot of bodily functions that I'd rather not discuss here in line at the grocery store. What in the world did this mom-acquaintance mean what did my 9 month old "do?"

I hadn't been living in a cave... well, I had actually, the call room at the hospital where I was a third year medical resident was underground and pretty dark. In any case, I just didn't realize that there was such pressure to enrich babies! That was thirteen years ago, and I've learned a bit since then. There are a million "classes" in which even babies can be enrolled.

Signing kids up for activities is a great idea, but also can be overwhelming for many parents. So, how do you know what to pick and when? These three questions will help you in the process.

1. How old is your child?

  • Up to age 2 or 3 most kids do best in a grown-up-and-them class.
  • If it's a solo experience for your child, don't expect them to love the idea right away.
  • Buddies help in the preschool years, and beyond
  • Involve your elementary school and older kids in the plan. Give them experience figuring out how much and what they can do.

2. What's the schedule?

  • Don't overbook your kiddo! "Downtime" is great for kids — they do their best learning during unstructured time, at every age. A lot of good comes out of relaxing, finding your own fun, having the freedom to join a game in the building or the neighborhood or just learning how to bust boredom.
  • Pay attention to your child's routine. No matter how great the class is, if it falls during nap or mealtime there's a good chance it will be an epic failure.
  • Put your family's priorities first. It's great to protect dinnertime, or to make sure that everyone is around for family movie night.
  • Think about homework. I wish kids under high school didn't get homework, but they do — so don't set your child (and you) up for stress by taking away all the time she needs to get it done and still get to relax a little.

3. Which activity should you pick?

This is the hardest — and most fun — question you'll face!

  • Try not to force it. Most of the time, there is nothing to be gained by signing a child up for something they don't want to do. Learning happens best when kids feel optimistic and engaged. So make sure you pick from a list of activities your child at least thinks she wants to try!
  • Consider your values. Having seen a family at football practice who didn't believe in violent contact sports, it's clear that a child's desire to try something shouldn't become more important than what the parents believe is right or wrong. Just practically speaking, if your kiddo falls in love with an activity that you think is damaging, that's not going to be a successful experience for anyone!
  • Think about the life lessons. Will a particular activity teach your child perseverance? Teamwork? Flexibility? Problem-solving? Patience? Music appreciation?

And one last piece of advice: Aim for average!

Parents experience a lot of pressure to get kids "on the right path" if we want them to excel at something. There is no way to know, and no reason to care.We look at three year old bodies and minds, trying to figure out if this is a dancer, a ball player, a violinist, a linguist... We listen to our friends' kids successes and think "My child should already be doing THAT!"

Most of our children will never be Olympians or stars. Let's choose activities based on what they can do for our child, not what our child can do in that activity. When you look at a class or team or club, ask yourself...

"What if he was never great at this? Would it still be worthwhile?"

If the answer is yes, and he's interested, sign him up!

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