In the previous article, I argued that formal sport training is probably not the best option when it comes to choosing an after-school activity for your kids. Now I’ll try outline three general principles for choosing an activity, and give some recommendations for certain specific activities.
1. Let them or help them choose it themselves
If your kids already have a strong preference for a certain type of activity, you should respect their desires and enroll them in that activity. Even if this is some type of activity you personally aren’t very fond of (which in my case would be formal sport training), you should not interfere in their choices if they are really clear about what they want to do. So respect their decision and support them.
On the other hand, if they don’t have any preference or only have weak and vague preferences, you need to help them choose. Talk about it with them, suggest several activities, and let them pick one. Whatever they pick, support them.
2. Don’t overdo it
Only one after-school activity at a time is enough! Just like adults, kids need free time, and they need to play. Any formal after-school activity takes their time they could spend on playing and spontaneous socialization with their friends. After-school activities should not ever become a burden.
3. Think of long term benefits and skills they can develop through activity
The best activities are those they love and find stimulating, which at the same time allow them to develop certain skills and abilities that will hopefully last for a lifetime. So my personal favorites are activities related to music, languages, science or technology and art. When it comes to physical activity, this should also be an essential part of life, but I think it should be dealt with separately, and less formally. Now to the suggestions:
1. Music Education
This is my number one suggestion for so many great reasons! Learning to play an instrument develops the brain, and builds up the cognitive reserve, which is the best we can do to prevent dementia. It also develops fine motor skills and integrates so many of our faculties into one: there is connection between seeing and hearing and fine movements of fingers, there is sense of pitch and rhythm, and of course, there is a strong emotional component. Music is an universal language and our emotions can speak directly through it. Also, learning to play an instrument gives them a practical and very useful skill. At any point in your life, they’ll be able to entertain themselves and others with their music, which of course, improves mood and helps them establish social connections. They’ll be able to enjoy hours of quality time whenever the mood strikes them, if they learn to play an instrument. And having lots of talent isn’t needed. They don’t learn it to become professional musicians, but to enrich their life.
A confession: I haven’t ever learned to play an instrument, and I really miss it. It is, however, on my to-do-list, so you’ll probably read about it, when I start turning it into reality.
2. Foreign languages
This one shouldn’t be neglected. If you already know foreign languages, you might take them for granted and forget your time and efforts you put into learning them and underestimate their value, and if you live in a country (such as any Anglophone country) where they aren’t that needed, you can underrate them as well.
I am thankful to my mother who enrolled me in English courses at a very young age, and also to a friend of mine who suggested that I need to continue with courses after a long break. Thanks to them, and also, due to my own passion and love for English language, I managed to get to a solid level, which gives me so many opportunities and opens so many doors.
Benefits here are very clear: access to literature, foreign cultures and mentalities, broadening of horizons, easier time traveling, and maybe even developing a whole new way of perceiving and understanding the world. Namely, according to Sapir–Whorf hypothesis languages that we speak strongly affect our cognition and world view. So it follows that knowing more than one language gives you additional perspectives and worldviews, and makes your overall worldview more flexible.
While a very good thing, foreign language learning isn’t absolutely essential, except, maybe in one case, which is also the case in which it’s OK to violate the second principle, and do more than one after-school activity: namely, if you live in a country which is not Anglophone, your kids really need to learn English, and any other after-school activity should come only in addition to English, and not as a substitute for it. (unless there is already a high quality English course as a part of regular school curriculum, which in many countries is not the case).
3. Maths, Science and/or Programming
The importance of these can’t be stressed enough. It’s 21st century and these disciplines are the main motors of progress. Yet so many students struggle with them. The best way to avoid problems later in scholastic career is to cultivate love for these fields at an early age. Kids should learn to play with maths, perform scientific experiments for fun, and program computers as a part of their recreation. Most of kids already love computers and video games. Now, imagine their joy when they realize that they can make their own games through computer programming. If they get involved in these fields early, they will not be intimidated by academic demands of these disciplines and will be able to choose education paths that lead to many high-paying, creative and in-demand jobs.
4. Visual arts, creative writing and other arts and crafts
Now these fields receive a little weaker recommendation from me and I would suggest them only if your kids really show lots of talent and strong preference for these fields. Generally, for visual arts, talent is really needed to a very high degree, and if the kid doesn’t want or doesn’t know how to draw nicely, pushing them will achieve nothing. The same goes for writing. While writing is extremely important in many jobs, it usually involves certain types of formal or technical writing, reports, essays, etc. Such types of writing are usually well covered in school programs. Creative writing, on the other hand is usually not needed in most jobs, unless you are an author or a journalist. And also, creative writing really depends much on talent, so without it, it’s very hard to transform someone into a good storyteller. So if your kids don’t show strong talent or preference for these fields already, I wouldn’t push them too much.
When it comes to crafts, on the other hand, I would give them a little stronger support. While they are certainly not in the same category as music, languages or science/maths/programming, their real value lies in two facts: first they can really be learned well, as it’s mostly about skill, and second they allow you to create something physical and something useful all on your own. And this produces great satisfaction. Today, due to specialization, people are generally very alienated from their work and they usually work only on small parts of products and solutions. They rarely see the whole picture and the end result of their work. So, the main satisfaction of work today is mostly in salary and possibly in human contact, but one of the main aspects of satisfaction is lacking: the ability to say, I made this! This is my creation! Various crafts and hobbies allow us to do just that.
What about sports and exercise?
Well, just like learning English, I think they are essential for everyone, however I am against formal sport training. I would, on the other hand, recommend developing regular exercise and recreation habits from early age, but not as a part of formal training, but more like fun recreational activity for whole family, friends, etc. I will cover it in more detail in one of the next posts. However, if your kids show strong talent for a certain sport and a strong desire to train it formally, you should not stop them – give them your full support instead.
Finally, this article is not only about choosing activities for your kids, it can also help you find some activity for yourself that you might enjoy doing.