Your Afterschool Activities Guide by Age
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With the back to school season comes the task of organizing your child's after school hours. The types of activities in which your child can participate are endless, so it's important to learn how to strike a balance between providing constructive activities and over scheduling them.
"The important thing is to pick activities that offer positive reinforcement," say Diane Peters Mayer, a psychotherapist in Doylestown, PA. "Pick things kids can feel good about in terms of achievement, and don't set them up for failure or in something they don't enjoy."
Additionally, when it comes to scheduling, less is often more. Children don't need to be swim and soccer stars, nor do they need to take on activities that fill all their idle time. "For all ages, afterschool activities make sense if they build confidence and social relationships," says Derek Montgomery, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Bradley University. "However, children need time to think about their day, talk about it, engage in free play, eat and sleep well, and engage in some basic chores. After school activities shouldn't impinge on these essentials."
Once you take your child's interests and availability into consideration, consider this breakdown of some positive extra-curricular activities for your child, age by age.
There is plenty of time for sports teams, art classes and more later on. Right now focus on activities that are fun for your child. "Think of activities for young children as more of an introduction to an activity rather than something you're expecting your child to master," says Liz Hletko, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Skokie, IL. "Realize that these things take away your child's energy, so when kids are young, the less structured or demanding an activity, the better." If your child attends daycare or an afterschool program, make sure the emphasis is on play and that it's not just an extension of the school day.
During grade school children may express interest in learning new skills and participating in afterschool activities. "Kids generally shouldn't have more than 1 to 2 skills they're trying to master at one time," says Hletko. "You really have to be aware of how tired children already are, so when you're choosing activities, keep in mind that with things like piano lessons, kids are required to listen to the teacher and reproduce, but if they're taking gymnastics there's a little more of a free play aspect to it. The key is to create a balance for your child."
Pick sports and leagues based on your child's temperament and interest."There's a difference between the AYSO soccer that's available in almost every town and travel teams, for example," says Hletko. "AYSO can be a bit more of a play-based activity than some of the more competitive leagues"
Gymnastics, karate, swimming and tennis are allsports where one-on-one instruction is combined with free practice time. These sports can be good for kids who work best on their own, but can still get the social benefits that come with being part of a group or team.
Learning to play an instrument, taking a spin on the dance floor ,or picking up a paint brush can all be great forms of self-expression for kids. "Not every kid is sports minded," says Peters Mayer. "Some boys don't like sports or just aren't good at them. Participating in theater arts is a great way to help kids build confidence."