Finding the Right After-School Activity for Your Child
Parents who want to help their children develop physically, mentally and emotionally know that athletic activities can develop kids bodies, stretch their minds and build their self-esteem. But with so many options to choose from, how can parents decide which activity their child will enjoy most?
Consider His or Her Interests
First watch her play. Observe his interests. What things does he like to do? Is there a particular activity he is naturally drawn to? Also take note of his strengths and weaknesses. What is he good at, jumping, running, climbing? Does he have good balance? Does he enjoy working with other children or prefer being independent? Are there any areas of weakness that would improve with instruction? Next ask your child what he would like to try. Point out the things you have observed, then work together to decide what he might enjoy participating in.
Find a Program
Once you have decided on an activity, find a program that meets your child's needs. Start by calling family and friends whose children are already involved in a particular activity. However, it's important to remember that all children are different, and you should take that into consideration when receiving suggestions about programs from family and Friends – just because their child likes a program does not necessarily mean yours will.
Ask questions such as "Is your child happy in the program?" "What do (and don't) you like about it?" "What are the time commitments?" "How often are lessons or practices?" "How do the instructors interact with the children?" "Is there any one-on-one training?" "Is competitiveness stressed?" "What are the costs?" "Are uniforms or equipment required?" "What comments have you heard from other parents whose children are in the program?"
Try to get information from more than one source. This will broaden your options and help narrow your search down to a few programs. Finally call the organizations you are interested in to get concrete information about the programs they offer.
In gathering information, ask about class size and from what specific classes there are to choose. Some experts believe there should be no more than twelve children per teacher. Others think the ratio depends on the age, skill level and activity the child is participating in. For example, in most martial arts programs, classes are broken down by age and belt level. This is to accommodate the various developmental stages. Kids who are older and more advanced can be taught in larger groups, but beginners and early elementary school children need more attention.
It is best to have trained professionals for instructing children. Even more important, though, is that the instructor understands the psychology and physiology of young children. He should be creating a safe and positive learning environment – emotionally as well as physically. A good instructor is one who can teach the principles to his students so they understand them clearly. He must also have a good rapport with children. Instructors should be able to work well with each student, and in addition, be able to maintain control between students so they work together with an attitude of cooperation versus one of adversarial competition.
Lesson Length and Time
Another factor to consider when choosing a program is frequency and duration of lessons. Age is again the primary factor. A good rule of thumb is the younger the child, the shorter the lesson. Even then, let your child take the lead. If it looks like he's operating on overload, lighten up on his schedule and provide plenty of down time.
Curriculum and Philosophy
When inquiring about curriculum, find out how it is structured. Look for schools that use alternative ways to present the same material. This keeps it fun and caters to the various learning styles of children. Because competition is part of every activity, address this issue before signing your child up for classes. Some programs are more competitive than others. The focus of any program should be on doing one's best, not on outdoing another. It is important for your kids to have fun and enjoy the activity.
Finally when inquiring about a school, be sure to asking the following: Are there specific standards and programs for each age group? Is there a way for your child to excel and advance? How do they measure the level of proficiency for each child? If a child has a fear, how is it addressed? In addition, check on costs and uniforms or other equipment that may be required. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you decide if this is the right place for your child.
Visiting and Introductory Classes
Once you have narrowed your search, stop by for a visit. Sit in on the program and observe a class in session. How does the instructor interact with the students? Is he encour Aging them in what they are doing? Is he patient, respecting any given fears? Is he consistent? Does he use positive reinforcement?
Are the students listening and attentive? Do they seem happy? Is the program geared for the skill and developmental level and age of the student?
Visiting the facility is a good start, but the most effective way to find a program that suits your child is to let him try it out. Many programs offer introductory classes with no commitment. This allows the child to become familiar with the program. It further serves as a screening process to see if the instructor is running the program at the child's level.
Overall, the very best program is one that provides a safe, stimulating environment while keeping the student's age and developmental level in mind. In essence, it aids in a child's physical, mental and emotional development. That being the case, there is no question that sports are good for children. The question is, which one is best for your child?
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.
This article appeared in Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. Copyright 2011.