September...the leaves are turning colour, the morning grass is damp and the night air is crisp. The warm lazy days of summer are a fading memory. For most families, the major adjustment is the children returning to school. Alarm clocks are set, lunches made, backpacks packed and the daily schedule begins. September also marks the return to after school activities for children. With so many opportunities in our community-ranging from ballet and gymnastics to musical instruction to hockey and swimming, how do families choose which activities, if any, and how many activities are appropriate for their children? While we all want our children to have balanced lives and to maximize their unique talents and gifts, it is important to remember that the primary work of childhood is still play. I am reminded of the story of the four year old girl who was so over-scheduled with activities that one day she simply sat down on the ice in the middle of her skating lesson and refused to move. This behaviour was a powerful way of communicating that she was tired, stressed and needed some time to "do nothing" or be a child.
As you are considering planning structured activities for your child, here are some guidelines you may find useful:
Also, if your child is needing extra help with academic work, it is important to assess if your child can cope with the additional demands of a multitude of after school activities.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, is your child having fun?
There is little to be gained (and possibly much to lose) in forcing children into activities for which they have no interest or are simply too young. Think of the adults who never learned to swim and often relate frightening stories of mandatory lessons at an age when they were perhaps still uncomfortable in the water. A child-centered approach, where children choose their own activities, within the firm guidelines set by parents, seems a more positive approach.
In closing, in this world of busy families and hectic schedules, what children need most is free time; to play by themselves, play with others or just be with their parents. Childhood is a very special time and is all too brief- perhaps recognizing this need to just "be" is the greatest gift that we can give our children.
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