In this day and age, the number and variety of after-school activities seem only to grow, making it easy to get overwhelmed by the choices or not know where to begin in narrowing down the options. Here are five tips to help you choose the right after-school activities for your child.
1. Identify your child’s interests
When researching after-school activities, start with your child’s interests. What subjects does she enjoy at school? What does she like to do outside of school? There may be a community class, school club, or team that directly or indirectly supports each interest. Your child may have ideas about what this is already, or she may not know the range of after-school options. Ask around—start with your child’s teacher or other parents. Sometimes, there are options to “try out” a class or club, for free or for a nominal fee. This can be a great way to gauge your child’s interest in person. Whether or not you’re able to try out an activity, involving your child as much as possible in the decision-making process will help give her ownership and agency over the decision—and may increase the possibility that she will enjoy the activity (this is not always the case, of course).
2. Consider your child’s strengths and weaknesses
After-school activities are great for both leaning into strengths and overcoming weaknesses—so there is no one right way to make the decision. The following are aspects to consider: your child’s academic abilities, social skills, behavioral skills, self-esteem, focus and attention, and gross and fine motor skills. You can also weigh different styles of learning—for instance, visual, aural, verbal, and physical—and whether your child does better with solitary or group activities. Again, it’s good to lean into your child’s strengths, and, if possible and desired, to participate in activities that will stretch your child’s skills.
3. Determine what you and your child hope to get out of the activity
When choosing an after-school activity, it’s important to identify what you and your child hope to gain. Examples include having fun, making new friends, building leadership skills, encouraging self-esteem, and providing exercise. This can help you narrow down a search for activities. Then, once you have a shorter list, consider what the process and end goals are for each activity, and if they match what you and your child are looking for. Don’t forget: It can sometimes be easy to see your child’s activities through your own expectations. It’s normal to have some mismatch between expectations and outcomes. But to lessen stress for your whole family, it’s important to keep in mind an action plan—a way to be open—when these mismatches occur.
4. Prioritize balance and time management
With so many options available, children can get overscheduled in terms of homework, after-school activities, and family time. Decide whether an after-school activity is great to do in conjunction with—or after—planning out a daily and weekly schedule for your family. Make sure the chosen activity/activities give your child enough time to complete homework and eat and rest well.
5. Review costs and time commitment
After-school activities range widely in terms of costs. They may also involve rental fees for instruments or sports equipment. What is realistic for your family? Consider the time commitment of the activity too. Don’t forget to factor in transportation—how to get your child to and from the activity. If you aren’t available, is there a trusted person who could help your child get to and from the location?
Whatever activities your child partakes in this year, encourage him toward both a range of activities over the years and depth in one activity, if possible. He may build an unexpected friendship or mentorship, or discover an unexpected talent or interest. This may lead to a lifelong passion or career option, and even if not, it will help your child develop as a student and person.
Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.