Kids are becoming increasingly booked these days, and in addition to the time spent in lessons, there's practice and sometimes performance to take into account. To prevent overload, be selective about the activities you pursue, choosing the ones that will enable your child to have fun while simultaneously developing a new skill.
Embarking on extracurricular activities of any kind requires commitment both from the child and parent. Taking account of the following factors will help you select activities that will be appropriate and rewarding for your child, especially when it comes to how much they need to practice and/or prepare for performance or competitive play:
- Age: In general, the age of your child will dictate how much you can expect them to practice and perform, from the perspectives of both cognitive development and motor coordination.
- Temperament matters: Some sports or instruments are solitary in nature (figure skating, piano), others are inherently group oriented (soccer, chorus), and some activities offer a mix (violin practice is solitary, but performance can be solo or group). If your child is shy, group activities provide a means to socialize while reducing the pressure to perform.
- Motivation: While it's common for parents to choose an activity for their child based on their desires to fulfill personal dreams ("I always wanted to play piano"), if the child is old enough to choose an activity, include him in the decision-making process. Allowing your children control over activity choice can help motivate them to practice, as they won't feel they were forced into the activity.
- Make it part of the routine: Schedule regular practice time so it becomes part of the family routine. Find out what your child should be working on so you can help be a part of the process as needed. This is much more easily said than done. We've all heard the wail, "I don't want to practice," from our kids. While reasoning with your child doesn't usually work, try to set up a regular practice schedule during the week. Start with 10 or 15 minutes of practice and then increase the time, as needed.
- Provide encouragement: While they are learning a new skill children can be clumsy and tough on the ears. Whatever your child's skill level, encourage the effort made, acknowledge how hard it can be at the beginning, but affirm that your child will improve with time and practice.
- Consider rewards: Put together a practice sticker chart or some other fun reward system to encourage your child to practice. Talk up the fun and excitement of the final recital or soccer game to motivate your child--unless performance pressure has a negative effect. Or, consider a small reward just for meeting the goals of your practice schedule each week.
- Get involved: Make practice a time for bonding and learn or practice alongside your child. If you know how to play an instrument that could accompany your child (such as violin with piano), play a simple duet together and watch your child's face light up when different sounds merge to create music. If you don't play an instrument, just sitting with your child while he practices can provide a real ego boost for your youngster. For sports, lace up your sneakers and play with your child. Not sporty? Get to a practice now and then if your schedule allows. Your show of support really matters.
- Be flexible: Life gets in the way and practice won't always be a priority. Don't sweat the occasional missed practice, and be prepared for the fact that your child may revolt against the activity, or panic and not want to go on stage or participate in a sports match. If your child is sensitive or shy, talk to coaches and teachers about ways to help your child enjoy the activity.
- Do your homework: As you consider different extracurricular activities, work on identifying the type of activity, private teacher or tutor that fits your child's personality. Ask private teachers about how they creatively motivate kids to practice. Get on board with whatever the teacher's practice philosophy is so you can provide support at home.
Practice and participation level
- Pre-verbal: For babies and toddlers, activities such as group music or baby yoga can offer a fun way for parents to connect with children in an external environment. Essentially, at this stage it's most beneficial to pursue "practice" via learn-by-play activities.
- At school: School programs offer an excellent means for daily or weekly practice, whether it's language, sports, or the arts.
- Private: Private instruction can accelerate progress, assuming the child practices. Monitor your child's progress and happiness with the teacher to see whether the personality fit is a good one.
- Group: Group activities are beneficial in creating an opportunity for your child to socialize, and they reduce the pressure in performance situations.
Practice and performance are necessary aspects of extracurricular activity. Whatever activity you chose, it's an opportunity for learning, growth, and satisfaction for your child and the whole family.
Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned freelance writer, editor, and designer. She is the editor of BostonMamas.com and the artist behind PoshPeacock.