Extracurricular activities - why, which, when & how

Parentree-editors 2009-01-20 09:42:58

In today’s competitive, dynamic and multifaceted world, extracurricular activities and classes for children are getting increasingly popular. With the growing importance of confident all rounders instead of just single dimensional academic crammers, Indian parents are making a beeline for extracurricular classes for their children.

There is mind-boggling variety of classes these days. Why take extracurricular classes? How to select appropriate classes? How many classes are optimal? How to strike a balance between having a bored petulant child and an overscheduled child? All these questions pose quite a dilemma for modern Indian parents. We have some guidelines and tips for making the most of extracurricular activities for your children without driving your child or yourself crazy.

What are some extracurricular classes?

There are myriad options available these days. We are focusing on the after-school classes or structured activities that children participate in on top of school activities. These are not academic or tuition related. Some examples:

  • Sports: tennis, swimming, cricket, football, golf, table tennis, badminton, horseback riding etc.
  • Dance: Ranging from classical (examples: Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Odissi, Ballet) to the bollywood dancing
  • Music: Carnatic vocal; Hindustani vocal; instruments like flute, tabla, piano, guitar, drums, sitar etc.
  • Art and craft classes
  • Also other activities like chess, gymnastics, mommy and me structured activities for toddlers and babies etc.

In general: how to view and tackle extracurricular activities

  • Of course as a first step, Indian parents should not just focus on their child's studies but also expose them to a variety of activities and sports.
  • Our role as parents is not to thrust our ambitions on them but to help them unearth their passions and calling in life and actualize their potential. The right exposure to activities in life is an important step in that direction.
  • View extracurricular activities not mechanically just because it is the done thing these days; just to keep up with other families or just for your child’s upward mobility. Also look at larger reasons than these short term motivations and you and your child may just have more fun and success with these activities!
  • Essentially, ask yourself, is it going to make your child happier in life? If your child is passionate about something, encourage it and facilitate it. 
  • At the same time it is very important that children have adequate unstructured fallow time to just be - hang-out casually at home or with friends, do things spontaneously, relax, even get bored - remember that little boredom can be the fountainhead of exploration and creativity. Ensure that your child is not over-scheduled or over-stimulated.
  • Strike a balance between extracurricular classes and unstructured play time for your child's optimal development.

Why are extracurricular activities good for children?

Within reasonable limits, extra curricular classes can be fun and very beneficial for your child’s overall development. Here are some benefits

  • They can be a fun and creative outlet and a refreshing change from the academic pressures.
  • Depending on the activity, these classes can play a big role in children’s physical and intellectual development of children.
  • Its an opportunity for your child to interact socially with her peers. And can be a blessing if you live in an area where there are not too many kids. Some mommy and me classes and even other classes give parents a social opportunity to know other parents.
  • An activity where you and your child can participate together like mommy and me classes, swimming together, or knocking around a tennis ball is also a great way for parents and children to spend time together.
  • Of course who knows? Your little one might be a budding M.F. Hussain, a Mozart, a M.S. Dhoni or a Pandit Ravi Shankar. They just need that opportunity and gentle encouragement.
  • Give your children confidence and expose them to different situations and areas.
  • Physical activities also get your child started on the path to good health early
  • Help in exposing your children to different activities at an early age and give them tools to select some fun hobbies and passions that can be their lifelong companions. These can enhance their lives as adults and a sure way to keep them away from becoming couch potatoes and other bad habits.

How to select activities and classes?

  • Of course parents need to avoid thrusting their pent-up ambitions on their children. The idea is to children exposure to a variety of activities in the beginning, following their lead in assessing what excites and interests them.
  • Even if they show a special talent and interest in one sport, try and make sure that they get exposed to other activities. Of course, let them participate in that particular activity but rotating activities in the beginning will ensure that they have given different activities a chance and a healthy and holistic attitude in life.
  • Make sure that you are not too stressed about taking them for these activities. Strike a balance. If you have two children, you will have more to juggle. So, see if they can rotate activities and take some time off activities to get some balance.
  • Ensure quality in classes and the teacher. Avoid long commutes for your child. Do your research. Talk to the teacher and other parents. Try and see if you can see the class in action. Talk to other Parentree parents.

When to get them started?

There is no right or wrong answer as such. It depends on your child, your situation and the specific activity. Some guidelines

  • There are some mommy or daddy and me classes like gym where toddlers and even babies go for fun, socialization and honing their developmental skills.
  • Some parents might live in areas where there are not too many kids, and extracurricular activities can be a welcome means of having the child some fun with his peers learning something useful. So, parents might start their children early on classes.
  • But if they start early, make sure that the class is not too strict and unduly structured and fun for the little ones. Otherwise they can get cranky and over-stimulated.
  • Some parents start some activities as early as 1 or 2 years and others start some activities around 5 or 7 years. In general, most parents and childhood experts agree thatin general 4 and 5 years are appropriate for starting to participate in extracurricular classes . By this age, kids can are reasonably independent and can take classes without their parents, have the attention span and the developmental base for classes.
  • It depends on the activity and the teachers. For example, for piano classes, most teachers want  children to start when they are old enough to have the attention span and the fine motor skills for musical instruments and young enough to have the flexibility - typically around when children are 6 or 7. Of course it depends on the child.

How many activities and for what time? Some guidelines

  • It is very important that children have sufficient unstructured play time.  Ensure that your child is not over-scheduled or over-stimulated.
  • The number of classes would also depend on when they get back home. But assuming that they are back home at a decent time, many children and their families can handle 1 or 2 activities or classes. If there are 2 classes, then one can be physical or sports related and the other could be more cultural like art or music. You can rotate classes as well and for some months give them a break from a particular class.
  • You need to strike your own special balance in making sure that your child is well engaged in fun and useful activities and also has time for spontaneous play.
  • In general most of these classes and activities are for 45 minutes to an hour. Appropriate for their attention span and just in time for toilet time.

Other tips to keep in mind

  • Do not force them. It is okay if your child is reluctant. Try in another few months. Follow their interests. Of course you might need to gently encourage or even coax your child. But first follow their interest and give them variety. You can learn a lot about your child in this process.
  • Do not label them rigidly. And give different activities a try. For example, if your child is shy do not think that dramatics is off the limits. You will be surprised how many top actors today were once shy as kids. It might get them to express themselves creatively in different roles. Give your children a chance to explore different activities.
  • One tip to make classes fun and sustain their interest in an activity is to have some of their pals go for the classes as well. Wait and see how they listen to you and look forward to their class!
  • In general, encourage them to be regular for the class and on time - the value of diligence and discipline right from the start.
  • At the same time do not be too strict. It is an extracurricular class after all. Supposed to be fun and get the creative and other juices flowing. On top of homework and exams, the added stress of extracurricular classes can really bog them down.


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