The Obamas don't let their daughters watch TV on school nights. Our first family believes that too much television discourages motivation for schoolwork and encourages laziness. In a society of latchkey kids and couch potatoes, what are some of the healthier activities to encourage for our children after a long day at school?
After-school activities can help a child stay focused, encourage learning, provide exercise and promote fitness. Main areas of concentration to help round out a child's experience include physical, social, intellectual and emotional pursuits. Education and child development expert Herman Beck emphasizes that activities should be geared to the child's developmental age.
Young children (ages 3 to 5) should be able to practice movements and skills they are just mastering, such as running, jumping and catching a ball. They like to role-play as people they can identify, such as their family members. Intellectual pursuits should be kept at the same level they are learning. Children who are 6 to 8 years old benefit from loosely structured team sports and games with rules. They appreciate visiting local museums and civic organizations to help expand their world. And they enjoy pursuits such as drama and problem solving. Older children (ages 9 to 12) are ready for coordinated physical activities, such as dance, gymnastics and music. They like to explore different cultures and traditions. And they benefit from getting involved in their communities, solving puzzles and research into specific areas of interest.
"Your child's interests should be the No. 1 priority when you are planning after-school activities," says National PTA President Chuck Saylors. "Your family's budget is another big concern. Forcing your children to go to activities that they are not interested in can be a waste of money, but being responsive to your children's interests and helping to nurture their talents can be a great investment in their future." He adds: "Children should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, and this can come from a mix of different activities, including organized sports and after-school programs. But sedentary activities are great, too, especially if they happen to be what your child is most interested in."
Sometimes too much is too much. Saylors recommends talking with your child about the activities if he seems unhappy or overly stressed. If schoolwork suffers, think about reducing some of the activities that are not enjoyable, but not as a punishment. "Consider bringing up the topic over dinner or at another time that is removed from the activity itself. Otherwise your child's emotions about the situation might make it hard for him or her to really tell you what is bothering him or her."
You may think that a coach, teacher or minister is too demanding on your child's time. "Try to find a quiet place to talk, and pick a time when they aren't likely to be distracted by the responsibilities involved with managing the program," Saylors says. "This might mean scheduling a phone call with them or asking whether they can stay a few minutes after the end of the activity when all of the children have gone home. Try to have the conversation out of earshot of your children. It is important that your children understand who is in charge when they are participating in the activity so that they will know to follow the rules that are in place to keep them safe. It is possible that witnessing the conversation with the adult leader can undermine that person's authority in your children's eyes."
As children get older and parents feel they need less after-school supervision, less planning may go into their activities. Sedentary pursuits, such as television watching and computer games, may monopolize time, and experts worry that the lack of physical activity may lead to obesity and other diseases. With the loss of supervision, some older children may fall victim to undesirable influences and behavior, which may have long-term consequences. This concerns many local law enforcement agencies. Sports, study programs and after-school jobs are appropriate pursuits for many teenagers.
Parents always should stay involved with and aware of their children's activities.