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After-school activities benefit your child

Choose the right enrichment program

There are good reasons to enroll your child in after school activities, according to Ellen Smith, a licensed clinical social worker and certified health coach in Poughkeepsie. She says, "It's a great opportunity for  kids to develop hobbies, learn new skills, and socialize. It also provides supervision to those who might otherwise go to an empty home."

Research shows that after school programs can boost academic performance and test scores. However, Smith says a key factor to extracurricular success is that kids enjoy the activity.

Pay attention to their interests

When selecting after school activities, begin by thinking about what your child chooses to do in his or her down time. Smith tells parents, "Observe your child to discover what they are good at and help them further their interests in that direction."

Once you have an idea of the possibilities, make a list of activities that your child has expressed an interest in, along with their daily schedule. Help them weigh the pros and cons and explain the time commitment involved. If they chose an activity that involves purchasing equipment, discuss whether they will be partially responsible. While parents should have the final say, children are more likely to practice and actively participate in an activity they helped select.

READ MORE: 7 things to look for in an after-school program

Nurture their gifts
"If your child demonstrates a gift, it is wonderful to nurture that talent through lessons. But pushing your child into a full load of after school classes in order to give her a head start may backfire," says Smith.          

One solution is to break it up with something different. For the budding concert pianist, that might mean a martial arts class one day a week rather than piano lessons every day. For the sports star, a fun science program could expand her horizons. Encourage other interests so she doesn't feel pressure.

Roberta Cruse-Fordham of Sports, Fitness and Fun in Florida says, "If trial classes are offered that is a good way to find out which activities your child will be happy participating in." If trials aren't an option, visit a potential activity while it is in session so you and your child can get a true picture of the environment, the staff and the program.

Cruse-Fordham points out, "Not all children are naturally gifted athletes, so there are programs where kids can simply get moving, socialize, practice teamwork and have fun."

READ MORE: Budget friendly after-school activities!

Don’t overwhelm them
Most experts recommend that parents enroll their children in no more than two activities during the school year. If there is a huge time commitment, limit it to one. Smith says, "When trying to determine if your child should get involved in multiple activities, consider your child's temperament, how much homework they have each night and the amount of time each week that the activities require. Listening to your child is key."

Nancy Moore, child care director of The Greater Newburgh YMCA says, "The YMCA after school program is a safe haven for children of working parents that offers a well-rounded program where kids can make friends and feel like they belong."

Ask yourself these questions when evaluating potential after school activities:

• Is the programming age appropriate?

• Does it offer a fun, hands on approach to learning?
• Are the kids enthusiastic and do they seem happy?

Enrichment should be fun
Keep your expectations realistic. Your child may need to try a few different activities before they find one that suits them. In the process of choosing after school activities remember they will get more out of the activity if they are having fun while doing it.

Dawn Marie Barhyte is a freelance writer.