After School    

Is your child the next Picasso?

Questions to ask before selecting an enrichment program for your child

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. It's a great opportunity for them to develop hobbies, learn new skills, and socialize. It also provides supervision to kids 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 particular activity.

Think about what your child enjoys doing

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

Help your child follow her passion

Once you have an idea of the possibilities, make a list of activities  your child has expressed an interest in. Next, make a list of activities your child is currently involved in. Weigh the pros and cons of each new enrichment program as a family. Explain the time commitment involved for both you and your child. 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.

Expand your child's horizons with pottery!

Nurture natural talents

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 in one area may backfire, says Smith.

One solution is to break your child’s schedule up with something different. For the budding artist, that might mean a martial arts class one day a week rather than art lessons every day. For the sports star, a fun science-related program at a local Mad Science program could expand her horizons. Give her other options and encourage other interests so she doesn't feel pressure to be perfect in one subject area.

Join a trial class

Roberta Cruse-Fordham of Sports, Fitness and Fun in Florida believes trial classes are a great way to find out which activities your child will be happy participating in. If trial classes aren't an option, Cruse-Fordham suggests visiting a potential program while it is in session so you and your child can get a true picture of the environment, staff and the activities involved with the program.

Local fitness enrichment programs offer a wide range of after school activities that develop gross motor and fine motor skills. For example, fitness establishments like Sportsplex in New Windsor offer pre-school programs where children develop social skills, sing songs, create crafts and play gym games.

Other local programs like Sports Fitness and Fun offer classes for children ages two through five. In their younger groups, children work on their social skills, walking, crawling and jumping. The older classes build a stong foundation for athletic success by boosting self-esteem and by fine tuning locomotor skills through fun activities like climbing, tumbling, swimming and jumping.

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

6 signs your child's schedule is too full

Limit activities during the school year

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 that 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."

Find a safe environment

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 they belong. Beyond the basic concerns such as safety, trained staff and enjoyable activities what else should you look for?

Ask yourself these questions when evaluating potential after school activities:

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

Keep your expectations realistic. Your child may need to try a few different actitivities before they find one that suits him. 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. Look around until you find a good match for your child's temperament and your family's needs.

Dawn Marie Barhyte is a freelance writer and former educator.