It’s that time of year when parents and children begin looking at all the options available for ASAs or after-school activities. If your kids are very young, you’ll tend to be the one making the decision for them, based on what activities you know they will enjoy and benefit most from. As parents, we don’t always get it right though. My daughter, who’s almost four, did ballet last term and she seemed to really enjoy it so I just assumed she’d want to carry on with it. Turns out she definitely does not want to do ballet, but tennis instead. As kids get older, they want to have their say in what ASAs they do. But the older they get, the more important their school work becomes, and a balance needs to be struck between the two.
For some families, kids drive the ASA schedule choosing options based on what their friends are doing, so they don’t feel left out. There are parents that encourage their kids to do very specific ASAs, because they want them to excel in certain sports, music, and academics. And there are parents who are less concerned about the specific ASA, what matters more is that their kids are constantly occupied. Even when parents have good intentions, kids can get too busy. The pressure to participate in activities all the time and "keep up" can be physically and emotionally exhausting.
Along with seven-hour school days (add to that travel time), homework, and everything else, some children are "working" 50-hour weeks. If your child is looking to take up a sport on a more committed basis, you need to schedule in enough time for them to practice between lessons – same goes for music. Then there are the matches and competitions they may have to take part in.
ASAs – whether they’re sports, music, languages, or arts – are of course very beneficial. They help develop social skills and offer opportunities for play and exercise. They teach sportsmanship, self-discipline, confidence, and they’re great fun. The key is to keep them that way and ensure that kids aren’t overwhelmed. Some children cope really well with their extracurricular activities, but unfortunately this doesn’t apply to every child. Family life can be affected too, with parents trying to get one child to one activity, the other child to another. Family dinners can get missed, and sometimes younger siblings can feel left out.
As with anything in life, the key is moderation and choosing activities that best suit your child’s age, temperament, interests, and abilities. If something’s too advanced, the experience is likely to be frustrating. If it isn’t engaging, kids will be bored. And when kids do something only to please their parents, it defeats the whole purpose.
At age 4-5, kids are just beginning to interact and get used to discipline; after-school time should be simple and carefree. Perhaps one or two ASAs a week and something like a music class is good. At this age they still need enough free time to just play, explore, and learn on their own.
For ages 6-7, a couple of activities per week are ideal, with extra play dates and playground visits. It’s best to avoid competitive sports activities, as children are still too young to have to worry about winning and losing.
From ages 7-9, your child is old enough to know what activities they really want to do. Many children begin lessons on a musical instrument around this age and team sports can be a good choice. Don’t forget to let them explore other areas of interest, such as science club, scouts, or painting.
From ages 9-11, homework will start to increase and more time is needed for studies. Balancing schoolwork with other activities is important, but at this age they also have so much energy to spare they’ll probably want to do anything and everything.
Whatever age they are, it doesn’t hurt to let them miss one or two sessions, even if you’ve already signed up and paid. Sometimes a friend’s birthday party, a family dinner, or doing nothing can be just as important. While there’s no denying children need stimulation, it’s OK for them to have moments of doing nothing – nothing planned or structured just some much-needed downtime.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.