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19 Aug, Friday
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Montreal Families

Strike a balance by prioritizing activities

What do you do when your kids beg for yet one more after-school activity? One mom describes her struggle to choose enough courses to keep the kids happy without eating up too much of their leisure or family time.

As the long days of summer begin to wind down and the start of school becomes an imminent reality, I sit down with my 9-year-old twins and 5-year-old daughter to have a frank discussion about extra-curricular activities.

My three girls have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy and an interest in everything. They want to participate in community theatre, take pottery and painting lessons and do after-school gymnastics. There are music lessons and the lunchtime chess club vying for time against the swim classes I feel they should continue.

The biggest problem with all this (aside from the cost) is that they also have to go to school. How do we strike a balance between the academics they must master and the enrichment we strongly believe they will get from music, art and sports?

Most of all, how do we manage their contagious enthusiasm for all things new? We want to encourage their interests but we also need to set limits. We want arts and athletics to be part of their lives but we also want them to have enough downtime to read a novel or build a fort out of blankets and dining room chairs.

I also must keep in mind what it’s like to work a full day at the office and then chauffeur three children to different activities while mentally planning dinner and everybody’s lunches for the next day.

Yet, however realistic I try to be about their energy reserves (and mine), I also remind myself that these extra-curricular programs serve some very important functions for school-aged kids.

For one thing, I know they won’t get enough of sports and the arts in their academic-oriented school. I firmly believe learning a sport builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and helps kids learn the strength and endurance their bodies are capable of. I also think it’s helpful for kids to occasionally leave the peer group of their school environment and interact with a new group of kids.

As for the arts, learning a musical instrument, painting or doing pottery exercises a different part of our brains and our souls. The arts help us develop into interesting, well-rounded adults, even if we never go on to play in an orchestra or exhibit works in a gallery. We hope that the arts help our kids grow to appreciate what they see around them as they make their way through the world.

So how to fit it all in, without adding to our collective levels of stress, and thus undermining the whole point of extra-curricular activities? We choose carefully, sacrificing those things that require too much travel or that cut into our precious weekend time, which we like to spend as a family. They will keep taking music classes, since they have already invested several years and take pleasure in these lessons. They learn self-discipline and the satisfaction that comes with mastering a new or difficult piece.

They will keep swimming, since they love it and it gives us all a way to get some exercise. Their younger sister can join in, and our friends come along, making it a pleasant evening out.

Finally, I’m giving in on the community theatre for the twins, but just for the fall semester. Standing up on the stage has given them a new level of confidence and we’ve all been pleasantly surprised to learn they have good singing voices.

I’m sure there will be a couple of evenings, likely in the darkest days of November, when I feel twinges of regret that I can’t just get them all home and fed by 6:30 p.m. But I know in the long run it will be good for all of us. My next challenge is finding the time and energy to take an art course for myself…

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