Extra Murals – advice on what and how many activities to do, why to do them, budgeting for additional costs, helping your child make decisions and teaching perseverance skills.
The school bell rings, and what a beautiful sound it is after a long day of having to concentrate in class. It’s home-time at last! Or is it? These days, kids seem to linger around within the school-grounds after hours doing all sorts of extra-mural activities – from the usual drama and choir, cricket and tennis, to Tai-Kwon-Do, Pilates and Funk – there are seemingly no limits to the variety of choices available. But how does one choose and make time for everything and is it all really necessary? How much can kids do without going overboard and when does one call it quits? Here are some guidelines to consider in helping your child to achieve a healthy balance…
What to do and how to choose?
According to Loren Katz, a pre-primary school teacher in Waverly, Johannesburg, when it comes to choosing extra murals, it should definitely be the child’s decision, except for certain skills that are compulsory to learn, such as swimming. “A lot of parents feel that their children are at a disadvantage if they don’t do everything, and that if they do everything it will make them more advanced, but in fact it makes no difference. If a child is ready to do something then they can try it, but if they are not enjoying it then it’s better not to force them into it,” says Loren.
Why should kids do extra murals?
While it may seem a good thing to encourage your child to try a variety of activities, at the end of the day it all depends on your child’s individual talents and interests. If you have a child who loves drawing and being creative, art lessons will do wonders in terms of nurturing and expanding on his abilities; or if you have a child who is very active and physical, he will probably thrive from doing gymnastics. An extra mural may also be recommended by a therapist in order to help a child with a problem, for example karate is very good for children with low-muscle tone, while drama is good for helping improve speech and language development.
Any extra mural should meet the following criteria:
- The activity must have a value
- It must be fun and enjoyable
- It must encourage socialisation
- It should boost confidence
Some kids are very ambitious and want to do everything, but as parents it is important to set limits. According to Loren, for young kids (up until 10 years old), doing one or two extra murals a week is more than enough – excluding those children who also need to go for other therapies such as Physiotherapy or Occupational therapy at least once a week. “They spend such a long time at school playing with their friends, that often by the end of the day they are tired of one another and need time to relax at home in their own company,” she says.
One can have something scheduled for every day of the week, but then it is important to carefully monitor your child’s behaviour once he is home – by looking at whether he is in a mood, ratty or tired, or perhaps the other way, where he may be completely hyped up and excitable. “The child may seem to cope with it all and he might be fine, but I still don’t think that it’s good to do so much. Often kids get overloaded and it can have an adverse effect in that they come to school too exhausted to learn,” says Loren.
Budgeting for extra-murals:
Most schools will offer extra murals after hours at no direct extra cost, for example: the sports – soccer, cricket, netball etc., as well as art, choir and drama. However the trend is for other special interest activities, such as martial arts and Pilates, to be brought by the various experts to the schools at additional costs and it can become very expensive.
“If there are 12 things that your child wants to do then he must choose accordingly, where for example you can say that for the next six months he can try two of the 12, and then thereafter he can change and try another two different activities if he wants to,” Loren advises. Let your child choose one regular school activity per term. If he shows strong interest in wanting to do an activity that is at an additional cost and providing that you can afford it, then there is nothing to say he should not try it. However, don’t feel pressured into giving in just because his friends are doing it, or succumb to competition amongst other parents who are most probably overloading their children.
What if your child is not interested?
At five-years-old if your child does not want to do anything after school, know that it is perfectly normal and okay, where often forcing them into doing something will only result in that they land up hating it a year or so down the line. “A lot of the time one will find that children who don’t want to do something are opting out because they can’t do it,” says Loren, where for example a child who has low muscle tone or who is awkward with coordination will not choose to do any extra murals due to fear of failure and embarrassment and not because there is no interest.
According to Loren, the most important element that your child needs when it comes to participating in any activity is emotional confidence. “If you give them a task that is too easy, they think that you think they are stupid and they lose confidence; but if you give them something that is too difficult and they can’t do it, it has the same effect”, she says. Every child has unique strengths and talents and it is important to identify what these are and encourage your child to try activities that they will be successful with.“Ideally you want them to do something that they can do and are happy doing, but at the same time it should also help them in the areas where they are weak”.
Sticking it out
Both as children and adults we can often start something, whether it’s a hobby, a new diet or even a job, and soon give up without really giving it a chance. If your kids have chosen an activity for which you have gone out and bought whatever kit or instruments are needed, or paid for a month’s classes, be clear that they must practice and attend the lessons at least until the course or season is over. If you are willing to invest money in their extra murals, they need to be willing to stick it out for the duration that they are worth. By teaching them the value of time and money from a young age, you will also help teach them perseverance skills that will greatly benefit them in the future.
Extra-murals should be considered a form of learning through play, but there should not be any unnecessary pressure involved. They should be unthreatening, but with some value. Remember that skills can be taught in many different ways, often without professional lessons and parents should not feel like failures if they can not afford to send their kids to everything. Remember at the end of the day that kids need time to be children, without having to adhere to a tight schedule of activities and appointments. They have many years ahead of them to grow up and be adults, so while they are young, let them play and have fun.