What is the right after school club for your child?

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Three insightful viewpoints help you sift through the myriad choices.

Kids benefit from after-school clubs in many enriching ways, from self-expression to self-satisfaction, but the ever-increasing options can be overwhelming. Following a few key guidelines will help you manage the maze of programs.
No two children are the same and you can't join every club. So selecting the best clubs for your son or daughter can cause a bit of a decision dilemma. Many of the possibilities, from sports to the arts, are appealing and you may wonder which will provide your child the experiences he or she needs most.

The following experts (and moms) offer their professional input to help you sift through the countless possibilities. Relax and figure this out together.

Let the kids decide
Parents have a built-in desire to help their children at all times, but according to Robin Kevles-Necowitz, author of, Go Take a Bath!: A Powerful Self-Care Approach to Extraordinary Parenting,"Parents should not be making decisions about after-school activities—children should." Robin's advice: "Let the kids decide."

"Prioritize what is most meaningful for them and then limit how many activities they can do at a time." Robin suggests no more than one or two at once. A parenting coach and licensed psychotherapist, she assures parents that, "a child's interests will begin to emerge in time." Based on her 25 years of practice, she recommends, "Trust the process. Breathe. It's all okay."

What's missing?
Think about why your child is participating in an after-school program in the first place. Mindy Smith, a performing arts teacher, creator of the website ThoroughlyModernMommy.com, and a mom, recommends asking these important questions when choosing the right after-school club for your child:

  • Is your child joining an after-school club to supplement a gap in the school curriculum? Is your school lacking a music or art program?
  • Does your child want to spend social time with friends? If so, talk to the other parents and try to choose something together. This is especially helpful if you have a very shy child. Kids always feel more comfortable with friends.
  • Does your child want to join an after-school club because of a special interest or talent? Does he or she sing, play chess, love science or history?
  • Or, as is the case with Mindy's four-year-old daughter, is it because even after a full day at school, your child still has so much energy he or she can't sleep at night? A good solution might be an after-school swimming club.

Mindy agrees that making the decision together with your child is sensible. Just be sure to talk about it well ahead of time. "It might take a couple of clubs to find the right fit, but that's perfectly normal." When you do find the right activity, she adds, "encourage your child to stick with it for the whole session before moving on to something else."

The ultimate goal
If you need more information on an after-school program, Mandy Cerrone, a children's theater director, suggests talking to the instructor. Discuss the options with your child, noticing which activities pique their interest, she suggests. "The ultimate goal is to get them involved with an activity they are going to love to learn." She shares some crucial points to keep in mind when sifting through choices:

  • Is it the teaching style you're looking for (authoritative or nurturing)?
  • Will the teacher connect well with your child?
  • What are the core values of the program? Do you prefer a program that encourages individual growth and self-expression or a program focused on rugged competition?

"Find a place that is going to nurture and meet the needs of your family's morals and values," adds Mandy, who is also a dance teacher and a language arts teacher in Miami, Florida. This consideration plays a huge part in helping you with your decision."

Relax
If your child isn't in ballet shoes by age 8 or your son isn't the star goalie, don't stress. Robin counsels, "Do nothing, except have patience. Let them be."

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