after-school cookingWhen my kids were little, they participated in many (many!) different after-school activities—from sports clinics, to music lessons, to art classes. It was a fun way for them to meet new children and learn new skills. As they got older, though, homework demands increased, and the kids had less free time after school. Plus, the time requirement for most after-school activities increased as the kids matured. By middle school, their focus naturally became more “narrow and deep;” each child did fewer extracurricular activities but for an increased amount of time. In the end, each of my children was able to find one or two activities that they are truly passionate about. Here are some things I learned along the way: 

Spend slowly

Don’t invest a lot of money until you are sure your child likes the activity. Don’t buy tap shoes, ballet shoes, and eight leotards for your child ‘s first dance lesson. Instead, try to borrow sports equipment or rent an instrument for a few months until you are confident this is an activity your child wants to pursue.

Budget enough time

Don’t underestimate the amount of time required. A child can’t learn guitar by simply going to an hourly lesson. He needs to practice a few hours a week. Most sports require weekly practices and weekend time or games. Travel teams will require a bigger commitment than recreational programs. 

Think year-round

Vary sporting activities by season. On a recreational level, a child can play soccer or football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball, tennis, or lacrosse in the spring. This gives young athletes an opportunity to try a variety of sports.

Try something new

It’s never too late. Even if you didn’t take lessons as a child, you can still learn. Last year, my 16-year-old daughter told me she regretted not knowing how to play an instrument, so I signed her up for guitar lessons. 

Encourage sports 

After hours of sitting in a classroom, sports provide an opportunity for kids to move around. Activities such as dance and soccer allow kids to get exercise, learn new skills, and socialize with peers. Consider group lessons for individual sports, like tennis, skating, or golf. Many places will allow you to set up your own group so your child can spend time with her friends while working on her game. 

More tips on after-school activities—>


after-school guitarLearn life skills 

Learning how to swim is a must—for fun and safety. Other skills, such as skating, skiing, and cooking, are also good skills to have especially as children get older. My 8-year-old was invited to an ice-skating party recently and was embarrassed to say he didn’t know how to skate. 

Maximize convenience

It can be stressful driving multiple kids to various activities across the state. Consider setting up carpools, choosing activities that are close to home, and looking into activity programs offered at your child’s school. 

Have fun

Activities such as religious school are “must dos” for some families. But for the most part, try to pick activities that your child is interested in and wants to do. Believe me: It’s no fun having to nag your child to go to an activity you are paying for. 

Let go

Don’t be upset if a child decides he doesn’t want to participate in an activity he used to enjoy. Kids change and so do their interests. Try to figure out why your child no longer likes the activity. He may need a short break or a new coach, or he may just be done. (Whenever possible, ask your child to honor short-term obligations, like important games or recitals, and give ample notice to the coach or activity leader so the team or group won’t be negatively impacted by your child’s decision.) 

Protect downtime

Leave a little downtime in your child’s schedule—if not every day, then at least one day during the week. Encourage your child to enjoy productive downtime, such as going for a bike ride, playing a board game, or getting lost in a good book.

Randi Mazzella, a mother of three, is a freelance writer from Short Hills. 

What do you think is the most important point to consider on this list? Protecting downtime? Having fun? Trying something new? Why?