Doc, this child has too much energy just going waste. We need to get him involved in an extra curricular activity”, so said the child counselor about a 4-year-old child who had all neighbours complaining that he was breaking things in every house and beating up kids all around.
I remembered my childhood – late 50s. Extra curricular activities started after curricular ones! Elocution, sports, games, drawing, craft, etc. and was restricted to school. I never got chance to do anything. It seems unbelievable, by today’s standards, that I played my first game of badminton/table tennis when I entered medicine (16 yr+); read my first James Hadley Chase at 18; spoke at a gathering, first time, at 20!
I also remembered early and mid 80s – my daughters’ time – we never gave too much importance or planned way ahead, their extra curricular activities. Yes, they did get involved in second language (not from school), dance and dramatics (society functions) and play handball (not seriously/professionally).
And today, another extreme!
“…and of course. my son will be a state level tennis player since I’m a licensed tennis coach – he has two more years until he can begin learning tennis, but I’m waiting to cheer him on as he learns his strokes”. A true 5-year plan!
When I ran an opinion poll among my ubiquitous database of family patients: “Why do kids, today, need extra curricular activities?”
- Keeping them busy (so that we have time) – 89%
- What use is only academic cramming – 82%
- Expending extra energy – 77%
- To instill self-confidence – 75%
- To make a child all rounder – 68%
- To inculcate multi tasking – 57%
- In ‘other’ category, some parents added
- May be a career option (sports, drama)
- Because every one in the family is into music
- Because everyone does it
- Because I wanted to be a chess player but could not due to family issues
This told me, based on the their reason(s), that parents run a risk of pushing the child with too much (or what the child does not enjoy/like) or something just because it in ‘vogue’ and not for child’s sake.
For my daughters, I ensured that academics came first and then the priority was to engage them in an interesting activity and avoid boredom – so they were cajoled into cycling, handball and dramatics – last because it eliminates stage fright and will help in public speaking, going ahead. Here, I used my own experience of tremendous stage fright till the age of 33. I joined Indo-American classes in Public speaking to overcome it. Now, you can’t have a child learn public speaking at 3 but you can make him participate in dramatics.
I would recommend directing the child into an activity that can be long-lasting (not a seasonal fad) and will have some collateral benefit (as against collateral damage in case of a couple who pushed their child into Abacus just because it is ‘in’ thing and child went through a minor crisis as he just did not enjoy it).
As is always my habit, a word of caution:
- An extra curricular activity should be fun and a creative outlet and should never take over academic interest.
- Getting used to video games/i-pad is not an extra curricular activity.
- We should not thrust OUR ambitions on our kids under guise of extra curricular activity.
- An extra curricular activity is a structured fun time for the child; we must ensure child has adequate unstructured activity time as well; else you will create a slave to timetable driven life.
- You may have taken trouble in making your child join/take up a specific activity but if your child does not enjoy it – just quit! You may be doing more harm than good.
The four-year-boy – mentioned above – was introduced to photography as the counselor identified his interest in nature. His father could not afford to get him a camera; our foundation helped him get a second hand digital camera. Few hours training and the boy is busy shooting plants/trees and flowers. No more complains from neighbours and who knows he may even turn out to be a photographer!
To summarise, an extra curricular activity should be fun for our child and not for us!
Dr Chander Asrani, father to three daughters and grand father to one, is a post-graduate in Family Medicine. He has over 35 years in clinical practice, launched www.growingwell.com in 2000 and since then has been writing on various subjects. Know more about him at about.me/drasrani.