Extracurricular Activities–Part I

Ever feel like your kid is the next teen superstar de jour and you are his chauffeur, personal assistant and agent all in one?  I’m talking about the entire universe of extracurricular activities.  You know what I’m talking about:  the car time spent shuttling back and forth, the checks written every month, the time researching and checking out programs and teachers and coaches.  For most families with school-aged children, this represents a significant chunk of time.  With such an investment, it must be doing some good, right?  Well, maybe.

Now that it’s the norm for families to be of the “two-careers” variety the role of the after-school activity has changed.  For elementary students especially, aftercare programs offered by schools are a necessity and to a certain extent, are babysitting.  Everybody knows this, but no one really likes to admit it aloud.  After all, we take parenting pride in exposing our kids to the latest and greatest enrichment activities.  If it’s at school and costs money,  it’s no wonder we expect more bang for our buck than a babysitter can deliver.  After care kids have a great opportunity to blow of some steam, stay productively busy, and get their homework done so they don’t have to do it at home.  But, there is a significant difference between after-care and a genuine enriching extracurricular activity.     

Your children understand that difference.  My son took a martial art class in an afterschool program at school when he was younger.  I thought he loved martial arts, but he never seemed excited about this class.  He complained about the large class size and the kids who needed to blow off steam after school and weren’t able to focus on training.  The regular and frequent belt promotions bothered him too, because he could see that earning a new belt didn’t really require much.  Of course, I assumed he just wasn’t interested in martial arts after all.  So, a few years later when he expressed interest in Aikido, I was skeptical.

Today, he spends about six hours per week at the dojo and trains with several instructors.  This is the serious kind of training he wanted but didn’t get in the after-care program.  He takes pride in what he is accomplishing both physically and mentally.  He respects his senior dojo-mates, and has earned their respect as well

This is what my son has gained from this after-school experience:

1.      Mastering an art takes serious focus and serious training.

2.      People who master an art and can teach it to others should be respected for their accomplishment.

3.      When you master an art, you have an obligation to help those in training.

4.      You never really become a master.  You can always improve.

5.      Mental focus is as important as the physical abilities.

6.      Striving for your personal best is sometimes more difficult than competing against others.

7.      Rewards come only after significant effort and training. 

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The martial-way of my son hasn’t been without its drawbacks.  He has become quite inscrutable.  For instance, when he had to sit in  with a class at our local school to take the state achievement tests one spring, one little boy asked him what kind of stuff he learns at home school.  My son told him he learns Japanese.  The kid wanted proof, so my son gave it to him–in Japanese.  “What does that mean?” asked the other kid.  “It means ‘Even monkeys fall from trees’ “answered my son.  I will reveal my liberal-white angst by telling you that I was mortified when my son told me this because the little boy he told this to was African-American.  I couldn’t imagine what that little boy’s mom or dad thought when they learned that some little white boy came to school and called him a “monkey.”   The inscrutible meaning of the comment is that even masters make mistakes and that no one is perfect.  I can only hope that the parents of little boy didn’t interpret my son’s inscrutable comment as a racial slur.

Still, the experience with aikido has been overwhelmingly positive, though not because aikido is so cool, or that my son is really good at it.  It’s because of the people who make up the dojo.  They are at one time artists, athletes, scholars, teachers, and role-models.  Learning from them is a true enriching experience.

As desirable as an enrichment activity is for your child, it is possible to overload a child with extracurricular activities.  I suggest narrowing these down to two at a time.

Stay tuned for more ideas for more ideas for making the most of your child’s extracurricular activities.

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