After-school activities - Finding the right balance

"Finally!" I sighed and put my pen down. It had taken me three full weeks to research, plan and finalise the activities for my children to do this summer. It sounds easy but isn't so. I had to find a perfect combination of their interests, abilities, their needs and the classes offered. Take into consideration feedback about the classes from other moms, their location, the timings. I wanted to have a good balance of creative, mental and physical activities for both my boys, so as to give them a good outlet to burn their energy as well as incorporate some mental fun. I took into consideration their likes but also wanted to include their 'areas of concern'. That done, the forms were filled, cheques were mailed out and confirmations received. We were set......or so I thought. 

Two days into the 'Activity week' and "Why do we have to go for creative writing everyday?" That was my younger son moaning, just out of bed. I stopped what I was doing. I take these statements very seriously. Now my son loves writing his own "books." He takes some A4 sheets from our printer, makes me bind them together and spends a good amount of time setting his creative juices flowing into a fiction write up that he proudly displays to everyone. Wouldn't a course on creative writing guide him on writing good grammar, focus on spellings and punctuation, help him produce a better quality and what's more - a real book, as they even publish the books at the end of the week? But no, he wasn't happy. There goes my elder son, all dressed in his football kit finery. Thankfully he does like his football class except when they make them do a lot of drills, which 'gets boring' or tiring, or when he loses a match, or when the referee isn't fair, then he hates it. Then it becomes "I don't like this football coach/class?" And again, I take it seriously. I mean first of all what is it with these kids nowadays, they never seem to be satisfied with anything in life! And secondly why do I have to take my job so seriously? 

Today's generation, at least in this part of the world, doesn't have half the pressure of school as we did in our times. Everything is about fun and play. Maths is fun, so is English and the rest of the subjects are non-existent as they study the IB way, where learning is centred around units of inquiry. So instead of copying copious notes from the board or listening to the monotonous drone of the teacher like we did, they get to think, research, analyse and form their own opinions. Sounds good but aren't we empowering them too much, too soon? After school instead of the endless homework and preparation for exams like we did, they get to go for after-school activities. Sports, music, art - they have a plethora of choices as eager parents sign them up even before the term begins to ensure they get a seat. Everyone wants their child to be a super star in his own right and don't think twice before spending their precious resources or time in doing so. And what do we get at the end of day? "I don't want to do it. It's so boring!" Really? 

One might say that they would like to rest and relax after a hard day at school. They would like to do their own thing. Sure I say! Read a book, play a board game, get your Lego set out, but no. It's only technology that seems to smooth their frazzled nerves, bring peace to their tired bodies as their fingers are itching to touch the I-pad or fiddle with the Xbox controller! Refuse these and watch them have a Mortal Kombat fight with each other with pushes, punches and good hard kicks, till I am ready to pull my hair out or put the plug in for that PS3 game! Since when did parenting get so difficult?

No wonder after-school activities are getting so popular! I used to laugh at mums pushing their kids to do after-school activities. There was no difference between weekdays and weekends with the kids running around blindly from one activity to another. Now I've been bitten by the 'activity bug!' It's an annoying bug that keeps buzzing behind my ear, asking me to do things that others are doing, challenging me, asking me if my children are as smart as others, as capable as others and as competitive as others. Somebody's kids are doing intensive piano lessons, some kids are doing 'tennis for fun' for whole three weeks and to beat it all some children are are sitting in China doing a Mandarin immersion program for all 6 weeks of their summer! Now tell me, do my kids stand a chance against these brilliantly coached kids who would be facing them one day either in a struggle for places at University or vying for that coveted position in a Corporate office where dual language is a must? Wouldn't my kids then wish that their mother should've equipped them more, sent them for more classes to hone their skills while they still had the time and resources? Am I doing enough for them as their mum? 

I remember summer holidays just a few years ago when I would make a list of fun things to do in the city, merrily ticking off each one as we explored museums, parks, beaches, take ferry rides, go for trail walks, bicycling, scooting just for fun. They would happily trail behind me, ice cream in hand, excited about the bus ride that they were about to take! Was life so simple just a few years ago or was this stage just inevitable, waiting to happen at the 'right' time! 

Sitting here in this coffee shop, I am waiting for them to finish their drama class so that I can take them home and drag them for their swim class after that, lunch meant to be eaten on the bus. It may sound cruel and honestly I am not a big fan of sending kids for activities specially during the holidays when they do need a change from routine. But if it's activities vs technology, activities vs sibling fights, activities vs lethargy, then activities it is! 

But what one tends to overlook and maybe need to draw a line at is deciding how many activities are too many? While it's nice to keep the kids busy it is equally important to give them time to play, experiment and rest by 'not overdoing' it. If by the middle of the week they are still not liking drama that means that they really don't like to put up an act or standing out on stage. If after doing piano lessons for a year if they are still complaining about having to practice that means that they just do not have a ear for music and are not going to give those recitals that you dreamt of one fine day! Each child is different and every parent must be ready to understand that and find his/her true passion and equip them with the ability to do it. Observe, talk and use your instinct to find out what works and what doesn't. Sometimes changing a class or teacher helps, sometimes giving up that activity is the best decision. 

I think we have had a reasonably good mix of activities this summer. First three weeks of holidaying in Canada, followed by a week of additional holiday with grandparents visiting us, and then two weeks of planned activities like football, swimming, etc. Now we are going to have the last week absolutely free. I am going to be as ready to go to the playground or go bicycling, as I would be to settle into my arm chair and read a book at home doing nothing. Leaving this last week's planning to my children and see what they come up with, jointly hopefully and without the punches! And yes, I am going to continue taking my job very seriously, no doubt about that!

Ah motherhood! Weren't the nappy changing days so much easier?

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