Let’s face it, the time your child spends outside of school is coveted by a million and one things that seem at odds with each other. In today’s world, the typical parent is hit with a barrage of choices over how to ensure our children grow up to be the most well rounded, secure, loving people that every Mum wants.
That means decision- making and getting the balance right between after school clubs, extra curricular lessons, time with friends, family time and of course just plain down- time. It’s never an easy decision and of course who and how your child is and their likes and dislikes will pre-determine a lot of these answers.
But get it right and your child will be thanking you in years to come for exposing them or teaching them life’s skills by getting them involved early in the right activities.
You will know your child best with how tired they are when they come home from school, how much ‘extra’ they might need on top of school and how filled up their weekends are with the likes of birthday parties, family time and friends’ play.
With that in mind, there are at least ten activities that your child should try out at least once in their life, if not master by the time they reach adulthood. You don’t have to choose all of these at once and certainly not every child will like everything on this list but it’s broad enough that the essence of each is important for every child to grasp what they need and why before deciding whether it’s right for her or him.
In no order of priority:
- Play a team sport– Like I said, not every child is going to be sporty and not every child will even like sports. But what I gained from playing team sports was not about whether I was good at them but about learning how to be on a team. Team motivation, cooperation, playing your position, encouraging each other, receiving encouragement, listening to the coach and even team letdowns are all essential skills that will get you far in adulthood. And it’s not like there aren’t a whole lot of these on offer. If your child isn’t a good runner, try something more low key like doubles badminton, volleyball or ultimate Frisbee. There are so many new sports popping up everyday that you don’t need to feel tied down to the usual football, rugby or netball.
- Learn to swim- If you can do one thing for your child it is to teach him/ her how to swim. Under 8’s have the highest statistics for drownings occurring in both the UK and the US. It happens so quickly. Whether you’re a family that likes to take trips to the beach or go on holiday abroad, this will save you countless headaches and hours knowing your child is competent in the water by herself. I hated going to swimming lessons growing up and always drank too much water but my Mum insisted that we all learn until we reached lifeguard level. Today, I’m not a super strong swimmer because I still don’t particularly enjoy it but I’m competent and that’s all I need. I don’t begrudge my Mum’s insistence on this- in fact, I appreciate this skill now and it’s a lesson I will pass down to my daughters.
- Enrol your child in Scouts/ Girl guides/ Beavers/ Brownies– Whatever the age, these groups are invaluable for teaching your child values, making friendships, life skills, charity, being part of their community and about the outdoors. There may be a time when they feel like they’ve outgrown it and it’s not so cool anymore and that’s also ok. It’s nice when they’re young to feel part of something that they can wear a uniform and earn badges for good work.
- Get your child into the outdoors– This can be as general as you want it to be but just because you’re not into camping or hiking, it doesn’t mean your child couldn’t be. Being comfortable and appreciating the outdoors is again a gift that your child will thank you for years later. If you live in a city, this may not be so easy but structured activities can help with this. Enrol your child in a local canoeing, sailing, bird watching, or hiking group and watch his/ her appreciation for the outdoors soar. But really, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a club, simply taking regular walks in the woods is a great way to cultivate a love of the outdoors.
- Learn to play a musical instrument- Again, this is not something I particularly liked nor found myself good at when my Mum insisted my siblings and I all try to learn a musical instrument. None of us was particularly musical but we endured it for at least a year before packing it in. It was enough time for me to understand how to read music, how crescendos and fortes work and the notes on a scale. I hated practicing my trumpet and I’m sure it was torture for both my Mum and I but I don’t regret having the experience. Who knows? Your child may show some talent and really flourish!
- Learn another Language- Expose your child to at least one other language besides English. If you don’t speak another language at home, make it a priority for your child to attend a class once a week with other children so he/she doesn’t feel isolated. It might even be fun and they’ll be stoked the next time you go abroad and they hear the new language being spoken everywhere.
- Teach your child to play chess or backgammon- Not all of these have to be taught in an extracurricular setting. This is probably something you could teach your child at home. Chess is one of the most strategic, methodical games you could teach your child and also requires a great deal of concentration. It can be helpful in brain development, particularly when it is played regularly from a very early age and can even help a child improve their learning, thinking, analytical power, and decision-making ability. Something they will value later in life. The game of backgammon also requires strategy and is great for younger childrens’ maths skills.
- Value the Arts- Teach your children to appreciate art- whether it’s in a class, at home or at half term visiting art galleries. If you live in London, you can even take advantage and take your young ones to a West End show, a musical or the Ballet. They might even be begging you next time to start attending ballet class.
- Take a drama class- There’s nothing like a drama class to help a child’s confidence. Done well, even the shyest child will learn to come out of their shell and step into the freedom of acting. By encouraging children to ‘act out’ a range of emotions in drama class, children are better able to understand their own emotions and develop empathy with others.
- Get involved with volunteering or fundraising- This kind of goes without saying but the benefits of volunteering are endless. Besides being able to put this on your child’s cv, volunteering can give a child that feeling of giving back and being part of something bigger than themselves. Teaching a child to help others, not because they’ll receive something in return but just to be able to give back can bring endless benefits. Fundraising too can get your child thinking about goals, pushing past obstacles, developing skills around marketing and even logistics. You can even make it something you do together as a family. Whether it’s a one off fundraising activity or a regular volunteering role, make sure you get involved as well.