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How to help kids choose an extracurricular activity

Today's kids are busier than ever before. Commitments in the classroom coupled with a full slate of extracurricular activities have ensured that many of today's school-aged children don't have a minute to spare.

While it's important for kids to embrace extracurricular activities, parents know it's not always easy helping kids find the right activity that allows them to grow outside the classroom while still focusing on their responsibilities inside it. In addition, kids' interests tend to change at the drop of a hat, so something they want to do today might bore them come tomorrow. To help kids choose and manage their extracurricular activities, consider the following tips.

* Emphasize that schoolwork must come first. Kids get excited about extracurricular activities, especially ones involving sports where they get to spend time playing with their friends. But parents should emphasize that school still comes first and that, if schoolwork starts to suffer, participation in extracurricular activities will be put on hold until kids get their studies back on track.

* Go over coursework at the start of the school year. Examine a child's course load before choosing an extracurricular activity. It's important to do this each year, as coursework gets more difficult as children get older. Just because a child could handle a couple of afterschool activities a week when he or she was in fifth grade does not mean such a schedule will be as manageable when the same child reaches high school. Go over coursework and requirements as early as possible, preferably before the school year starts, so you and your child can get a grip on what can and can't be handled with regards to extracurricular activities.

* Get a grasp of the commitment required of a given activity. Extracurricular activities require various levels of commitment. Varsity sport participation, for example, typically requires daily commitment and often requires kids to participate on weekends or even the sport's "off-season," which may include summer vacation. However, volunteering with a local charity likely won't require such a large commitment and such charities often allow volunteers to choose their own schedules. Parents and their children should consider the level of commitment an extracurricular requires and choose the activity they're most comfortable with.

* Don't overlook the social benefits of extracurricular activities. When helping kids choose an extracurricular activity, it's important to leave the ultimate decision in their hands. After all, kids won't get much of the experience if they're reluctant to participate. However, parents should not overlook the social benefits of extracurricular activities. Consider those benefits when helping kids choose activities, especially if they're likely to choose solitary activities like learning a musical instrument. It's good to encourage such interests, but also try to encourage a balance between solitary activities and ones that encourage socialization with peers, such as a sports team, debate club or volunteering with other students at a local charity.

* Don't forget the fun factor. Extracurricular activities are not just supposed to instill character, they're also supposed to be fun. If kids aren't having fun or showing any interest in a given extracurricular activity, then help them find another one. Kids need time to have fun away from school just like adults need time for fun away from the office. Weigh how enjoyable a given activity figures to be for your youngster before signing them up.