Whether or not you reckon you might be rais­ing the next Pi­casso or Beck­ham, there's no doubt­ing the pluses of af­ter­school ac­tiv­i­ties

Oi Vietnam - - Contents - Text by Sarah Spencer

“FI­NALLY!” I SIGH AND PUT my pen down. It has taken me three full weeks to re­search, plan and fi­nal­ize the ac­tiv­i­ties for my chil­dren to do this sum­mer. It sounds easy but it isn’t so. I had to find a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of their in­ter­ests, abil­i­ties, bal­anc­ing their needs with the classes of­fered, also tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion feed­back about the classes from other moms, their lo­ca­tions and 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 thought about their likes but also wanted to in­clude their ‘ar­eas of concern’. That done, the forms were filled, checks were mailed out and con­fir­ma­tions re­ceived. We were set… or so I thought.

Two days into the ac­tiv­ity week and al­ready came the “why do we have to go for cre­ative writ­ing ev­ery day?” from my younger son, moan­ing. I stopped what I was do­ing. I take these state­ments very se­ri­ously. Now my son loves writ­ing his own sto­ries. He would take sheets from our printer, make 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. So, wouldn’t a course on cre­ative writ­ing guide him on good gram­mar, fo­cus on spell­ing and punc­tu­a­tion, help him pro­duce a bet­ter qual­ity work and, what’s more, a real book be­cause 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, doesn’t have half the pres­sure of school as we did in my time. Every­thing is about fun and play. Math is fun, so is English and the rest of the sub­jects are non-ex­is­tent as they study the IB way, where learn­ing is cen­tered 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, an­a­lyze 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 to af­ter­school 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 su­per­star in their 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 tablet or fid­dle with the Xbox con­troller. Refuse them 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?

Life Was Sim­ple

No won­der af­ter­school ac­tiv­i­ties are get­ting so pop­u­lar. I used to laugh at moms push­ing their kids to do af­ter­school 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 sit­ting in China do­ing a Man­darin im­mer­sion pro­gram for all six 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 mom?

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, cafes, 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 in the car. It may sound cruel and hon­estly I am not a big fan of send­ing kids for ac­tiv­i­ties, es­pe­cially 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 class that means that they re­ally don’t like to put up an act or stand­ing on stage. If af­ter do­ing pi­ano lessons for a year they are still com­plain­ing about hav­ing to prac­tice that means that they just do not have an 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 help them find their 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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