There’s a lot of pressure on parents to put kids in extracurriculars: we want our children to be active and social, and it’s great to be involved in activities on the weekend and after school. It’s all too easy to get into a cycle of video gaming and movie watching, and extracurriculars enhance our kids social development and self-esteem. 

Extracurriculars differ from curricular activities in that they go beyond the basic expectations for learning set out by your local Ministry of Education. They may be after school activities, school activities like yearbook, crafts or the school newspaper, summer activities like camp or sports leagues, or groups or classes to join on the weekend. Sports, arts, coding, dance, swimming, chess, music and outdoor education are just a few of the options that families often research when looking for academic, athletic, or social skills enrichment for their children. It’s natural to want the best for your child and to support their interests outside of school, but how do you begin to choose with so many great options?

Learn more about supporting your teenaged child in school.

Extracurricular activities are important, and it is critical to choose them thoughtfully because you may be sparking a passion your child will carry well into adulthood. Of course, there are also the factors of time and money to consider. You don’t want to pay for piano lessons your child loses interest in after a couple weeks, and you certainly don’t want to spend your weekends driving them from one end of the city to another. Choosing extracurriculars is not a task to be taken lightly: it’s an investment that can either totally bomb or pay itself off in spades in the future.

So what factors should you consider when choosing an extracurricular for your child? What are the types of activities out there, and how do you know if you have picked the right - or wrong - activity? Science fair, Gymnastics or Martial Arts? What are the best ways to save money? This article will answer all of those questions and more.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Extracurricular for your Child

Cost

The first factor that you will likely consider when choosing a weekend or afterschool activity for your kid is the price. Hockey, for example, can cost thousands once you factor in the cost of equipment, lessons, and travel. The same may go for dance with so many competitions and costumes to purchase. If budget is an issue, see if your kids actually like the activity by signing them up for lessons at your local community centre. In many cases, city-funded programs are subsidized which makes it feel like less of a risk. If your child loves it and wants to go to every session, you can feel more confident about spending money on new hockey gear or a new piano.

Interest

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Your child's interests are a major factor when it comes to choosing the right after school or weekend activities. Source: Unsplash

The next important factor you will want to consider is the interest of your child in the activity. Parents often enrol their kids in extracurriculars they enjoyed as a child or ones that promote academic skills like math or public speaking, but it’s important to ask your child if they are personally interested in the activity. If your child doesn’t like dancing, for example, they won’t build their confidence. 

If your child is young and isn’t sure of what they like or don’t like, it’s not a bad idea to expose them to the activity and check their response. Perhaps you want your child to like tennis - take them to a game and see if they are excited. Maybe you want your child to play the violin: take them to a music store, watch videos of other kids playing, and see if they feel the same. Watch a basketball practice, try a paint nite, or do a trial coding class. Interest will drive engagement, and your kid will thrive if they are doing something they love.

How can you help your child in school? Read our article!

Location and Time

Where and when an activity takes place can be a huge factor in making a decision about an extracurricular activity. If you are in a large city, you will have plenty of options to choose from though you will also want to consider traffic around the time you’d be driving your child in. If you take transit, you will certainly want to choose schools and studios that are easy to get to. Timing can be everything - if an activity happens at the wrong time or it is a lot of trouble to get to the place you need to go, then you may be stressed which will affect your child’s experience of the activity.

If you have multiple kids, try to find a place that has activities for different age groups. If you can time it properly, you may get a sweet hour to yourself when you can run errands or take a fitness class.

Of course, there are some interests your child may have that you have to say no, especially if you are not located anywhere nearby. This doesn’t mean your child can’t pursue their interests - you may be able to find a summer camp or workshop where you can enrol your child for a short but intensive period of time. For example, if your child is interested in canoeing or kayaking, make it part of your next family vacation and travel to where that activity is available. In some cases, you may be able to find a virtual class which will take out all the work of a commute!

Types of Extracurricular Activities

There are so many extracurriculars your child can get involved in, and advantages and disadvantages to each. Let’s explore some of the main options: sports, arts, and sciences.

Sports and Fitness

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Sports are some of the most popular extracurricular activities for kids. Source: Unsplash

Sports and fitness are the perfect antidote for a restless kid or a child that is hooked on technology. In addition to getting fit and healthy, sports and fitness also teach skills like teamwork, listening, goal-setting and self-care. Sports help kids develop a competitive spirit, make new friendships, and learn the importance of sportsmanship. If you haven’t considered at least one sport or form of physical fitness for your child to pursue in their spare time, you may want to seriously consider it!

Hockey, Soccer, Basketball, Tennis, Volleyball, Baseball and Golf are just a few of the sports kids enjoy playing. Your kids’ school may have teams coached by a teacher, or you can join recreational leagues and classes organized by your local community centre. For the shy or less competitive child - or simply a kid that has a lot of energy to burn - fitness activities are a great go-to option. Get your kid involved in a running club, yoga class, weightlifting, or aerobics classes.

The Arts

If you have a kid with a creative spirit, why not foster their interests through arts classes? Visual and performing arts classes are easy to find in most regions: check your local community, centre, art gallery, studio, or music school for a range of options. 

For the young visual artist, watercolour painting, drawing, sculpture, and mixed media classes are fun choices. Art classes for younger kids may explore a variety of media, while older children can specialize in their own interests. Dance classes can be fun for kids who love music and movement - Jazz, Ballet, Hip Hop, and Bollywood are fun and exciting options. Budding musicians will typically find a plethora of classes to choose from at private music schools and institutions. Whether your child’s goal is to be a famous violinist or a pop star, there are dozens of teachers and organizations ready to teach your child to perform music.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics)

STEAM classes have become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to a renewed interest in the sciences. STEAM classes are geared toward helping your problem solver, science, or math whiz develop their talents in creative ways. In these extracurriculars, students complete science experiments, learn and apply new math skills, or design solutions using tools and tech. These classes are great for kids that love science and technology, and also provide opportunities for kids to socialize and access tools they might not have at home or in school.

Read our tips on supporting your child in school.

How Do I Save Money on Extracurriculars?

Extracurricular activities are not always cost-friendly, particularly when you have multiple kids or are providing for your family on a low-income. Some classes can cost hundreds per session, and you must also buy the materials needed to participate - think musical instruments, sports equipment or even dance costumes.

Thankfully, saving money is possible if you are willing to invest some time and effort. The first step is to prioritize what your family is willing to pay for: focus on what your child is most passionate about, and what skills you feel are most important to develop. You may ask your child to make those decisions, which can be great for holding them accountable to attending classes and being ready on time.

If you have the skills to help your kids through the beginner phases of an activity, that can be a great way to foster their interests without breaking the bank. Physical activities are a great area to DIY, especially if you have experience in a sport. For example, you can organize a series of skating lessons if you know how to skate, or use free Youtube videos to teach some painting or cooking basics. Involve the kids of your friends or relatives to make learning more exciting, and schedule times for lessons to happen for consistency.

As we mentioned previously, community centres are a great resource for affordable extracurricular activities. Because these classes are funded by your city, you can find activities like swimming or floor hockey for a fraction of the cost from a private school. Enrolment can be competitive, however, so make sure you follow the registration deadlines for signing up so you get the classes in the locations you want.

Public Schools with an active group of teachers may offer extracurriculars within the building for no cost. Drama club, Chess club, team sports, cultural activities, Art club, and Athletics council are just a few options many schools have to get kids active outside the classroom. 

When materials are an issue, save money by purchasing second hand items. Sports equipment, for example, is easy to find at used goods stores and you can even trade your own used things for a discount. Sites like Kijiji can also be a great resource for sourcing discounted goods. 

Hire a Private Tutor

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Hire a private tutor to teach your child's extracurricular interests. Source: Pexels

Another great way to get extracurriculars at a reasonable price is to hire a private tutor to help your child. Sites like Superprof have teachers who can teach a variety of subjects or activities to your child for a reasonable price, and you may even be able to have lessons taught in the privacy of your own backyard or local park. You may be able to coordinate small group lessons to involve siblings, cousins, or neighbours, and work with your private tutor to tailor a program that suits your child.

Check out tutoring options on Superprof today!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.