Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Keeping Mum: How much extra-curricular is too much?

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How much after school-activity is too much?Photo / Thinkstock
How much after school-activity is too much?Photo / Thinkstock

There are various schools of thought about how much after-school activity is a good idea. Some parents believe in letting their kids join every sports team on offer to give them a good taster menu for later, more serious activities. Others feel life is overly scheduled as it is and try and limit the number to a reasonable two or three.

For working parents, where kids can finish school and transition seamlessly into after school activities, it offers a very viable alternative to after school care. But as a stay-at-home mother with very small children, I must admit I am conflicted about how much is too much (or too little) at this stage of life. Especially at this point when sitting through rehearsals with a very easily bored one-year-old can be quite a trial of endurance (a sport in itself).

There are many people who decry the modern parent and his or her heavily packed schedule for getting kids into sporting activities and other hobbies. But I believe that these days there does have to be a more conscious effort, especially by city families, to get their kids into extra-curricular. I remember a childhood in a semi-rural township being one of almost constant sporting activity; netball, hockey, gymnastics, swimming - even fat, asthmatic, barely-coordinated kids like myself were expected to take part. There was something organic to it: you just did it as an extension of your school day, in general. Most kids did. These days the palate of choice is wider and the costs to parents seem to be greater.

More planning and forethought needs to go into it.

So, in this spirit, I have put my son forward for, at various times, playball, chin-woo and tennis. Great consternation was caused in this household when he lost interest in all three (although he was forced to complete whole terms in each sport). It panics me to think that he may not be interested in sport at all, figuring that New Zealand childhood still is, by definition, sporty, and so we will keep trying.

The one sport I thought he would definitely be interested in, given his Indian sub-continent background, was cricket. I could handle the early starts, the long days waiting in the rain or beating sun, if I thought he would one day be able to while away whole days of the weekend on the cricket oval. I took him down to watch the older boys play at Victoria Park one afternoon to see what he thought. Instead, his attention was drawn to something else (no doubt his Italian side found the cricket all a bit ponderous and slow). In the corner of the field, two men were kick boxing. "I wanna do that mum" he said with an excited gleam.

For my daughter, the issue is a different one. A little girl who is keen on ballet in Auckland can have the same schedule as someone in the New York Ballet Company, once all the performances, rehearsals, fittings and shopping expeditions for bells and fairy wands are factored in. I am all behind her enjoying ballet and throwing herself into it but it seems to me it all gets serious - and expensive - pretty fast. Not to mention planting the seed of all sorts of new acquisitions in the childhood brain (she recently asked her father for a 'nutcracker', and looked at him like he was mad when he offered her actual nuts and something to open them with). For someone who lacks the physique to ever be a professional ballet dancer, I do have to ask when it is appropriate to scale back the involvement, funnelling her into things like netball and swimming instead.

No doubt time will tell who is really into what, and what they all want to stick at. I'll probably have it finally worked out and properly scheduled as the last one is flying the coop.

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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