By age 7, most kids are ready to try themselves out in a wider variety of ways. They feel older, stronger, more independent, capable, and confident. Spending more time outside home and school exploring and developing new interests and making new friends is an experience that does a world of good. Their expanding world can be much more of their own — not their parents' — which helps them to develop a clearer sense of who they truly are.
The benefits of getting involved in sports, clubs, and new activities are many. Your child will feel proud and more capable when he's stretched and stimulated. He'll feel confident and likeable having more friends, as he learns how to fit in, get along with new people, and problem solve without you. Boys' friendships, especially, tend to center on activities, so providing a range of extracurricular activities will help them to be more open-minded, outgoing, active, and healthy.
There are intellectual and developmental benefits, as well. A child who really loves doing something — anything from birdwatching to drawing to gardening — will concentrate and apply effort naturally. Before long, these attributes will transfer to schoolwork. High-energy children find it easier to relax when they have an outlet. And a well-structured program of challenging activities may also help your child stay safe: Carefully supervised risk-taking channels the temptation to explore danger and divert focus from potential trouble.
What to Expect
Sometime during first or second grade, your child is likely to become noticeably more adventurous — even in his relationship with you — becoming cheeky and more insistent in order to get what he now knows he wants. Quite suddenly, your child may "come out" in three senses:
- He becomes less emotionally dependent on you and prefers to learn instead from direct experience and friends.
- He becomes far stronger, faster, and more coordinated — and is able to improve rapidly at a variety of sports, music, or handicrafts.
- He develops a clearer sense of self and feels he knows his own mind. "How can you know me better than I know myself?" is the reaction, should you try to direct or block them.
When deciding what's right for your child, begin by asking him. It's normal for girls and boys to follow more traditional, gender-related activities. Don't discourage this, if that's what your child wants. But at every age you must be realistic about what your child is ready to manage.
For example, your 1st grader will be ready for activities that are primarily social, non-competitive, and in sync with his interests:
- group-based music-making and appreciation, drama or art club, dance group
- any low-key sport or swim club that develops general skills and coordination through team fun
- an environmental/nature club or any kids' club that features team games, simple outdoor skills and fun
Your 2nd grader will be growing physically stronger and will thrive with activities that require greater stamina, strength, concentration, and technique. Though better able to manage competition, the focus should still be on fun. Serious striving for stardom should not be stressed. Suitable activities might include:
- a martial arts class
- ice-skating, gymnastics, blades, or boarding
- group-based tennis lessons at a local club or parkindividual instrumental music lessons or membership in a choir
Third graders really enjoy being able to focus their skill and effort systematically to improve in measurable ways. In addition to any of the previous activities, your child might also enjoy:
- junior league baseball or soccer
- membership in a local band or music group
- theatre or jazz/tap dance
- foreign language class
- "adventure" sports
How You Can Help
It's important to help your child make a choice that's right for him. Friends are often the strongest lure, but a particular friend's strong point may not coincide with your child's abilities, or your son may be desperate to become a soccer star when baseball is, in fact, his forte. Of course, both fun and dreams are part of life, as is excellence and success. It is therefore a good idea to discuss the alternatives with your child, the upside and downside of different choices available and what he wants from the experience. If his latest fancy is genuinely not realistic, instead of suggesting an alternative, wait until your child expresses enthusiasm for another endeavor so that it remains his choice.
Watch that you don't overload your child with after-school and weekend activities. Children don't have to exploit every talent by their teens! Downtime is often undervalued, but after a pressured school day or week, your child also needs rest in order to "progress" her ideas, experiences, and feelings.
Keep a balance between activities, too — some for fun, some for striving, some creative, some energetic, and so on. By all means work to a child's strengths, but leave time to explore new interests as they evolve. If your child's passion isn't your thing, make sure you show interest. And if it is your thing, don't take it over! She will want to do it her way and make her own discoveries.
Tips for Getting Started and Sticking with It
To help a reluctant child get started:
- For a child who, for now, is happier at home, invite friends over, encourage lots of interests, and give him a bigger role in deciding what to do until he's more confident.
- Then, search for a good buddy who shares your child's interests and is eager to try new things with him-it's a great way to settle nerves.
- Arrange a trial visit or two to an activity, first just to watch with you, then perhaps to join in for a time. To encourage him to sign up, tell him he can pull out after, say, six weeks if he's not happy
To help her stick with it:
- If you genuinely think your child shouldn't give something up, suggest: a change of coach, teacher or group; attending less often; reducing other commitments (if the complaint is overload); or hanging on for three months, to test if the change of heart is for real.
- Praise and encouragement often help to sustain interest, so make clear you respect her interest and welcome her progress. Occasionally, a new target and focus is the answer.
- Take the pressure off. Primary-age children should enjoy their free time, not have to confront failure or use it to please you.