Some kids love to be pushed, others are best left to progress at their own pace

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am


My Year One daughter is reluctant to take part in any extracurricular activities. Some of her friends do an activity most afternoons and sometimes even two, but she's very lethargic after school and uninterested in anything I've suggested. She just wants to go home to play or watch television. I don't want to pressure her, but I am a working parent and would prefer her to do sports or something to stretch her rather than spending too much time with my helper at home. What can I do to encourage her to take part?

It is a big transition from kindergarten to full-day primary school, and some children find the whole experience very tiring. You do not say when your daughter was born, but the youngest in the year group can take even longer to adjust.

The most important thing is that your daughter is happy at school and has the emotional and physical energy to learn. This should be your priority. The last thing you want is for her to be tired and grumpy and not wanting to attend school.

Some children thrive on being busy and doing lots of activities. Children have different natures and interests, some are 'home birds' and like time to potter, play and contemplate rather than be scheduled into activities.

Of course, as a parent, you feel compelled to give your daughter every advantage. Extracurricular activities can certainly help children to be challenged, confident and build up a wide range of interests. However, on top of homework, this can simply be too much for young children. Some child psychiatrists are beginning to note that overloaded children can become anxious or angry. This can show in frequent tantrums, meltdowns, tiredness or difficulty in sleeping.

Also, remember that your daughter is already experiencing many new activities at school and may not be ready for more. It is important, however, to let her be part of the decision-making process. Find out what she actually enjoys and negotiate with her. Ask your daughter her opinions; don't assume that you know how she feels.

Just because she is not attending a formal class, she can still do interesting and active things after school such as going to playgrounds, having play dates and doing art and crafts activities. Your helper could be encouraged to use one of the many books available with good ideas and clear instructions.

The value of time for children to relax, 'cool off' or participate in imaginative play can often be underestimated. Children need a chance to re-energise, to recharge their batteries. And, of course, there is still homework to be done and finding time to read together.

A recent US study shows that children have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago. We could argue that the world is a different and busier place, but learning expert Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek says: 'There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it's actually extremely productive and essential.' She says children gain critical life skills when left to explore the world at their own pace.

It is easy to feel pressure from other parents or think your daughter will lose out if she is not signed up for activities every day. Remember, she may be gaining much more.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong