Parents are spending a small fortune to keep their children gainfully and creatively occupied with extra-curricular activities. Julia Hemens, six, takes swimming and ballet lessons every week. They cost about $2,000 a term. Her mother, Charis Perkins, says swimming is 'an essential life skill' and Julia loves being in the water. 'Ballet is something she has been crazy about since she was a tiny tot', Ms Perkins says. Part of the reason for the extra-curricular activities is due to Ms Perkins' work hours. 'I would love to be more involved though and to be able to do more stuff with her like my mother did with me - like baking and making fun crafts, and just hanging out together more,' she says. Another reason is Hong Kong's sedentary lifestyle. 'There are few wide-open spaces for children to play naturally, which is really sad,' she says. 'Being here has made me realise how lucky my own childhood was, with huge gardens and swimming pools and large grassed playing fields at school. 'Our parents did not have to shell out enormous sums of money every month for extra-curricular activities because they were free at schools, which is how it should be. This business of having to pay through the nose for everything prejudices those Hong Kong children whose parents cannot afford the luxury,' she says. 'I feel very strongly that many children in Hong Kong do far too many extra activities and they lose out on unstructured, spontaneous free time to play. There seems to be an enormous amount of pressure on parents here to push their children to succeed. They have to have extra maths lessons, Putonghua lessons, piano lessons and English lessons, and so on, so their little lives slip by commuting from one activity to the next and always under pressure. 'I think all this pressure also means kids miss out on being kids.' Eddie's mother pays $650 a month for him to take part in fitness classes at My Gym in Central. 'I chose this activity because outdoor activities in Hong Kong are limited due to weather most of the year - it's either too hot, or raining,' his mother, Melanie, says. 'The gym class offers an option for kids to get some exercise indoors under supervision.' Stanley, nine, and sister Vivian, six, cost their parents $7,500 a month, transport costs not included, for classes in piano, ice-skating, swimming, oral English, soccer and drawing. 'I was reluctant to add up all expenses because I do not want to know how high it is,' their mother, Yvonne, says. The activities, over weekdays and weekends, have been mostly picked by the kids and are for fun, except oral English, but Yvonne is satisfied that even the language class is games-oriented. The reward for this investment is for the children to have 'more exposure to things other than school work, meet more people and more group activities, have more patience in pursuing goals, more exercise and better English pronunciation'. Another pair of siblings, Oswald, five, and Kylie, four, are taking piano, ballet and abacus lessons on Saturday mornings for just under $1,200 each a month. Mum Stella, who decided what lessons to choose, believes these activities let them develop an interest in music and help the 'active' kids concentrate on doing their work. 'I just want them to develop a musical sense. I don't expect them to take any public examinations and get high scores in tests. I want them to enjoy playing piano and doing ballet. I think it is a reward to me if they enjoy music, which is part of enjoying life. 'As for the abacus, I want my boy to have more exposure to the Asian way of calculation,' she says.