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You think your three year old should learn how to swim and attend the library story hour. Your five year old wants to play soccer on a team with his friends, not take piano lessons. Your eight year old would like to continue in Scouting, join little league, and try out for a part in your community's summer play production. Your teenager is on the school track team, plays in the school band, and wants to take private golf lessons.

Analyzing Your Options

Even with all of the open time you've created in your family's schedule, you'll want to choose enrichment activities wisely. You should analyze the value of the activity in terms of the benefits it will provide in relation to its cost to your family in terms of money, time, and energy. To that end, you need to decide what the purpose of participation in the activity would be:

  • Does the participant have a particular interest in the activity? Perhaps a brief exposure to the subject through school, work, reading, television, or the Internet has piqued an interest to learn more about it or to try it for oneself.

  • Is the activity fun? Maybe the reason for participating is nothing more complicated than the fact that the person enjoys spending her time that way.

  • Are there benefits to the activity? Some children need physical activities to expend their boundless energy or to develop their coordination; an adult might need a physical activity to improve his fitness. Still other activities may help the participant achieve a goal: A student may improve her test scores or an adult may learn how to manage her finances.

  • Is it a social activity? Young children need to learn how to relate to other people; older children need to have activities in common with their friends; adults need interaction with other adults.

    tip

    Enrichment activities don't have to be individual activities. Consider parent/child classes (swimming, art, storytelling), multiple child activities (three siblings in the same ice-skating show), and family enrichment (everyone attending a tour at a local museum), all of which can actually ease your scheduling dilemmas.


  • Is the participant's interest in the activity purely exploratory? Some people, especially children, don't know whether they'll be interested in pursuing an activity until they give it a try. Some adults have ideas of things they've always wanted to try and finally get the opportunity.

In general, parents should probably expose their children to a broad range of activities, so they can develop and explore their interests, whereas the older members of the family will probably already have a pretty good idea of what they would like to do. Once a person has given a particular pursuit a try, then his degree of interest will start to develop. You can roughly gauge this degree of interest using a five-point scale.

  1. Interest may be minimal. In that case, consider these options:

    • If the reason for the activity was exploratory, then there is no reason to continue the activity. The person should move on to try another activity that may prove more captivating.

    • If the reason for the activity was to be sociable, then the social benefits must be weighed against the dislike of or boredom with the activity. Perhaps other, more appealing activities afford an opportunity to socialize with the same group of people. Perhaps this group's choice of activities is an indication that this is the wrong group with which to socialize.

    • If the activity offers a benefit—personal improvement, and so on—you need to determine whether a more pleasurable activity will supply the same benefit or whether the benefit is so great that the activity must be continued. Keep in mind that if the participant really dislikes the activity, the benefit may never be realized even if he continues the activity.

  2. The activity may be a pleasant pastime.

    Regardless of the reason for participating, if the activity is a pleasant enough pastime, it can be continued until such point as it interferes with the pursuit of activities that are more interesting or provide greater benefits.

  3. The activity may become an avocation.

    If the person develops a true interest in a pursuit, then she'll want to continue to have her life include an enrichment activity to improve her knowledge or skill in that area.

  4. The activity can be the person's life's work.

    Whether a person's interest leads him to pursue a related vocation, or whether the person's vocation leads to engaging in the enrichment activity, self-improvement in the area of one's career generally carries with it a high benefit.

  5. The activity may turn out to be the person's passion.

    Passions coupled with true talent are rare, but when they exist, they become real challenges to organizing the family's schedule. We're all familiar with stories from the sports and music worlds in which entire families' lives have revolved around ensuring that the talented, passionate child has been able to pursue his dream of greatness. If your family finds itself in this position, specialists are available to help you make the appropriate choices and adjustments for your family.

What you'll want to keep in mind as you work your way through incorporating enrichment activities into your family's schedule is that you should consider where along the interest scale each activity ranks for each member of the family. This evaluation will help you choose wisely among the many options available to you. The higher up the interest scale the activity rates, the more time—both the individual's and the family's—you'll want to dedicate to the activity.

THE VALUE OF PIANO LESSONS

Piano lessons are a good example of an enrichment activity that you or a family member might undertake for its benefits, both obvious and hidden.

In addition to the ability to play music, the more obvious benefits include

  • An improved ability to concentrate

  • Greater confidence in oneself

  • Improved hand-to-eye and body coordination

Some of the more hidden benefits may include

  • Enhanced brain neural-circuitry for spatial-temporal reasoning

  • Thicker nerve fibers between the two hemispheres of the brain

  • Improved object assembly skills in preschoolers

  • Higher math test scores for elementary school students

  • Better verbal memory

  • Higher SAT scores

  • Stress relief


Sorting Out Your Preferences

The number of people in your family and their ages will affect your family's method of making choices for each person's enrichment activities. If you have only three or four people to consider, you may find that making a decision on each activity as the opportunity arises will work for your family. On the other hand, if you have more people to consider, or you have a person who wants to do everything, then you may find that establishing some ground rules first works better.

The first step is to decide whether the potential participant should consider the activity at all. The questionnaire in Table 1 is a tool that can help make that determination.

Table 1. Should You Try an Enrichment Activity?
Answer the question. Parents may answer on behalf of their child, if appropriate.Enter the number of your answer.
a. Do you want to find out if you'll like the activity?
  1. No

  2. Yes

  3. Already know you like it

 
b. Does something about it interest you?
  1. No

  2. Don't know

  3. Yes

 
c. Does it sound like fun?
  1. No

  2. Yes

 
d. Will participating in the activity make you a more well-rounded person (for example, add physical activity to an inactive lifestyle, expand your knowledge)?
  1. No

  2. Yes

 
e. Will the activity help you attain a goal (for example, physical fitness, improved coordination, better grades, a promotion)?
  1. No

  2. Maybe

  3. Yes

 
f. Do you like the people involved with it?
  1. No

  2. Don't know

  3. Yes

 
Total
Scoring:
5–7Don't spend your time on it. 
8–10Try it if it fits easily into your schedule. 
11–13Try to work it into your schedule. 
14–16Give it priority over your other choices. 

After your family is engaged in a set of activities, that doesn't mean the decision process is over. The questions of whether to continue activities and whether to try new ones need to be considered whenever it's time to sign up for the next session or season and whenever something new presents itself. Each participant should ask himself the questions found in Table 2 every time he's getting ready to renew his participation.

Table 2. Should You Continue an Enrichment Activity?
Answer the question. Parents: Try to let your child answer the questions for himself.Enter the number of your answer.
a. Does the activity interest you?
  1. No

  2. Yes1

 
b. Do you enjoy doing it?
  1. No

  2. Yes

 
c. Is it helping you attain a goal or be a more well-rounded person?
  1. No

  2. Yes, but another activity would do the same thing.

  3. Yes, and no other activity would do the same thing.

 
d. Is there another activity you would rather do or try?
  1. Yes

  2. No

 
e. Do you like the people involved with it?
  1. No

  2. Yes, but I do lots of other things with them, too.

  3. Yes, and this is one of the few things I do with them.

 
Total 
Scoring:
5–6Don't sign up for it again. 
7–9Sign up again if it fits into your schedule. 
10–12Sign up for it again if at all possible. 

tip

If your family is having a hard time remembering to assess enrichment options on a regular basis, then schedule the reevaluation process as an event in your family's planner.


Keep in mind that young children rarely have an appreciation of what their options are, so they may say they want to continue with an activity because they aren't even aware that a more appealing choice exists. Older children tend to fall into routines and may have a sense that sticking with what they're doing will be less effort than switching to something else, even if the new activity would be more fun in the end. Adults, who don't have parental pressure to deal with, frequently overlook the fact that they have any options at all and simply avoid personal enrichment altogether. These are all reasons why it's important for your family to reevaluate your members' enrichment choices at regular intervals.
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