Choosing Extracurricular Pursuits That Enrich Your Child’s Mind

Read age-by-age guidance on managing extracurricular pursuits


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Photo courtesy of Romrodphoto/Shutterstock.com

Want to raise a kid who excels at school and beyond? Think outside the classroom. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, extracurricular activities boost kids’ community connections and are linked to better grades and school attendance. Finding the right fit for your child, however, isn’t always easy.

What’s the right age to begin after-school classes? How can families choose activities that will enrich their children’s lives without adding pressure, conflict or unrealistic expectations? How and when should parents encourage children to persist, or decide it’s time for a graceful exit? Here is age-by-age guidance on finding extracurricular pursuits that round out your child’s education without ramping up stress.


Early Years

Bright Beginnings

Parents shouldn’t rush tots into classes and clubs, says parent educator Tara Egan, founder of Charlotte Parent Coaching. Young children enrolled in high-quality preschools are likely already participating in subjects like art, physical education and music, so adding to their schedule might not yield additional benefits.

If you do want to give classes a go, Egan offers a few guidelines for caregivers. First, make sure your child can separate comfortably from you before you register him or her for child-only courses. Kids who aren’t quite ready can participate in parent-child gym or swim classes in the meantime.

Next, ensure that your child’s coach has experience working with very young children, and look for classes that don’t require your child to stay up late or miss naptimes or meals. Hungry and/or tired children don’t benefit much from any class, no matter how much they like the topic or teacher.


Elementary Years

Decision Drama

Grade-schoolers are often ready to play a larger role in choosing their own extracurricular activities, says Karen Petty, a professor of family studies at Texas Woman’s University. Parents still need to guide their children’s selections with an eye toward managing the family’s overall schedule and bank account.

“Choice-making builds self-efficacy and allows children to have a sense of control over their time outside of school, which is a good thing,” Petty says. “But parents should put financial and time parameters on their choices.”

Allowing kids to select from a short list of activities — whittled down by parents based on the family’s schedule and budget — helps kids think through their choices and prevents them from jumping into a popular pastime simply because their friends are doing the same. Using phrases like “You can choose soccer or ballet but not both,” or “It looks like gymnastics, dance, piano and softball won’t all fit in our family schedule, so choose two of those,” and marking time commitments on a shared family calendar (color-coding with one color per child is helpful) helps children see how their activities fit into the family’s bigger picture.


Teen Years

Quitting Time

At some point, most teens find themselves at a crossroads with a commitment they’ve made and consider quitting. When a once-enjoyed pursuit yields more stress than enjoyment, it’s time for a talk with your teen.

“If a child is struggling with an activity they used to like, parents should attempt to find out why,” Egan says. “Is there a mismatch between the coach and your child? Is there a peer conflict? Most issues can be addressed, like asking a coach to speak with your child one-on-one, or bringing a bullying behavior to the attention of the coaching staff.”

In general, parents should set an expectation that kids will finish out the sports season before quitting, because they’ve committed to teammates, Egan says. But there are some valid reasons to quit, too. If your child is exhausted and overscheduled, needs more time to focus on school or simply wants to explore new horizons, help map an exit strategy that focuses on how and when to make the change, and that includes thanking the coach and letting key teammates know of the decision.


Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”

 

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December 2019

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Create artwork inspired by the Christmas tree. Ages 6-10. Register online. Choose course #126771.

Cost: $31/resident, $40/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Cost: $15 and up

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PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Geocaching is a treasure hunt where participants use GPS coordinates to track down hidden "caches." We will learn how to use traditional GPS units and the Geocaching App (by Groundspeak), then hike...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Cost: $5.00

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The Studio School of Durham
1201 W Woodcroft Pkwy
Durham, NC  27713
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Sponsor: The Studio School of Durham
Telephone: 984-377-4502
Contact Name: Danielle Sunde
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Favorite Christmas songs are presented in authentic Nashville country style with dazzling guitars and fiddles along with soaring harmonies. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $25/person

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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The ensemble performs favorite holiday tunes as well as the soundtrack to "The Snowman" as it is shown on a large screen. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Favorite Christmas songs are presented in authentic Nashville country style with dazzling guitars and fiddles along with soaring harmonies. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $25/person

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for everyone

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
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Telephone: 919-662-2850

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Family members join teams to shoot foul shots for a chance to win a holiday ham. See website for age divisions and times. No registration necessary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Center
73 Hunter St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Telephone: 919-249-3402
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Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy a showing of "Home Alone." Register online. Choose course #128732.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
The Cary Theater
122 E. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Please join Admissions, Division Directors and our Head of School as they talk about Duke School’s unique program, specifically for students entering 5th-8th grade for the 2020-21 school year....

Cost: $0

Where:
Duke School
3716 Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Duke School
Telephone: 919-416-9420
Contact Name: Logan Blaylock

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See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Cost: $5/person. $2 for ages 2 and younger

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The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $16 per child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Ages 11-17 create old-fashioned taffy and hard candy using ingredients like caramel, marshmallow and chocolate. Register online. Choose course #127044.

Cost: $18/resident, $23/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $2/person or $5/family

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Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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No Christmas season is complete without your family experiencing The Raleigh Boychoir’s shining “Carols of Christmas.” This year we are excited to invite community members to sing...

Cost: $10 Students, $15 Seniors, $20 Adults.

Where:
Edenton Street United Methodist
228 W Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Raleigh Boychoir
Telephone: (919)881-9259
Contact Name: Erin O'Hara
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Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
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Ages 5 and older move through yoga poses set to holiday music, decorate a special treat and drink hot chocolate. Registration required online. Choose course #127393. 

Cost: $19/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
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Cost: Free

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Website »

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Cost: $40

Where:
Family Preschool
4907 Garrett Rd
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Family Preschool
Telephone: 919-402-1500
Contact Name: Sue Henson
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Harris Lake will welcome a special holiday visitor this December! Santa will take time out of his busy schedule to join us for a cup of hot cocoa and a ride on our wagon along the back roads of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

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Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Telephone: 919-676-6368
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Discover what's happening in nature as the sun sets and listen to stories around a campfire. All ages with adult. Register online. Choose course #127675.

Cost: $18/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough
, NC  27278


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