After-school activities are the perfect opportunity to allow children to explore their interests.

According to Courtney Leaves-Mearini, director and owner of Cleveland City Dance in Cleveland; Donna Papa, owner of ATA Cleveland Martial Arts in Solon; and Torey Stroud, lead facilitator at Effective Leadership Academy in Warrensville Heights, exposure to many kinds of programs can help students decide what they like.

“First of all, students are always finding themselves,” Stroud said. “Even as adults. You never know when a student will find their niche. The more things they are exposed to, the bigger chance they will find what is for them.”

Leaves-Mearini added, “Well-rounded schedules are good for brain development and the diversity is good. It’s good for children to try things because they think they know what something is, but they don’t understand the mechanics of it. So, diversity is good so they can get an idea of it but also appreciate how much work can go into it.”

Papa added, “The more activities a child has, it makes them a more well-rounded individual. They have different teachers, instructors and classmates they are dealing with. That is important.”

The professionals said children exposed to diverse activities gain skills unique to each activity, which can apply directly to class time.

“With the sports route, they learn how to be a team player and that everything isn’t all about them,” Papa stated. “And then the nice thing about taekwondo, it’s an individual sport. It’s based on the student to help their self-confidence grow. Each activity has something to teach children, and each activity won’t teach the same way.”

Stroud added, “They can learn the skills they’re learning in traditional classrooms, but this gives them the chance to apply those skills. A lot of times, you’ll see students using these skills, making those connections and they have that lightbulb moment in a variety of settings.”

Being involved with many different activities can also teach time management, Leaves-Mearini noted.

“When children are young, parents have to show them how to manage time,” she said. “Part of this is (learning) time management rules, how to understand how their bodies work and how to care for themselves physically and mentally. This helps them learn how to have a bit of a voice and opinions to communicate and express themselves. So, being exposed to various activities also shows them how to work with people who aren’t quite like them.”

But involvement in many programs can be a recipe for stress. Due to that, Leaves-Mearini suggested older students should focus on only a few activities.

“As students get older, they can’t bounce around as much,” she noted. “When children are younger, you can pick a few things for them to try. But as time goes on, sit down with your child and put a calendar together. This can help build those time management skills and create a schedule so they can realize the reality of what they’re capable of doing.”

Stroud added, “Diversity is great, but try a few things at a time and then do something different. Diversity doesn’t mean you have to do five things at once, it can be spread across the entire year.”

Papa agreed, saying parents should sit down with their child and communicate how their schedule will look.

“Learn what their commitments are,” she explained. “That helps the child know what their week will be and what is expected of them. It allows children to allot their time. And figure out what is expected. And then, if a child is feeling overwhelmed, they will feel comfortable to talk to you as you’ve leveled with them.”

Regardless, the professionals said don’t be afraid to try something new because students don’t know where their interests will lead.

“By exposing yourself to so many different experiences, you undoubtedly have connections, or at least an idea,” Stroud said. “If you talk to someone, even if it is a small interest in something, you can ask questions and self-advocate.”

Leaves-Mearini added, “Don’t be afraid to try something, but sometimes one activity will help you build the confidence to try things you were once apprehensive to do.”

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