Should you enroll your child in any one or more of the thousands of classes that have sprung up in the past few years, ranging from grooming to football? I don't know. I wish I had an answer. My mind is still reeling from the sheer number of choices. I can't even make a list. But if you're a parent in a large city, you should know what these are.
In fact, these supplementary classes are now an industry in their own right. Think of playschool as a starting point. Playschool isn't even compulsory, and yet, it's an entire industry-and a fast growing one. A leading playschool company, Treehouse, had revenues of Rs 114 crores in the fiscal year 2013-up from Rs 77 crores in the earlier year. Playschool can start as early as toddler level and go on till your kid is ready for prep school (or junior kindergarten or whatever it is they call it these days).
As your child grows, the number of options for activity classes increase. Swimming, for example, is taught after your child is five years old (no strict rule as such, but I'm going by the few clubs I've visited to ask). Broadly, these activities include sports, math, speech and drama, theatrics, etc. All of these classes are outside of what the school teaches your child.
The question is, how seriously do you take these classes? At some level, perhaps there is also insecurity at play here for the parent. We know that we live in tough and competitive times. We want to prepare our child as early as possible so that he can hit the ground running. We also want him to discover things early enough for him to enjoy as he grows old.
So, should you care at all? Or should we leave our child alone and let him learn everything on his own instead of forcing things on him? I ask this because I've seen two categories of parents, broadly:
- They obsess over every possible class. They want to ensure their kids have been exposed to every possible option of activity as a child. No compromises. Life for them involves logistics. Logistics of ferrying their kids from one class to another day in, day out. Life for them involves stressing on whether they've missed anything. They read every flyer in every newspaper, Google classes they can't find.
- The cool bunch. They don't care. They prefer letting the kid learn stuff on his own. No classes beyond school. They pooh-pooh the Category 1 parents. In all probability, they've even skipped playschool and wait till their kids are old enough to start school. Even when their kids are in school, they stick to what the school teaches.
If you are in either category, I doubt you should read further. Since both categories of parents strongly believe in their individual philosophies, what I have to say shouldn't really matter. But my guess is, you, like us, belong to neither extreme and, in fact, fall somewhere in between. We see value in getting our kids to learn an activity or a sport early in life. But we also know that we can't go overboard and swamp our kids with too many things.
Where's the dividing line? I don't know. It's for each parent to figure out for themselves. But here's what you need to think about: there are only 24 hours in a day. There are only so many classes you can send your child to. And all things considered, children need quality 'me' time. Time for them to relax at home or simply play.
More importantly, you have to consider your own resources in terms of time and money. Some of these activity classes can be expensive, as well as a strain on your time. From what I've seen, it is the mothers that usually take kids to and from classes-at least until the children are old enough to go on their own. Given that these classes are typically timed after school, they could clash with your office timings, if you are a working mother. So you will have to make alternate provisions accordingly.
Finally, it's too early for me to say if these classes will end up benefitting or making a difference in the way my kid grows up. Besides, how much can he remember and retain? From what my kid learns at school and what he learns at these classes, he can only focus so much. And that's the reason I look at other potential benefits these classes could offer, over and above the obvious activity that the class teaches. I could think of these three:
Fun: This is the cornerstone of any activity in any class. Whether it is sports or education, the class should ensure that your child is having fun. In all probability, the activity will be something your child's school does not currently offer.
Competition: I think kids love competition. They hate losing, of course. We all hate losing. But that's part of life. As parents, we need to teach our kids how to take failure and I've already written on that here.
Friends: The class would most likely have another set of kids that are distinct from those at school. More kids to meet and more friends to make is always a good thing.
I make no case here for you to send or avoid sending your child to these classes. I'm talking from personal experience. I had none of these classes when I was a kid. Or if they were there, I doubt my parents could afford them for me. And yet, like all parents my age, I grew up just fine. My parents did the bare minimum for me. But then again, perhaps the definition of 'bare minimum' has changed as we've grown up.