After School Activities - An Abundance of Riches?

With a new smorgasbord of after-school activities set to roll out again this September, Agnes Holly argues the case for more unscheduled free-time and even periods of boredom...
After School Activities - An Abundance of Riches?
By James Mullan
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The choice of “after school activities” for children aged 3 – 18 abound in the UAE – generally provided by qualified and very experienced individuals, who deliver quality training with enthusiasm.


Don't Over Schedule

In our endeavour to provide the very best for our children; to give them experiences and skills with the aim of allowing them to become really rounded adults, it is easy to get carried away and over-book children.

Someone always has a better idea, something we may not have come across, or thought about, which is fantastically enticing and seems a good idea. We subscribe. If you are beginning to think that you need a driver to be able to chauffer your children to all their afternoon activities, you have probably signed them up for too many things.


Too Many Options?

Choice is our enemy here: How can you possibly weigh up a good work-out on the tennis courts, providing the skill as well as the social aspect, against an hour of piano, which provides a very different skill, and a fantastic new dimension to a child’s life?

It is impossible. The parents of an extrovert, or even a shy child for that matter, may well want drama to enhance their child’s life skills.

Or cookery? Swimming is so vital in Dubai for our children’s safety, if for nothing else. Irish dancing? Sailing? Ballet? Karate? There is virtually no activity that you would not be able to track down a provider for.

Yet, common sense must prevail. It is truly magnificent that we are able to provide all this, but – is it really necessary? And if so, how many such activities would be sensible?

A child who is no longer able to fit anything else into his or her day is definitely over-booked. Children need time off from organised activities.


Sadly, in our times, if parents are not available full-time to police after school free times, all children - regardless of gender or age - end up playing on their own, with electronic gadgets.

This is far from ideal and, in part, explains why parents book so many activities for their children. This is an understandable reaction.

The draw for the children of constant on-tap entertainment, requiring little mental in-put, therefore providing hours of relaxing fun (chilling) is very understandable. Running around outdoors is less attractive – seems more like hard work. Social hurdles may have to be encountered – the nasty kid on the compound; supervision is required due to the proximity of a road or pool.

Nonetheless, children of all ages need the great outdoors to let off steam, develop physical strength and foster a social life.

The children of the 21st century lead a considerably more sedentary life than previous generations.

They spend long hours in school, followed by school work afterwards. Most of their entertainment is also sedentary.

Children do not just “go out” to play anymore. They are often “taken out” by either a parent or a nanny.

The concept of “health and safety” is partly to blame for this, but also the fact that children no longer know “how” to occupy themselves, if something like a visit to the park, or a play date - is not organised for them. This is both artificial and inadequate. Children need to move far more than they are doing.

A child, who has not been given a schedule or a gadget will very soon come out with: ”I am bored.” This galvanises most mothers into a frenzy of - either sensible suggestions or activity - instantly “organising” something.


A Case For Boredom

A child – literally killing time – seems so sad; yet these are not wasted time – quite the contrary.

These are times that teach children: resourcefulness, train their imagination, enable them to idly kick a ball around or practise their basket ball, force them to interact with their peers, give them the opportunity to engage - really engage -  with a book, or even just sit and daydream.

We find accepting inactivity a difficult thing, but necessary it is. These children, unlike generations of the past, do not have the chance to be bored e.g. in a check-out queue, standing idly behind strangers for long periods.

(Considerate mother will have done all this so that they aren’t dragged about moodily - because they have no boredom threshold - to shops.)

They do not have to sit through tedious visits to old aunties; they have an i-pad in their hands. They are not forced to stare out of the window for hours one end during  car or plane journeys – good old DVD players help out there!

How to remedy these issues? If at all possible, abandon selecting more than three organised activities for your child. Instead, take them, and if they are reluctant some of their friends too, for a couple of hours to a beach, a play park, a cycle track, skate park or any of the fantastic places Dubai has to offer.

Allow them to “get on with it” – literally. If you have never done this, or not much, they may complain at this “boring” alternative. But over time, they will find their way back to doing what kids have done for generations: play. Not only will their health and well-being be a result, but your purse will stay a bit fatter too.

Agnes Holly has worked for more than 25 years in education ranging from university to nursery, and everything in-between.  She is a qualified SEN teacher and has worked extensively with children who have dyslexia and ADHD.  She has additional practical experience in the form of five of her own children aged between 6 and 23.

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