As a mum of two young children in London, I often wonder if all this money spent on numerous music, tennis, swimming lessons are really worth it.
Both my husband and I agree that our children are very unlikely to become professional musicians or tennis players. Not only that, our children tend to change their mind after one term about what they like and we keep jumping from Karate to Fencing, from Fencing to Yoga and so on.
So – are all those classes a waste? That is the question I can’t answer before my children are grown ups.
However, I can make sure that they enjoy the learning journey, stay interested and get some tangible skills out of it.
So how to make all those after school activities more engaging and beneficial?
Your child has to take moments of pride along the journey of learning and that will keep your child on the journey (I first read about this idea in “The Power of Moments” by Dan and Chip Heath).
How one can achieve it? Try to structure any learning as a video game: you move from one level to a slightly harder level, but every level is fun (the idea is explained in details in "Level Up Your Life" by Steve Kamb).
You may think that it is easier said than done, but here some examples of what I am planning to do with my children.
French (my daughter):
Level 1: greet somebody in French and ask how they are?
Level 2: order breakfast in French in a cafe with a proper pronunciation;
Level 3: have a simple conversation with a French child (how old are you? What is your name? etc.);
Level 4: flip through a French magazine for kids and get most of the headlines;
Level 5: read a simple children book in French;
Level 6: watch a French cartoon without English subtitles and understand most of it.
Music (my son completed his Grade 5 and now he is choosing what he wants to do to keep his interest in music):
Level 1: learn three pieces he always wanted to know how to play (one pop, one classic and one from a movie);
Level 2: play a duet with his sister for Christmas for the whole family;
Level 3: write and record his own song (now there are plenty of apps to do it at home)
Level 4: have a gig with his band (may take a while but it will be an ultimate fun thing to do).
Each level is fun and satisfying on its own merit. So even, if my children give up half way through, they have learnt something and it was fun.
The same steps can be done for any activity (sport, art, dancing, etc.). I love reading “The Process” by Nick Saban, a great football coach who talks how to take macro skills and divide them into micro skills and practice them over and over.
There are two important steps to make sure this approach works. Firstly, I discussed these targets with the children to make sure they want to achieve those level as they think they are fun.
Secondly, your child should write those down and stick at a visible place. There is an extended research that shows that children accept inner responsibility for a behaviour if they think they have chosen to do it without outside pressure (see "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini).
I also going to try this approach for myself. Over the last year, I struggled and gave up learning Japanese language. Now I am committed to follow particular levels and let’s see if it works. Keep me posted what skills you and your children are learning and what are the levels you are planning to conquer.