Extra-Murals: How Much is Too Much?


South African schools pride themselves on their sporting and cultural prowess, with long traditions of undying team spirit and meritorious achievements which mostly happen after school and during weekends. The idea of extra-mural activity has some parents in a quandary, while some encourage dedication to it full time. But how much is too much, particularly at Primary School level; the beginning of your child's long school career?

Extra-mural activities are a big deal in South African schools for a variety of reasons and not just the obvious ones. At this juncture in 2014, Physical Education is linked with Life Orientation, which means that very little time is actually spent doing P.E. during school hours. Even though there has been a political call to have it de-linked and an emphasis put on sports, nothing has been done to remedy the situation. There are simply very few qualified teachers to teach it.     

And so the extra-mural sports programs continue. Research has shown that there are far more positives than negatives in allowing your child to do extra-mural activities. Firstly, at Primary School level, a child has the opportunity to develop a love for sport and physical and mental exercise. At this level they are usually introduced to all varieties of sports such as -  Athletics, soccer, tennis, cross-country, cricket, netball, basketball, hockey, rugby, swimming and softball and a variety of cultural activities like choir, chess, dance, drama, music and drumming groups to name a few. The more facilities a school or club has, the more options a child has to choose from.

Your child should be allowed and encouraged to try all offered sports and cultural activities before settling on one or two favorite ones, which are usually but not always the ones they excel at. At this level, the focus should really be on enjoyment.  Your Primary School child should also be mature enough to understand that there is a level of commitment in the chosen activity in terms of attendance and looking after the often expensive kit bought for the occasion.

At seven years old, your child should be ready to sit through at least six hours of traditional school time and be able to also do the required amount of homework given. Research has found that kids older than seven years should also be able to do two or three extra-mural activities a week. Anything more than that puts a strain on the child's growing body and cognitive functioning.

Educational psychologists have identified these general warning signs of overload:

  • Your child complains regularly of being tired and/or has regular headaches
  • School marks are not satisfactory
  • They struggle with time management, are often late or forget things easily
  • They are stressed, anxious, withdrawn, depressed or irritable
  • They are suddenly not eating or sleeping properly.

While this may not mean that extra activities are solely to blame, they should be taken seriously. Perhaps it is time for the child to cut one or two activities a week or perhaps a subject change is necessary.

Whichever way you look at it, whether your child is a chess player, budding swimmer or ballerina, any sort of physical activity will benefit them in a tremendous way; teaching them self-discipline, team work and time management. Just remember to let them choose from as wide array of activities as possible to increase their opportunities for success.   

- written for Schoolguide.co.za by Sandra Buckingham

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