One bit of fallback from the dispute between Ontario’s government and the provincial teachers’ union is that students – and their parents – will likely find it harder to participate in free, organized after-school activities run by teachers.
Of course, extra curricular activities are very important for developing healthy bodies and healthy minds. Here are some tips on how to find and budget for programs outside of school.
As a parent, I know how handy it can be to have your child move seamlessly from the classroom to an after-school program. Unfortunately, finding alternatives to keep your kids active and engaged can entail some logistical issues.
Before you sign your kids up for every program under the sun, consider how you’ll go about getting them to and from the regular meetings, plus any travel for competitions or performances.
One solution is to sign them up with a friend, and take turns doing drop-offs and pickups. (You can also try to coordinate this with another parent once the program starts, but the opportunity may not present itself).
Public Versus Private
It goes without saying that public and non-profit programs are going to cost less than for-profit private ones. But the public options can be limited in what’s offered and the number of spots available.
For example in Toronto, where I live, signing up for children’s programs offered by the city can be a marathon experience – telephone and online registration opens at 7 a.m. on various Saturday mornings throughout the year and many parents (myself included) know the experience of simultaneously hitting redial and refresh in the hopes of getting through before all the spots are booked.
For-profit programs also generally offer a more, well, professional experience. On a recommendation we enrolled our girls in a local private swimming program that uses municipal pools, but cost about three times as much as the city program they’d been in. By the end of one session the improvement with both was marked; our oldest was swimming laps.
Keep in mind, one way to save money with private clubs is to investigate early enrollment discounts.
Find a Free Program
When the budget’s tight, it’s hard to argue with free. Many community centres, libraries, and church groups offer free children’s programs, from tutoring and music lessons to sports activities and life-skills training.
Also, if your child is particularly talented and/or you have a strong financial need, you may also be able to qualify for scholarships.
Offset Costs With Fundraising
If a team or club does well, they may have the opportunity to compete in out-of-town events. Have a plan in place for fundraising opportunities.
Many companies offer partnership opportunities to sell their product (such as cookies or greeting cards). Another option is to host an event like a bake sale or car wash.
You might be able to find some extra room in the budget if you don’t spend full price on the required gear. Chains like Play it Again Sports have expanded on the old skate and bicycle exchange concept to offer a full range of sports gear, including golf and lacrosse. Or organize a swap meet where outgrown outfits and equipment are exchanged.
Rather than buying musical instruments, you might be able to rent them. In the long run, you’ll pay more, but this is a option to consider if your child is trying out a new instrument. You don’t want to find out that after one session of violin lessons, your child has decided they don’t really want to learn how to play the $1,000 instrument you just purchased.