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In addition to school courses, your children take many kinds of lessons: music, art, dance, swimming, tennis, singing, and so forth. Such lessons may be just for fun or for developing a skill; they may be for a set number of weeks or continued indefinitely. This makes four categories: (1) lessons just for fun and for a fixed period, (2) lessons just for fun but for an indefinite period, (3) lessons for developing a skill and for a specific period, (4) lessons for developing skill and for an indefinite period of time.

This structured learning is added to the regular schoolwork. Now, although education is a good thing, enough is enough. If your children spend six or seven hours a day within a structured learning environment, more is abusive and leaves too little free time. No child should take more than three types of extracurricular lessons; in fact, one or two is probably quite enough. A rule of thumb might be the lessons (including practice) should take no more than five hours total a week for any child.

Lessons just for fun and for a specific time period should be totally at your child’s option, following the maximum time guidelines suggested above. If your child wants to take such a lesson for a few weeks, and if time is reasonably available, she should be permitted to, assuming there is a qualified teacher. Your child should be expected to attend all of the meetings and to follow through to their completion. Lessons just for fun and for an indefinite period of time are somewhat different. For lessons of this type, you are making a long-term commitment to pay for the lessons, and to arrange for your child to be present. Should your child be made to continue the lessons if she becomes bored or decides she does not like them anymore? Suggested rule: Tell your child she can, at any point, let you know if she wants to stop. After that, she must take three more lessons. If after taking three more lessons, she still wants to quit, then she can. Remember, these lessons are just for fun anyway. If they are no longer fun, they are no longer important.

The third type of lessons are for a limited duration and for developing a specific skill or talent. Using swimming lessons as an example, should your child be made to take swimming lessons? Swimming can be learned within a limited time and is an important skill. Yes, your child should be made to go to swimming lessons and to follow through with the course whether interested or not.

Piano lessons are a good example of lessons developing specific skills and talents over an unlimited duration. Should your child be made to take piano lessons? Probably not. Your child is unlikely to do well, and can easily develop negative attitudes and resistance unless initially interested. Most young children, however, are quite interested in these types of lessons, at least initially. They want to learn to play an instrument or to develop their artistic talents. In time, the lessons may get tedious. It is a lot of work to learn how to play the piano. Should you insist your child practice? Should you allow him to quit if he wants to do so? Without practice, lessons are a waste of time and money. No, your child may not want to practice. Even if he gets fairly upset about it, insist he practice for thirty minutes a day or he practice each assignment three or four times a day.

Piano or other skill-development lessons are frequently more important to you than to your child. You can say to your child, “I want you to learn how to play the piano and think it is a good thing for you to pursue music. This means you have to practice on a regular basis whether you want to or not.” It is unlikely this will cause your child to resent music or other lessons. Your child’s increasing skill is reinforcing and any praise he receives will be encouraging. Nonetheless, if practicing and taking lessons is a daily problem over several weeks, and if your child’s skill does not seem to be developing, then there is no point to continuing the lessons. Yes, your children should at times be allowed to quit. In reference to this type of lesson, though, the final decision should remain with you. It is your responsibility to encourage and sometimes insist these skills and talents be cultivated.

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