By Betsy Brown Braun | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Q: I want to enroll my 8-year-old in an extracurricular activity. Which do you think is better at his age: a sport or a musical instrument? 

Your good question comes on the heels of a presentation I gave on “Extra Curricular Activities and the Young Child: Yes or No?” How timely!

Kids of all ages can gain great benefit from many different kinds of extracurricular activities. They need not participate only in sports or arts or something that the parent believes will beef up his resume going forward.

Sadly, doing so is a trend that is an outgrowth of the uptick in parents’ worries about their children’s appeal as candidates for middle school, high school and college. (Can you hear my groan?)

Extracurricular activities allow children to sample lots of activities to which they would not otherwise be exposed.

Some may find one that ignites a fire and a thirst for more. Others simply enjoy the activity, learn from it and make good friends along the way. There’s a lot to be said for plain, old-fashioned fun.

And there are those children who discover that they have great potential in one area and decide to focus all their extracurricular effort on honing that interest or skill. That is not only unusual, but it is limiting.

The child loses the opportunity to explore other areas. It can also be incredibly time consuming, affecting the child’s time for homework, chores and other responsibilities. And the parent becomes a cab service.

Once in a long while there is a child who, at an unusually young age, displays a special talent in a particular area, and the parent encourages or allows the child’s totally dedicated pursuit in that area.

And once in a while there is a parent who pushes (forces?) a child in a particular direction of the parent’s choice or dream. Sometimes it actually works. The child is onboard and focuses his life around it. The Williams sisters in tennis or Tiger Woods in golf are good examples. These are the exceptions.

The real danger comes when children’s non-school times are filled to the brim with extracurricular activities. There is no time for anything else—activities, socializing, home responsibilities and, most important of all, down time.

Allow me to remind you that it is in that precious down time that children do their learning. When their brains are in a relaxed state, when the pressure is off, when they daydream or fiddle around, is when they process what they have learned during their scheduled day.

Your question is sport or musical instrument? The answer is pretty simple: There is no rule on this one.

Some kids really shy away from organized or team sports. Others do not gravitate toward music or musical instruments.

What does your child want to do? Has he expressed any interest in anything? Does he keep asking to do a particular activity? Does he have friends who are doing things in which he might be interested?

This is the place to begin. And does he want either at all? Might your child be a homebody, one who just prefers to chill out at home after school? Might you be heading him toward fulfilling your dream for him or an unfulfilled dream for yourself? Just asking.

I cannot quote for you any empirical data that supports an 8-year-old needing to do one activity more than the other, or one being better for the child than the other. However, I do believe in the importance of exercise and outdoor activity (and play) for all people of all ages.

And, being a painter myself, I also think it’s wonderful to expose kids to the arts and right brain activity—music, instruments, graphic art, creative arts of all kinds.

I can’t wait to hear what you and he decide!