Kids between the ages of 8 and 12 are a special lot. They aren't little children anymore, but they aren't exactly teenagers. Their smack-in-between status has earned them the "tween" moniker.
This is a time in life when young people really begin to carve out their identities and explore their world, seeing what experiences, hobbies and people excite them. So, how do they start coming into their own? Well, it has a lot to do with how they choose to spend their time after school. Activities after school are an important part of being a tween. We'll count down 10 popular pastimes they actually dig.
Sports are a favorite activity for people of all ages, and tweens are no exception. Competitive team sports, such as softball, tennis or track, whether facilitated through a school, community center or city league, receive high rankings from tweens.
Not only are sports fun and great exercise for a healthy body, but group sports also teach kids teamwork and how to be a good winner and loser -- lessons that transfer to other areas in life.
Informally organized, noncompetitive sports like skateboarding, mountain biking or surfing also appeal to lots of tweens. If your tween feels stifled by too much structure, he'll like the freedom to do these activities when and where he wants without committing to regular practice or a game schedule.
A tween's school day is dedicated to her acquiring necessary knowledge, or learning what she's supposed to learn. But after school, there's a wide window of opportunity to try out activities or subjects that aren't part of the school curriculum.
This is why so many tweens take classes like yoga and Zumba, or dance at a private dance studio or gym. Specialized fitness classes typically aren't offered through schools, especially for those in the tween age range. Classes are a great way to beef up coordination and skills before entering junior high or high school. Additional years of practice can give kids an extra edge before trying out for sports or clubs at higher levels of ability.
There are plenty of classes beyond athletics. If your tween's 30-minute art class at school isn't enough, enroll her in a drawing, painting or sculpting class after school. Maybe he's shown an interest in learning a foreign language; why not find a private tutor to teach him Spanish, French or Italian? And if your tween is the unofficial sous chef at home, sign her up for cooking classes so she can perfect her craft.
It's important for young people to experience camaraderie and to share interests with other kids their age. Being a part of a group can be instrumental in helping tweens' self-esteem, as clubs are tiny communities that offer friendship and acceptance to their members.
Some clubs that meet after school, such as the drama club, environmental club or honors societies, are hosted through schools. Others, such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or Explorers, are unaffiliated with any formal educational body. Many are free to join, while others require a membership fee. But many of these groups spearhead community service projects or contribute to the school or local community in some way.
Watching TV doesn't necessarily mean your tween is zoning out. That's right, the boob tube isn't necessarily a time drain. It really depends on how many hours she's sinking into it -- and what she's watching. Remember, there's plenty of educational programming out there, from shows about history, science, culture and animals, to local news and cooking shows.
If a program is informative and makes her think, it's not all that bad. Besides being educational, TV provides an easy way for your tween to relax, and watching a favorite show gives her mind a break. A great way to spend time with your tween is to watch the show with her.
However, do keep in mind that excess TV watching can contribute to physical inactivity, childhood obesity and even stunted social development if your tween isn't out interacting with friends.
Play Video Games
Tweens spend hours playing video games each week. Wii, PlayStation, Xbox 360 -- you name it, they're playing! In fact, kids between 8 and 18 years old spend nearly two hours per day on the computer and playing video games, according to the nonprofit organization KidsHealth.
As it turns out, there are actually benefits to gaming. People who play video games regularly have great reaction time and can process information quickly and accurately in real-life situations, according to a study published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study goes on to affirm that playing video games enhances performance on visual and spatial memory tasks, mental rotation skills and activities that require split attention.
Refuel With a Snack
The tween years kick off the period of the most accelerated change in a person's life, with the exception of infancy.
Boys and girls both hit their growth spurt during this time. They need the nourishment, so it's no surprise that the kitchen is a favorite hot spot for tweens after school. Snacking isn't just about holding them over for dinner; for some tweens, it's also about learning how to be creative with foods and cooking utensils. Stock your pantry and fridge with nutritious, fresh, whole foods and consider keeping sugary, salty and processed goods like chips, cookies or frozen snacks to a minimum. This way, your tween will learn how to prepare good things to eat and won't turn to sodium-laden, unhealthy options for a quick fix.
Read a Good Book
Unwinding by reading for pleasure isn't something only adults like to do. Reading is an active activity, meaning the brain is fully engaged while tweens are scanning pages and following a plotline.
Whether your kid finds it relaxing or stimulating -- or even an escape -- the fact remains that reading is good for us!
In fact, the quality of one's reading skills determines how she will perform in school, according to the Child Development Institute. Encourage this great habit by getting your tween a library card, especially if her school doesn't have an extensive collection of the genre she prefers, whether that's mystery, science-fiction or biography.
You can also turn her love for reading into an opportunity to bond with your tween. Take time together to discuss the books she's reading. What does she like about the stories? What is she learning? These discussions could be an opportunity for you to share what you're reading, too. This dialogue is a great way to connect.
Hit the Mall
Boys and girls alike flock to malls after school. There's a lot that goes on here other than shopping. Malls are a huge social scene. They provide a colorful backdrop where tweens can hang out with friends or meet others their age. They window shop, catch movies and eat in the food court. You'll even spot them putting a few quarters into those souped-up massage chairs at health kiosks. And department store photography studios aren't just for family portraits! Tweens like to go with friends to get professional photos done, too.
Going to the mall doesn't have to be a budget-breaker where your tween is concerned. In fact, he or she can learn to spend an allowance wisely by looking for the best deal on a hat or piece of jewelry.
One last word about tweens and shopping malls: You can never be too careful when it comes to keeping an eye on your kid. A naïve or distracted child with a stuffed wallet is easy prey for unsavory characters, so escort your child to the mall or ensure she's going with a chaperone. You don't have to follow her from store to store, but you should be close by and ask her to check in with you every 45 minutes or so.
Babysit for Neighbors or Family Friends
What tween doesn't like to have her own cash to spend on things Mom or Dad don't pick up? Tweens are too young to get a real job legally, but they're old enough to babysit.
Watching the children of neighbors or family friends for an hourly rate is a great way to put a little fun money in a tween's pocket. Tweens learn responsibility and how to care for young children.
If your tween is too young to babysit or doesn't have an interest in this activity, there are lots of ways he or she can earn money. You can pay an allowance for household chores, or your tween can adopt a paper route or even do some yard work or water plants for neighbors.
Go to Youth Group
Churches and religious organizations run groups for young people designed to be fun and introduce or reinforce spiritual doctrine. Youth groups, Young Life and other groups like this often gather once a week. Common activities include singing together, listening to a presentation or lesson from the group leader or guest speaker, and discussing the Torah, Bible or other religious texts that apply to the group's belief system.
But tweens don't just sit quietly in a pew at youth group meetings; many actively volunteer around the community or raise funds to go on mission trips during a school break or summer vacation.
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- Child Development Institute. (Dec. 9, 2010). http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com
- "How TV Affects Your Child." Kids Health. 2010. (Dec. 9, 2010). http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/tv_affects_child.html
- Renkl, Margaret. "The Way Kids Grow, Age by Age." CNN.com. March 12, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2010).http://articles.cnn.com/2008-03-12/health/par.so.big_1_growth-spurt-weight-gain-triggers-growth?_s=PM:HEALTH
- "Study Finds Benefits of Playing Video Games." Medical News Today. Dec. 18, 2009. (Dec. 9, 2010).http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/174459.php