Consumer Affairs / Choosing Classes Is No Child's Play

A Web search for after-school enrichment classes for children will generate hundreds of thousands of results, and for good reason. These days kids can fill their minds with knowledge, experience new things and dabble in pursuits that their parents could only dream about - and all in just one afternoon a week.

Apart from the familiar standbys - chess, music and ballet - your little prince or princess can also learn circus acrobatics, capoeira or Samurai Aikido martial arts.

The confusing abundance of choices and parents' second thoughts about whether they chose the right class for their child and whether the child is enjoying himself, contribute nothing to parents' peace of mind.

"There are a few reasons for the tendency among parents to send children to several classes," says Dr. Edna Katznelson, a clinical psychologist from the Kibbutz Seminary and Tel Aviv University. "Some parents are not home [in the afternoons] and are looking for a substitute for quality parenting time. Modern psychology gives [parents] the feeling that they lack expertise in many areas and need experts. Parenting time is not properly appreciated, and quite often parents actually work more and are with their children less, specifically due to the enrichment classes."

Katznelson says that the parents' guilt is also a problem. If they do not have much time or energy to spend with their children, parents try to compensate with an enrichment class that resembles a shared activity, such as reading a story aloud or going to the park. Another reason is that parents view the classes as a social activity.

"This may be true for children with a social problem, but most kids can invite friends over to play and be invited by others without the framework of the class," says Katznelson. "Children don't need so many enrichment classes, especially not young children who are at pre-school until 4:00 P.M., or children whose parents need to work overtime to pay for the classes."

"If a parent has money and wants to invest in their child, that's great," says David Ben Nissan of Paamonim, a non-profit organization that helps families learn how to balance their household income and expenses.

"If a person can only afford one class, he should make sure his child chooses an activity he will attend regularly," he says.

Parents can minimize the risk and frustration of a child quitting an enrichment class half way through the year by discussing the option with the child and making sure they really want to go, and are not signing up out of peer pressure.

If a child is going to take music lessons, Katznelson and Ben-Nissan suggest borrowing an instrument or buying one second-hand, until the child decides this is what he really wants.

If you are feeling guilty about not registering your child for a class taught by a former Israeli pole vaulting champion, you can relax.

"Exclusivity is totally unnecessary," says Ben-Nissan. "Classes at public institutions such as youth community centers should cost NIS 150-NIS 200 a month for a weekly class, which is usually enough for a child."

Private classes can cost up to NIS 200 per lesson, and if a family has several children the total cost can be in the tens of thousands of shekels a year.

Description: This fitness class for children, using Wii and Playstation consoles, will get even the stubbornest couch potatoes out of their seats. The instructors promise innovative and effective exercises for weight loss, physical fitness and better posture.

Target group: Jerusalemites aged 6 to 14 who do not have computer fitness equipment at home and for whom this class would be the only to get them to move themselves.

Details: Maslul Sports Center, Alyn Rehabilitation Hospital, Tel: 02-6494353

Cost: NIS 180-NIS 205 per month

Description: Nurture your child's creativity. Designed for parents who want a change from all the lopsided bowls from pottery classes. Target group: Rishon Letzion children who can't restrain themselves from licking their class projects on the way home.

Details: Zehava Holtzman, Tel: 077-4181400

Cost: NIS 220 per month, including materials

Description: Your child can learn a language that really could be useful in a future career. Don't worry, kids can still learn English from the TV. Taught in small groups of up to five children.

Target group: Far-East enthusiasts aged 12 and up in the Tel Aviv area who are interested in something exotic.

Details: Zila Wang, Tel: 052-5205507

Cost: NIS 120 per 45-minute lesson, including books and learning materials

Description: A very noisy music class. Children will learn rhythms from Africa, Cuba, the Middle East, Greece, Morocco, Turkey and more.

Target group: Children aged 8 and up in the Tel Aviv area who love pot-and-pan orchestras and who want to be active participants in drum circles in the future.

Details: Tam Tam - Rhythm Center, Tel: 03-7511951

Cost: NIS 180 per month

Description: This class is good even for kids who have no drawing skills. Children will learn to express themselves using lines and illustrations, and to tell stories using cartoon characters. A booklet will be published at the end of the year with samples by the future generation of comics artists.

Target group: Children aged 8 and up who prefer showing to telling.

Details: Eshkolot, Tel: 03-6242210

Cost: NIS 185 per lesson

Description: Create custom-made stuffed animals at lower-than-toy-store prices. Children will learn techniques for making dolls, animals and accessories from soft, multi-colored fake fur.

Target group: Children in the Petah Tikva area, aged 9 and up.

Details: Kishkush Balabush, Tel: 055-7241841

Cost: NIS 250 per month, including materials

Description: A look at the animal kingdom through the eyes of a vet. Guest animals at classes will include gerbils, salamanders and newts.

Target group: Animal lovers aged 5 and up in the Yehud area who don't mind the sight of blood.

Details: Fantasti, Tel: 03-5367373

Cost: NIS 320 per month