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Parents want the best for their kids, from a great education to exploring fun activities outside of school. While after-school extracurriculars provide a wealth of possibilities to introduce kids to new hobbies, interests, and passions, the cost can be prohibitive for parents with tight budgets. Still, parents put all they can into giving their children experiences that light up their lives, even if it can mean taking on debt.

Spending's On the Upswing

Compared to the 2016/17 school year, a Ipsos poll conducted for Global News shows that the 2017/18 school year cost parents even more when it comes to the extras. On average, Canadian parents spend $1,160 on extracurricular activities yearly, and more than half of these moms and dads feel stretched thin because of after-school programs. One in four parents (ages 18-34) say they have gone into debt to pay for their kids’ activities.

Toronto parent of two, Wendy Henkle Gordon agrees, “All of the programs cost a lot of money! Even the lunchtime programs at my daughter's elementary school are costly. There are some cheaper programs offered through the city, but they are hard to get in to. We budget for our kids' extra activities. We sort of cap it at two programs a week for each child, because the costs can add up."

Worth the Cost?

Since so many parents are shelling it out for extracurriculars, despite the strain on their budgets (two-in-five parents ages 18-34 and one-in-four parents ages 35-54 report having gone into debt funding such activities), 70% say it’s important to keep little ones as busy as possible. “The cost is definitely worth it," says Wendy. “They have met lots of nice people through the programs as well. It inherently involves getting along, often team building, and cooperation. And my kids are now great swimmers." (Swimming is their family’s favourite extracurricular).

Jarrod Thalheimer, father of five, of Kelowna, BC adds, “More than memories, I think the kids learning new skills and the specific confidence that comes from learning new things is valuable."

Which Activities are Most Popular and Affordable?

Wendy's kids aren't alone when it comes to selecting swimming as their favourite extracurricular. According to Ipsos, swimming is both the most popular and the most affordable option for kids and parents. Each year, parents spend about $205 on swimming classes and lessons, making the fun and useful activity a smart option for families looking to pick one extracurricular.

Hockey is the most expensive extracurricular parents can pick for their kids. From gear to reserving time on the ice to high-priced coaching, the sport can cost close to $750 for just for one year. Other costly after-school options include music lessons (average $501 per year), dance lessons (average $528 per year), and gymnastics ($464 per year). Like swimming, soccer and skating come closer to the low $200s, making these extracurriculars more budget-friendly choices.

What's Gaining Popularity?

Get ready for the next generation of talented Canadian artists; 2018 shows an uptick in the arts. There has been a 19% increase in music lessons, a 12% increase in art lessons, and a 7% increase in drama lessons compared to the 2016/17 school year.

The Takeaway

Overall, extracurriculars are here to stay, and parents will do what they can to provide this perk for their kids. That said, overdoing it means overspending and over-booking kids with too much scheduling.

Jarrod says, “We are always weighing the cost, and while we might be tempted to do more if it were cheaper, I would say the largest factor in putting the brakes on extra-curricular events is time vs. the cost of them. We find children in general are over-scheduled, and ours are no exception. We really do try to make sure they get sufficient 'down time' - spots in their days and weekends where they are not required to 'be' anywhere. The expense of the activities actually helps us in remembering that."

“I think it's important to find a balance of what's right for your own children," says Wendy.

With so many great extracurricular options, while selectivity is key, the fun is just too good to pass up.

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