When money gets tight, lessons and coaching for the kids often end up on the chopping block. Whether it’s sports, music, or dance, these extracurricular activities are often costly and expendable in hard times. If your child is already in training to be an Olympic athlete or halfway to Julliard these strategies may not work, but for kids who are just starting out at something or into it only for exercise and fun, you may be able to keep the kids involved in the pursuit without crushing your budget. Here are some ideas for reducing the cost of lessons and coaching for kids.
Scholarships/financial aid: Some dance schools, art schools, sports teams, and music schools offer scholarships and financial aid for students. Some of it is need based and some is based on talent, but if you’re strapped for cash it can’t hurt to apply for anything your child qualifies for.
Reduce the number of lessons: Instead of having five lessons a week, drop down to one or two. Or two per month instead of once a week. Your child may not progress as quickly, but at least he or she won’t be losing ground as they would if they had to give up the endeavor entirely until the budget recovers. More practice, drills, or off court workouts at home can make the loss even less noticeable.
Group lessons instead of private: Many individual sports like figure skating, gymnastics, and tennis offer individual and group instruction. Individual instruction is personal and focuses only on the one child, but it is also costly. If money is tight, maybe you can switch junior into group instruction. He won’t get as much one on one time with the coach, but he’ll still be learning skills and having fun.
Software based learning: If your child is into language, music, or even art there are a lot of software options out there. No, nothing can replicate a grand piano, but a decent electronic keyboard and some music software that allows you to record your efforts can be a decent substitute in tight times. Nothing can replicate the feeling of paint on canvas, but a good painting program and instruction manual can let your child explore a different kind of art without the expense of lessons. Learning with software isn’t cheap, but it can be less expensive than lessons and equipment.
Books/CD’s/DVD’s: You can learn a lot from books, CD’s, and DVD’s. It’s no substitute for long term instruction from a professional, but various media can teach basic chords, musical techniques, art techniques, languages, and even give ideas for sports-related workouts and drills. Media based learning can be an inexpensive way to keep your child’s skills growing while you wait to be able to afford lessons again. Libraries often have large selections of books, language tapes, and even DVD’s.
City leagues instead of elite private leagues: Elite private sports leagues are the top of the heap and more and more kids are joining up. But they are costly. On the other hand, most cities and towns offer sports leagues that cost only a small fee to join. The competition may not be as stiff, but it’s still a good way to remain active in a sport and receive some low cost lessons.
School sports teams and activities: It used to be the ambition of most kids to play on the school team, sing in the chorus, be in the school play, or join the art club. In recent years, school offerings have fallen out of favor and been replaced by private leagues, teams, and activities. But the school still remains a good source of low cost instruction and participation. Many programs are free or only require you to pay a uniform fee. All kinds of sports and clubs are available, including things like dance, theater, art, music (band or orchestra), and language.
Look into the local YMCA: The YMCA and YWCA offer many types of sports and activities for all ages and at relatively low cost. You may even be able to find some private coaching. Organized teams as well as recreational play are on offer in most clubs. As with neighborhood leagues the competition may not be top notch, but you can receive some instruction and have some fun.
Neighborhood lessons: Have you ever walked by your neighbor’s house on a spring day and heard her playing a piano piece that moved you? Does another neighbor have a trophy case full of swimming medals? Does your aunt paint? Was your boss a track star once? Many people around you have skills that they can share, even if they aren’t professional coaches. It can’t hurt to ask some of your talented friends and neighbors if they can find some time to work with your kid. They may do it for a small fee or for a barter arrangement, or you might get lucky and find that they’ll do it for free just for the chance to be involved in the activity once again.
Just because you have to cut coaching and lessons doesn’t mean that learning or pursuit of the activity has to stop. There are many ways to continue building athletic and artistic skills beyond private lessons. It may take a little ingenuity on your part and a willingness on the kid’s part to practice more to make up for the lack of professional instruction, but progress can still be made. How many successful athletes, singers, and artists profess to be self-taught, at least when they were young? A lot. It’s not always about the quality or amount of instruction, sometimes it’s about the time you put in, the dedication, and the willingness to learn that make the difference.