Hi and welcome to the Dance Parent 101 Interview Series. I am so excited to welcome our first ever guest on the Dance Parent 101 blog Dr. Patrick Capriola creator of the website Strategies for Parents. Not only is he invested in learning about how enrichment activities and hobbies enhance learning in schools, but he is also the father of two young girls who enjoy Ballet and Irish dancing classes.
Through alot of emails and a skype interview (that will be posted on the Dance Parent 101 YouTube Chanel when it is up and running in early 2020) I got to speak with Patrick about his work, his website Strategies For Parents and got an insight into what it is like to father two girls who do robotic lessons, swimming, ballet lessons, and Irish dance classes.
To start off can you tell me and our readers a bit about yourself…
Sure, I am a husband and a father of two fantastic girls. We are very family-oriented in our home and work hard to expose our kids to experiences that enrich them in some valuable way. As we grew into our role as parent’s I noticed some interesting parallels between modern parenting and working in the school system. I came across a lot of people in both areas that wanted to do the right thing and were willing to put the time in to do it but found the whole process overwhelming. In talking with family, friends, and others I often heard them repeating themselves. There is so much to do and so little time to do it. We didn’t have to do all this when we were kids. Does this stuff really work? Is it necessary? Can’t we just let them be kids and develop naturally?
I remember hearing people express frustration that there appeared to be so much conflicting information out there and there was no one right way to move forward. Some information applied to their kids, and other information didn’t. Sometimes kids responded positively to the strategies their parents were trying, other times they didn’t. For some, this created distrust in the system and the research. For others, it resulted in a lack of confidence in their abilities as parents. Neither was warranted, that’s just how people were reacting to their situation.
That’s the moment I knew I had something to offer of value. Their frustration was rooted, in part, in the fact that there is so much noise out there that it’s hard to sift through it all to make a decision that’s best for your family. It’s really overwhelming. That crystallizing moment led to the core concept that my site would be built around – providing parents access to the best research-based content in simple, honest, direct language – so they can feel informed and empowered to make great decisions for their kids.
Dance just like most afterschool activities such as soccer and basketball generally won’t lead most people into profitable or even steady careers and for this reason, many parents don’t feel the need for their children to pursue such activities. What would you say to these parents?
I would say that’s not the case at all. It’s true that many enrichment activities won’t lead directly to marketable career skills. However, they do help kids develop the soft skills they will need to collaborate with others and work effectively in groups. These are highly desirable traits that parents should want to nurture in their kids. Further, enrichment develops confidence. There is a period for some kids, usually around pre-teen to early adolescence, where they may not know how to believe in themselves yet. If they have something in their lives that they know they are good at, it can have a ripple effect on other areas of their lives and help them through uncertain periods. If you start your child in something earlier, then they will enter this period in their lives knowing they can be confident in themselves, if they have to deal with those emotions at all. They will have learned what it’s like to be good at something, what it’s like to need to improve, and what it’s like to work through adversity. These are also critical traits you want them to have as adults. Enrichment is an opportunity to be your child’s guide through these challenges.
As an educator with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership can you tell me what you see the benefits are for kids who study dance?
Building on the things I have mentioned, I think it’s important to highlight the physical benefits of dance. The body-mind connection is important. Those who know how to take care of their bodies are more likely to live longer healthier lives. Physical exercise is a great way to relieve anxiety and stress, and just get your mind off of life for a while.
A parent may not be worried about these things for their kids now, and that’ ok. I try to look at it with the end in mind. I ask myself what tools I want my kids to have in their toolbox to deal with life’s challenges when they get older. They may not know it, but when they dance they are establishing and growing a creative outlet for expression as well as a physical outlet of healthy development. When they get older, this may become important for them to clear their heads and gather their thoughts. They are also learning about the challenges that come along with pursuing something worthwhile.
To me, enrichment like this is the opposite of the classroom. The classroom is prescribed and often times dogmatic. Enrichment, when done well, is more like real life. It lets kids go out there and try. As they make mistakes they learn and they get better. It’s a much more accurate depiction of what it’s like to be an adult. Nobody passes us or fails us as an adult. It’s our job to decide where to improve and how to improve. And sometimes we seek the input of peers or a coach to help us out.
You are currently preparing an article on sports psychology and how participation in sports benefits students. Can you tell us about this and how it relates to students who dance?
This was a really fun article to create that I wrote for someone else’s website. It helped me put things in perspective. The article evaluates the role of the child and parent in sports psychology and you can read it here.
I think kids in dance get the best of both worlds as a combination of the benefits of sports and the benefits of music, but the principles of the sports psychology article definitely carry over into dance. As I share some of the lessons from the article I will try not to repeat some of the benefits that are mentioned in other parts of the interview, but it definitely all weaves together.
For kids, participation in sports promotes self-discipline and reduces anti-social behavior. Participation also works to combat childhood obesity and the increasingly common sedentary lifestyle. The psychological benefits that result are powerful. They learn to have a strong work ethic that is reinforced by effective habits.
There are benefits for parents too and for the child-adult relationship. Sports can help adults learn what healthy boundaries should look like with their kids. By taking an intentional approach to evaluating their role in their child’s extracurricular pursuits, parents can be honest with themselves about how they want their children to experience their involvement.
I think it’s best to pursue your role as a parent in your child’s academic and extracurricular pursuits as an opportunity to support them while they are putting building blocks in place, so they will come to you with life’s real challenges later. To do so, parents should be cautious to not be overly passionate about their child’s participation in the endeavor and should work to build a relationship that establishes them as a trusted guide, so this role will feel natural later in life.
With that being said, in my house participating is not really a choice. Our kids will go to lessons and they will practice, but we are flexible based on where they are and how they are feeling. We maintain a healthy level of pressure as we push, but we are always checking the pulse of the situation and adjusting when needed.
At what age do you believe children should begin doing extracurricular activities to support their education and why?
The research appears to indicate that 6 years old is a good target age for organized competitive youth sports. Some of these principles probably carry to other pursuits like dance. However, I think the early childhood research is important to consider as well.
When children participate in extracurricular activities from a young age as a means of enrichment and not competition, benefits abound. They demonstrate higher academic achievement and school readiness skills, meaning their educational outcomes can be accelerated.
So to sum that up, organized competitive pursuits are probably best saved for 6 and up, but valuable enrichment activities should start much younger.
How much is too much? What do you think is a good balance of organized activity for kids today?
I think the answer to this question can be summed up as ‘seasons’. And I don’t mean formal seasons (although they can help too). I mean as kids grow up things come and go. Their interests wax and wane. Use this to your advantage. Try to only have ideally one and a maximum of two things going on at once. Work with your kids over time and figure out what they are good at and have them stick to those things. When it’s time, move on to the next interest. Then come back to the first one in a few months or next year when it is time. I’ll give you an example of how we do it at our house.
First, let me start with downtime. It is not heavily structured but is guided. Screen time is limited to 3-5 hours per week (yes we fall short of this at times). Our kids can play with Legos, Play-Doh, other toys, read, cook, go outside, or go swimming. They also have chores. This helps us keep balance with the activities going on, keeps them away from screens, and gives them healthy unstructured play.
I think kids need 3 forms of enrichment; academic, athletic, and musical. Too often, parents disregard the academic part thinking the school will take care of it. They usually don’t and kids suffer as a result because schools don’t always seek to enrich your child’s intellectual curiosity. They seek to teach them some set of academic standards that may or may not benefit them later in life.
So, we take that upon ourselves and make sure our kids learn how to be curious and creative. In addition to the freedom they have during downtime, we put our kids in robotics classes. These classes help them become familiar with the skills needed for the future, allows them to be creative, and teaches them to work in teams.
Robotics classes run 4-6 months throughout the year for two hours every Saturday. Next year it will be February through September. Practice is also required at home. I have become so enamored with the benefits of these classes that I have decided to launch my own classes online. They will be available in a few months.
Next for me is musical enrichment. The research on how learning music benefits kids is strong and has been established for quite a while. Music (including dance) helps kids become better critical thinkers and problem solvers, promotes creativity, and even helps with math skills. My daughters take ballet at school and Irish dance outside of school. Right now, Irish dance classes overlap with robotics, so they have not been going to Irish dance. Once we can figure out how work out those logistics, they will be back in Irish dance. Ballet runs for 7 months during the school year. They also take piano lessons online from October through April.
Last for me is athletic. I have it last because it seems to me that athletic enrichment seems to be highest on many parents’ lists, and I am not sure that is the right approach. I’m not saying it’s not important, it is very important. I’m just encouraging a more balanced approach.
In our home, both of our girls swim. We chose swimming because of the health benefits (and because kids love it). It’s one of those things they can take with them as they go through life. They take swim lessons for 5 months a year and the pool is open for another 2 on top of that. Over the years, they will also be in other sports as they are interested.
I want to share my guiding criteria for choosing an enrichment activity. It’s not based on interest and we don’t just let the kids choose, although they definitely have input. It’s based on lifetime benefit and quality of instruction available in the geographic area.
My reasoning for this is based on educational research. The body of research shows that after the parent, the school teacher is the single most important factor in impacting educational outcomes. A good teacher can help kids achieve up to 1.75 years worth of growth, while a bad teacher facilitates as low as .25 years worth of growth. I think this principle follows logically for coaches too.
Right now, we have our girls with fantastic swimming coaches and it shows. Every year they make strong gains and they love learning how to swim. This wasn’t always the case. We had our oldest in lessons with other coaches and I could tell the quality of instruction was not there. It took us quite a while to find an instructor we all liked, but she is worth it. She costs more and we have to drive way further, but we are actually getting something valuable for our money and time. When the bills are gone and the driving is over, the girls will have a natural athletic talent they can be proud of.
The paradigm I have come to look at this through is Artisanal vs. Institutional. A fellow parent at my daughters’ Montessori school came up with this metaphor and I love it. Look for teachers and coaches that take an artisanal approach with your kids.
The moment you notice your child is a cog in the wheel, start looking for an artisan that will take the time to get to know them and help them learn, grow, and succeed. Unfortunately, most public schools in America take a heavily institutional approach and emphasize testing over facilitating growth and curiosity.
If I had to articulate where the emphasis is in our home I would say first robotics, then swimming and ballet. Just keep in mind that we get the benefit of having ballet at school, which is a huge timesaver for us. If you can find quality enrichment at your school that you can vet thoroughly and trust, you are ahead of the game.
Can you tell us a little more about their dance lessons such as why you chose Irish dance, how you feel about costuming and make up and the costs involved?
I never danced as a child. I had two left feet so I have never had the drive to take up dancing. Ballet classes are offered at their school. My oldest wanted to take it so it was an easy decision. I pushed Irish dance because I want her to experience some of her heritage. My oldest used to attend a school focused on competitions, but that wasn’t a good fit. Now she attends a school where she can focus on enjoying the craft and getting better at her own pace. It’s a relaxed atmosphere focused on allowing the child to have fun and learn. I am also against my children wearing make-up and costumes. I have not allowed it yet. My kids are too young. The costs are moderate for dance when compared with other activities. Robotics and swimming are the most expensive for us. We are careful with our money, so we budget for everything. This is helpful year after year because we know the money is there. I think the costs are worth it because it adds to the learning experiences our girls have and will teach them valuable lessons about commitment and hard work. I hope it helps them learn to be good dancers generally. I also hope that they develop an appreciation for music and movement. Like with any activity, I want them to learn the importance of practice and hard work.
Any final words of advice you would like to pass onto our community of dance parents?
You are doing a great thing for your kids, keep doing it. You are giving them a gift that will hopefully stay with them as they journey through life. Take your time and enjoy these moments. It’s an incredible opportunity to build a positive relationship with them. Push them just enough when they need it, but don’t push them too hard. Instead, help them identify the life lesson in each situation that they may not see is looking them in the eye.
Perhaps the lesson is dealing with adversity, plateauing development, or time management. These are important challenges that adults struggle with too. Be there for them and teach them how to overcome. As you do, encourage them to come to you with their challenges, frustrations, and problems. Trust is one of the greatest gifts that we can give our kids. Grow their trust in you as a guide who listens and helps as they work through life’s smaller challenges, and they will be more likely to come to you later when they face real problems as young adults.
Dr. Patrick Capriola is a husband and father of two girls who founded strategiesforparents.com. He received his doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida and has served U.S. and international communities as a teacher, behavior specialist, school administrator, educator trainer and evaluator, and STEM director. He created the site to serve as a bridge between high-quality academic research and practical parenting challenges. He seeks to share his expertise about kids, parenting, and navigating the school system.