Active and creative
In Belgium, and in Brussels especially, the choice of these is mind-boggling, from ballet to football to clay-modelling and piano lessons, catering for pretty much all age groups, personalities and budgets. There is no question that a well-chosen activity can be enormously fulfilling for a child, boosting self-confidence and sociability, sometimes even sowing the seeds for future hobbies and passions. But for many expat parents, knowing where to look and what to choose is simply baffling.
The first step is to see what your child’s school has to offer. Most organise sports or creative workshops in the afternoons when classes are out, whether choir practice, cooking lessons or trips to the local swimming pool. Aside from being normally quite affordable, these options are convenient for parents as they limit ferrying the child to and fro and enliven those long hours which would normally be spent moping in the school’s garderie.
Now’s the time to keep your eyes open and use you lateral-thinking skills. Is there a library or a cultural centre near where you live ? Chances are they run a bookclub or a theatre workshop. Do you belong to a sports club ? Some will happily teach your little ones tennis or baby yoga. Your commune will also direct you to nearby clubs and associations you may have overlooked.
For artistically minded children, the Académies network is hard to beat. These are government-subsidised art-schools where children can learn to paint, act or play a musical instrument. Lessons take place several times a week and the formal style of teaching is not suited to everyone, but the choice of courses is huge and teaching standards are high. Don’t delay signing up, as most classes sell out fast.
Scouting is also very big in Belgium. Going back to the early years of the 20th century and involving thousands of children of all three language communities, it will turn your shy, sickly tots into rosy-cheeked and happy youngsters.
Our selection of activity providers in and around Brussels:
- La Chaise Musicale : highly-sought music school using playful alternative methods. Based in Ixelles, but stages workshops in some schools and daycare centres as well (www.chaisemusicale.be)
- Les Rênes de la vie : riding stables set on the enchanting grounds of the La Hulpe estate. Special needs children welcome (www.lesrenesdelavie.com).
- Ecole de Cirque, specialises in the very serious arts of juggling, clowing and more (Brussels and Saint-Gilles, www.ecoledecirquedebruxelles.be)
- Turtlewings is an English-speaking company offering the latest in creative workshops (Schaerbeek, www.turtlewings.be).
Three golden rules for picking an extra-curricular activity :
- Stay close to home as much as possible. Ferrying children back and forth quickly becomes a drag, especially if you have several.
- While some encouragement is a good idea, pushing is counter-productive. It’s normal for a child to take time to know what they like and want. Ask if you can have a free trial session before committing yourself.
Resist temptation and peer pressure to take up too much. Better to stick to one well-chosen activity, or even none at all, than squander money and energy on a myriad different commitments. Don’t deny your child the right to be bored : any childhood specialist will tell you it’s an essential part of growing up.