Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Piano Essential?

You're probably familiar with homeschooling, and of course you know what private schools are, but you may not have heard of something called afterschooling. In a nutshell you look at what your child's school does well and supplement with afterschool, summer school, winter break and weekend activities. For example, if art education has been cut waaaaay back in your school district, you might choose to enroll the kid(s) in an art class through Parks and Rec. If the organized sports are less than sporting, chances are there is an athletic league that fits your family's bracket. The point is, kids' activities outside of school help round out the kid.

Well, all that is fine and dandy when you have a steady paycheck and time to play taxi mom. What happens when the purse strings tighten up? Our family is cutting back to the bare essentials – no more audible.com, traded in the Blockbuster movie pass for Netflix on demand, and are eating in (except for things like potlucks, networking lunches, and dinner with friends.) Those were easy decisions to make. Far more difficult is looking at our munchkin's schedule and deciding what stays and what goes.

The first thing we did is to look at all the family activities to see what is free and what isn't. Free activities are easy to keep on the schedule unless they have secondary costs associated with them like travel time (gas money) or entry fees. Most school clubs such as chess club and drama club are free, although many of them will have fundraisers to help with activity costs.

Next we considered the long term benefits of the activities that have a fee. An out of work friend said “I'd sell my teeth to keep my girls in ballet” and I would probably do the same for our son's piano lessons. Generally the more organized an activity is, the more likely it is to have scholarships or fee waivers. The application process can be as simple as a check box on the registration form or may be as complicated as a separate form, interview, and income verification. When you're signing the kids up for karate or baseball, take a look at the form to see if there is any mention of scholarships or fee waivers. If there isn't, ask the person collecting the registrations if that option is available. If you don't want to ask in front of the kids, try calling in. A lot of times you can ask over the phone and don't even have to leave your name or give any personal details. If you haven't already done so, check with the school to see if your lowered income qualifies your family for free or reduced price lunch. Eligibility for free/reduced price lunch qualifies many kids for automatic fee waivers and reductions for a lot of programs, especially those that are run by city or state departments like Parks & Recreation.

Activities that are less structured may not have a formal scholarship or fee waiver process, but chances are that fees can still be negotiated. Start out by talking to your child's instructor.  To avoid embarrassment you may want to do this over the phone or have the kids wait outside while you talk. Explain your situation and ask if it is possible to reduce or waive the tuition. The instructor probably has other students in the same situation you are in, but even if he doesn't, he may be willing to come to an arrangement.

Keep in mind that some or all of this may be a little uncomfortable for you. Don't be afraid to write out what you want to say. Practice it in front of the mirror or have it in front of you when you make a call. Keep in mind that you're doing it for your children, and they will reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.

Times will get better, and when they do, please return the support of the people and organizations that supported you and your family.

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