Kids’ activities can be a pretty big part of some families’ lives. And they can have an impact on the whole family – not just the children. This month in our series on Great Kiwi Families, we’re thrilled to interview Zac (and Rachel) Cox about Zac’s activities. Zac’s a talented actor with a passion for theatre and also trains hard at karate. Fair to say, he’s a busy fellow and they’re a busy family!
Let’s start with telling us a bit about you – what do you do and what are your interests?
ZAC: I’m seven and I like any chance to have an audience. I’ve been putting on shows at home since I was born, but now I do acting-for-the-screen classes with LBF Kids and do acting for money! My classes are run by Liz Baldwin-Featherstone. She’s also my agent. When I am not acting I like training in my karate dojo, Goju-Ryu. I am a brown belt and I like feeling strong. I really enjoy doing kata. My favourite things to do when I am not acting or training is climbing trees and swimming at the beach, lego and x-box. I am really good at minecraft. I wish I had a dog but I have to wait until I am ten.
RACHEL: I’m a stay-at-home mum. I used to be a teacher until I was diagnosed with an unusual neurological condition. Since then, I’ve been doing a range of part-time bits and pieces as my health allows; relief teaching, a bit of freelance writing and plus-size modelling.
Tell us a bit about what makes your family great.
I love our family because we are unconventional. On the face of it we seem like the classic pakeha family, but beyond the two parents and two kids, we also have two long-term home stay students from China. Our family has incorporated a large number of non-biological family members over the years from various countries and the diversity adds vibrancy and fun to our lives. But it’s not just diversity of race, there is such variety in personalities in our family. We have the strong and silent type of Daddy, always the steadying influence, a loud and loving Mummy, a sensitive kind-hearted, animal loving daughter and a completely quirky, hilarious son. Our homestay girls are polar opposites; a forthright and academically gifted adventurer and a thoughtful, introspective kind-hearted study bug. It all makes for crazy dinner conversations and wonderful family outings. There is no boredom here as the six of us make our way through our various calendars of commitments!
What your family’s favourite things to do?
We like a road trip. Recently we all piled in the car and went to Waitomo for the day. It was spur of the moment, but even the teenagers were keen enough to wake up early so we could head off! Road trips are excellent opportunities to build memories together. There are always exciting new things to discover and it is impossible to drive anywhere in this beautiful country without marvelling at the views out the window. We also really love playing conversation games at the dinner table. This started to help the older girls with their English, but it has become a highlight of the meal for all of us. One person starts with a challenging, open ended question, batting it to any one at the table. They answer and then have to come up with a different question for the next person, until all of us have asked and answered. We’ve been amazed at the complex and fascinating questions that have come up. For example, my seven year old asked one of the teens the other day, “if you had to choose one, which word, Yes or No would you choose never to use again?”. Coco thought about that for a while before answering “I would choose to lose yes, because there are many ways to agree, but there is no substitute for being able to say ‘NO!’ so that people understand you”. I thought that was pretty insightful for seven and sixteen year olds!
I know your children have a whole range of activities that they’re really committed to. Can you tell us a bit about the activities your children do?
Volunteering at the local old folks home, tramping, badminton, violin, cultural groups, horse riding, swimming, acting, karate
How do your children’s activities affect your families’ life?
The teenagers are much more independent with their activities, but there is a lot of running around to do for the younger kids. Every Saturday is spent out in the country at the riding school for two of them to have riding lessons. Thankfully for the other two lessons per week, my daughter joins a group from her school on a minibus. There is a lot of support required for my son’s acting. Taking him to auditions, and then if he gets a part, to and from his job. His last job was a season with the Auckland Theatre Company, so for six weeks we were shuttling every other night, to and from town so he could attend rehearsals and performances. That had an impact on his start times for school, and made for some very late nights but we were happy to see him in his element. He’s recently become very committed to his karate dojo and trains four afternoons a week. That’s been an unexpected boon, because the later finish has eased the pick up routine for this family-taxi driving mumma!
What advice would you give other families about managing activities?
When I was teaching, I always used to say ‘try to keep the activities down to three a week; one sport, one arts, one other’ but once kids find their passion, which can take a lot of experimentation, you need to be prepared for a big step up in the frequency of that activity and also be prepared to let some others fall away. My daughter used to play netball but now she is riding three times a week, the netball had to go.
I think it is imperative that both parents are committed to the extra-curricular activities of the kids. We also make sure that all the children learn the art of supporting each other, rather than one always having to attend the practices of another without reciprocation. The waiting time is a great time to do homework and catch up on what has been happening in the non-paritcipating child’s day. Don’t miss that opportunity by pulling out the iPad (or at least, not to start with!).
Also, preparing meals ahead of time for the busy days, or having some really easy meals is a great idea! On the subject of food, having extra snacks and drink bottles with you is always useful. You never know when you’ll need them. I take the same approach with rain coats, an umbrella, gumboots and a thermos of tea. Because we do live in the land of the long white cloud, and you can be guaranteed that they will do what clouds do!
Anything else you want to tell us?
I have found that in the early years of selecting extra-curricular activities it was very hard for me not to steer my children towards the things I wish I had been able to do. We wasted three years tuition on music lessons for my daughter who had zero interest and motivation. A term is not long enough to tell if the activity is not going to be your child’s ‘thing’ …but if it is like pulling teeth after two terms, pull out!
The most successful extra-curricular activities are always the ones that light the spark. Then you’ll never need to motivate your kids, it will be their own desire to do well that drives them. Yeah, I think… persevere with a range of activities until you find the one that lights them up, then throw yourselves into supporting that passion. And just saying… there are some sports that are much easier on the budget. Team sports in general but also individual sports like Karate require minimal kit. Ask about the extra costs before you begin. I was unprepared for the expensive concert costumes when ballet was on our schedule, not to mention the rapid-growth-feet requirements, we were buying new ballet shoes every term! And let’s just not talk about horses.