Canadian parents spent an average of $1,120 to enroll their children in extracurricular, community and sports activities during the last school year, according to a new Ipsos poll commissioned by Global News.
For some, the cost of a busy after-school schedule was even higher, with nearly one in 10 parents shelling out over $2,000.
And many families are overstretching to pay for it all, with over half of parents saying the cost of kids activities puts a strain on family finances.
Nearly a third of respondents who were Gen X parents (between the ages of 35 and 54) said they had taken on debt in order to pay for things like dues, fees and equipment. The share of Millennials (between the ages of 18 and 34) who said the same was smaller, at 26 per cent, possibly because these younger parents have kids who aren’t old enough yet to independently attend such activities. Only 12 per cent of Baby Boomer parents said they resorted to debt to bankroll their children’s extracurriculars.
Looking at the upcoming school year, nearly 45 per cent of parents said they will enroll their kids in at least one activity. A quarter of respondents will sign them up for two activities, while a third is planning on filling their schedule with three or more extracurriculars.
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Swimming is the most popular and affordable activity
When it comes to choosing activities, this year’s most popular choice is swimming lessons, according to the poll. Forty per cent of parents said they plan to send their children to the pool.
While more and more families recognize swimming as an essential skill, part of the appeal might be the price tag: Swimming classes are the most affordable extra-curricular option, with parents expecting to spend less than $200 per child this school year.
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And surprisingly for a hockey-crazed Canada, it was soccer that came in as No. 2 on the list of most popular activities. Fully one-quarter of parents said they would sign up their little ones for the ball game this fall. By comparison, only 15 per cent said they planned to have their kids play hockey.
Price may have something to do with the newfound popularity of soccer, too. Parents anticipated spending just shy of $250 to get their kids to kick a ball around a soccer field. By comparison, families expect to pay $755 on average on hockey, the most expensive of all activities reviewed by the survey.
The table below shows the list of extracurriculars we presented to parents, with the activities ordered by perceptions of being most to least expensive:
In some cases, costs vary considerably from province to province. For hockey, for example, parents anticipated spending nearly $1,200 on average in Alberta, almost $995 in Atlantic Canada, $708 in Ontario, $756 in B.C., $634 in Quebec, and as little as $450 in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The average expected cost of soccer ranged from $188 in Ontario to $488 in Alberta. Swimming lessons are cheapest in Quebec (average yearly expected spend: $160) and priciest in Atlantic Canada (almost $212).
Can’t settle on a single class? There might be a kids pass for that
Like many parents, Andrea Cozza, 36, loves how her children get to try out new things through their extracurricular activities.
The Toronto-based teacher manages a busy schedule for her two boys, who are five and seven years old. There are swimming lessons, basketball and a host of activities offered through after-school programs, from judo, through piano classes, to science club. Thursday is their only afternoon off during the school week.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s a lot of fun,” Cozza told Global News.
Although she plans to pull back a bit when the kids are older, the current whirlwind of activities allows them to experiment and figure out what they like and might become passionate about.
Plus, sports teach team building and discipline, she reckoned.
Still, allowing the kids to sample a variety of extracurriculars has also meant putting up with some mid-year changes of heart, she said.
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Both her kids, for example, quickly grew tired of hockey, something Cozza noted with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, she had been a little worried at the price and time commitment that comes with higher-level hockey playing. She was relieved when neither of her boys showed interest.
On the other hand, the family had spent $650 per child in fees and hockey equipment.
Parents of kids who want to be a soccer player one day and a hip-hop dancer the next may want to opt for a kids pass.
In Toronto, PipsPass.com, offers the ability to sign up for a pass for three, five or 10 activities from a city-wide list of extracurriculars and events. Parents can choose anything from suspension yoga to beginner French classes without committing to a weeks-long course.
The pass can be used to help kids make up their minds about which activity they’d like to try for the rest of the school year. Or it can be a used for activities that work on a drop-in basis, said Arielle Holden, who co-founded the company with her sister.
In Vancouver, Kidsworld offers a similar service, although its passes have a heavier focus on family friendly events.
The Ipsos poll commissioned by Global News was conducted between August 16 and 22, 2017. For this survey, a sample of 1,001 Canadians parents aged 18 and over from Ipsos’ online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The poll is accurate to within ±3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian parents been polled.