Extra Extra(curriculars)

Growing up in a small town, our options for extracurricular activities was limited. For sports, we had swimming, soccer, hockey, karate, and t-ball/baseball, and for arts we were essentially limited to piano lessons. While the choices were few, the turnout was always amazing and generally successful.

For me, in the spring it was t-ball when I was the youngest, which transitioned over to soccer, plus piano lessons until I was about 14. Swimming lessons in the summer were a must until I was old enough to tread water for 2 minutes and go to the pool unsupervised.

Flash waaaaay forward to the present, and we now live in a decent-sized city with so many options, it’s almost overwhelming. From dance to football, horseback riding to hockey, the choices are endless when it comes to picking an extracurricular activity for your kids to take part in.

Aside from perhaps learning how to swim, I’m a firm believer that kids shouldn’t be forced into an extracurricular they don’t want to do. Don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t mean I don’t think they should do nothing at all. Kids should have the opportunity to at least try as many things as they want to see if they like it before diving in head first. A lot of activities are EXPENSIVE, and it’s the worst feeling ever when you invest in gear and uniforms or costumes only to discover that your kid shows little interest a month in.

It’s easy to want to throw your kids into every activity your schedule will allow, especially when you start to get nostalgic about your own passions growing up. (Or even your current ones, for that matter.) But I beg to ask: Is throwing a child into every activity their schedule allow a good thing to do? I often wonder how many of these activities kids actually enjoy doing versus what they’re doing because their parents want them to do something, you know what I mean? Is little Suzy in figure skating because she saw Tessa Virtue at the Olympics and fell in love with the twirling and wants to be like her, or is it because her mom competed a few times growing up and wants to live vicariously through her, even though Suzy doesn’t show much interest?

I’m totally not trying to judge those moms either. I had my oldest try t-ball and my youngest try soccer, but neither of them really showed any passion for what they were taking part in. I ultimately decided to just observe what they like doing while at home and direct that energy into a suitable after school activity. For my oldest the choice was clearly dance, and my youngest now lives for “ninja school.” (Think American Ninja Warrior!)

I’m also a firm believer in choices – and that’s not necessarily letting them choose to do everything. Kids, especially when they’re young, burn out SO fast. Having them in activities three or four days a week can be exhausting, so choosing something that only consumes one or two days a week is something I strongly believe in.

For example, currently in our house each of my daughters is in one extracurricular per week. Sometimes they’re in two each when we do swimming lessons (a must until they can stay afloat on their own), but for us, one activity is enough. Last summer, when my oldest found out her best friend was going to take up gymnastics instead of dance, she asked if she could do gymnastics as well. Now, she LOVES dance, but if she wanted to switch to gymnastics I would’ve let her. However, knowing how much she loves dance, I told her that she could do gymnastics, but it meant she wouldn’t be able to do dance anymore. She thought about it briefly, but opted to stick with what she knows she loves.

I know it might make me sound like a bit of a party pooper, not letting my kids do everything they want to, but I know that we’d slowly become overwhelmed and exhausted by running all over town to every activity. There are plenty of families who do a variety of different activities during the week, and sometimes they have more kids than we do, so I have to give them major kudos on managing it. At the same time though, are you afraid of burning out? What will do you if/when it happens?

So let’s discuss, friends! What kind of rules/regulations do you have when it comes to your child(ren)’s activities? (Of if you’re not there yet, what do you envision?) I’m genuinely curious!

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