Written by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool
Once upon a time I begged my parents to let me take dance lessons.
I had learned to play the viola through school since the age of 11, but these would be my first private lessons. I knew the expense would be a big deal for my family, but I loved dancing and wanted to learn more. Eventually they said yes (thanks again, Mom & Dad!) and I had a blast that year learning a little tap, ballet, and jazz each week.
I was 15-years-old.
I can’t help but wonder if we have extracurriculars a little backwards these days, though. In our society, parents seem to beg their kids to take lessons.
They sign them up as five-year-olds for piano, soccer, karate, ballet. They fork over hundreds of dollars.
And often as each month passes by their kids grow to hate piano, soccer, karate and ballet.
I’ll never forget the first time I noticed this approach. At a playgroup, another mom and I were discussing plans for the upcoming summer.
“Will your boys be taking any classes or going to any camps?”
I looked around to make sure she knew which two boys were mine before I answered, “Uh, no. They’re two-years-old.”
She assured me that didn’t matter and we could choose from huge array of activities. But none of them fit our budget, and the whole concept didn’t feel right either. Later that summer, four-year-old Trishna joined our family from India and we entered a new round of survival mode.
And that “not right” feeling about extracurriculars continued for over a decade. Why?
Here are a few of our reasons:
1. We wanted our kids to savor childhood.
This unstructured, free-range period of our kids’ lives will never come again. Our belief in the importance of a solid Core Phase made us feel that structured extracurriculars weren’t essential for our young children.
2. We didn’t have the money.
I can look back now, grateful, that we didn’t have extra income back then. Certain opportunities just weren’t an option, making it easy to say no.
3. I didn’t want to hound my littles to practice or go to lessons.
With three young kids so close in age, we already had enough drama in our days! I didn’t want to add any more by having to force anyone to practice their instrument or activity.
And I didn’t want anything to get in the way of attaching to my two adopted children, still growing in their relationship with us and dealing with developmental delays in many areas.
4. As a highly sensitive/introverted mama, the idea of hauling everyone out to the soccer field or the dance studio multiple times per week did not sound fun.
The payoff for any of us just didn’t seem worth the effort and energy required, especially when it meant having to wait with one or more siblings while their brother or sister participated alone.
5. I want my kids to beg me for lessons, too.
As a mom of interest-led learners, I want them to have that same desperate urge I had to learn and grow beyond their current abilities. I want them to also recognize the expense to the family, so that when we invest in them there will be gratitude and contribution, not entitlement or expectation.
And that’s starting to happen.
My 13-year-old daughter has been learning to play piano through an online program for over a year. Never forced to do lessons, she spends an hour or more each day practicing because she wants to improve.
Recently she’s mentioned how amazing it would be to have a real-life teacher, and I see her face light up when we discuss the idea. That’s my cue, my signal–ah yes, it’s about time.
Does this mean that my kids have been locked away indoors for the past ten+ years? Not exactly.
Here’s what we’ve focused on instead of structured extracurricular activities:
1. In the younger years, we focused on friends and playdates.
Meeting other homeschoolers, playing at the park or someone’s house–this was plenty to keep us busy during their preschool/early elementary years.
And of course plenty of trips to the library, kids’ museums, Trader Joes, you know–life with littles.
2. Mixed-age activities they could attend together.
Instead of skill or age-based teams that would divide them up, we looked for activities they could attend at the same time. This saved me from chauffeuring multiple children in different directions, plus it meant I sometimes had a few hours of precious quiet to myself.
For us this has included a weekly program at a Waldorf school for a year, summer camps here and there, and our current weekly nature/wilderness school.
3. Exposure via homeschool co-ops.
We’re not in a co-op at the moment, but a few years ago we participated in one that provided plenty of exposure to different activities: martial arts, cooking lessons, scouting, and more.
This worked well because all of us were involved at the same time, but I loved that it also allowed the children to try out a few extracurriculars, to see what might interest them and what they might excel at, all in a low-pressure setting.
Am I saying that extracurriculars are never appropriate during the early years?
Hopefully you’ve been reading here long enough to know the answer–no! I’m merely sharing our experience so that if you’ve felt unsettled with our society’s pressure in this area, you’ll know there is another way. You’re the expert on what your family needs most.
Just before Christmas my 12-year-old son Jonathan took part in A Christmas Carol. It required weekend rehearsals many Saturdays and Sundays, weeknight rehearsals nearly every day as opening night drew near, and so much driving back and forth during its multiple performances.
It was exhausting sometimes, but also? So beautiful.
I loved it–because it was the first time we had ever done anything like that as a family. It’s fun watching the kids reach this new level, thinking of all that’s ahead of them to experience this way.
But most of all? I love watching their eyes shine, excited by the possibility of learning something new.
No forced practices required.
What has been your experience with extracurricular activities in your homeschool?
Originally posted on March 28, 2017.