The Extracurricular Jigsaw Puzzle

If you have (or have ever had) a school-aged child, you’ve likely engaged in an exchange similar to this one:

Mom Friend: “Ugh my schedule is so busy, my kid’s in soccer, ballet, t-ball, singing, piano, and swimming this year! What are your kids doing?”

Me: “Oh, well.. we’re still trying to decide, there are so many options…”

Translation: I’ve failed as a mom.

Or at least that’s how I feel.

For some reason, selecting extracurricular activities for my children feels as though I’m selecting numbers on a lottery ticket. Each number seems equally as legitimate, but how do I put them together to get the big win? How do I pick the right activities to create the best future for my children?

I’ve always thought that when the time came, I would let my children decide what they’d like to do, but the tricky thing is, when they haven’t tried anything, how do we know what they’ll enjoy?

My daughter was crazy for tutus, princesses and twirling, so putting her into ballet when she was 3 seemed like an obvious choice. For 3 years she stuck with it, and loved every moment. But by the end of last year, she was starting to get antsy. I could tell that it was time for her to try something new, but what? I didn’t want her to give up dancing because I could tell that she loved it, but I also didn’t want dancing to be her only activity, at least not until she had tried other options.

Just like mommy?

Throughout my childhood I was a passionate dancer. I started with ballet at 3, and as I grew, so did my roster of dance classes. By 8 I was taking ballet, jazz, tap, and modern, and was dancing for approximately 10 hours a week. I danced in a professional dance company, and my performing even led to my meeting Princess Diana. I was fortunate to have parents who supported my passion.

But one thing that I kind of regret, is that because I was so wrapped up in dancing, I didn’t learn the sports skills that many of my peers had pursued. To this day, I can’t catch a ball. I throw “like a girl” and my running is atrocious. I envy women who play soccer in their spare time, who can toss a football with a perfect spiral, and jump into a game of beach volleyball without a second thought.

I’d love for my daughter to have a well-balanced roster of after-school activities, but I also want her to enjoy what she’s doing.

Over the Summer, I enrolled her in a one-week dance camp where she was able to try several genres of dance. I promised that at the end of the week, I would let her decide which style of dance she would pursue for the upcoming year. Giving her the independence to choose seemed to thrill her – finally a decision that she could own.

Dance

She enjoyed every day of dance camp, and to my surprise, she came out of it feeling confident in her decision: she was to take tap.

I signed her up and thought my job was done.

How much is too much?

But now that she’s back in school, and I’ve engaged in more than a few conversations similar to the one above, I’m second-guessing myself.

Should she be doing more?

Should I enrol her in soccer even though the mention of the word brings her to tears?

Is there harm in not having my child enrolled in more than one activity?

Most families that I know have signed each of their children up for at least 2 extracurricular activities. I can’t help but wonder if my children should be doing more, but I’m also stuck wondering why it’s so important to keep them so busy.

They’re six. They’re in school for almost 7 hours a day. They have homework, and siblings, and wild imaginations.

The questions I can’t seem to answer are these:

Is it better to have them enrolled in as many activities as possible so they can find their true passion through experience, or are we signing them up for too much to keep up with the norm? Are we doing it for bragging rights?

How did you decide which extracurricular activities to choose for your children, and how many they should do? How did you piece together the extracurricular jigsaw puzzle?

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I totally agree that kids are over scheduled these days. And moms too! I encourage 2 activities per child at a time. IF its manageable for the family. And Swimming lessons are a must.

    • That’s another challenge for us! We had our daughter in swimming lessons for awhile, but after failing the first level 6 times, we pulled her out. We should really make swimming first priority, it is a life skill afterall!

  2. So, there is nothing wrong with your daughter not playing sports if she doesn’t like them. There is no right or wrong, and everyone has different interests. It’s a more recent misconception that kids have to do everything or be good at everything. If she loves dance, let her dance. Why does she have to play soccer? My daughter danced for 10 years, and loved every minute of it, and when she was done, she was done. But, our rule was that they chose one activity to do. Too many extracurriculars are overwhelming.

  3. Maybe we are the odd ones out, but we have a 1 activity at a time policy. The only time we bend that is when the kids taking swimming lessons in the spring because they don’t chose swimming we make them do it.
    My son is a total sports lover and my daughter wants nothing to do with it – I’m not going to pressure her to take soccer just because some of the moms at school pointed out it’s not very well rounded to only do dance and art classes (yes that really happened).
    Stick to your guns mama – no one knows better than you what is right for your child!

    • We’re on the same page mama! We’ve decided that swimming will be mandatory, and then each child can choose one class that they’d like to do. Glad to hear I’m not alone on this one!

  4. My perspective is going to be a little longer term because my kids are older now. First of all, don’t worry. Relax. Everything works out somehow. Your daughter will grow up to amaze you in so many unexpected ways. Parenting is a long game – what you want is a really balanced, well rounded, compassionate and capable kid to come out the other side, and somehow they do, despite the fact that if we could go back we would change so many things. At least I would. Don’t worry so much about the activity details as long as your daughter is happy. Lots of time ahead to learn all kinds of things! I didn’t over schedule my kids, and tried to go for balance, so I did encourage them to try some sports if they wanted to. And some dance, and some music lessons. Eventually they settled on what they preferred. Swimming is one thing I am really happy that I insisted on – no kid loves the lessons, but they do love it when they become strong capable swimmers. We also tried to find some activities that we could do as a family, and continue with as they kids got older (skiing) – that was great for family bonding and still is. And I do think it’s great for girls to feel comfortable with sports – I felt the same way as you did as a kid. But there are so many sport choices, and there’s still time. I wouldn’t stress about soccer at 6 if she doesn’t like it. We also tried to enroll them sometimes with friends – they always liked that better. You sound like such a thoughtful, caring mom, and you will know what is the perfect decision for Bee. Good luck!

    • It’s so reassuring to hear from a “veteran” mom like yourself, thank you for your advice and kind words! I love the idea of choosing an activity that we can do as a family, we live 5 minutes from a ski hill so family ski days would be a fantastic idea! I’ve signed my kids up for swimming again, and have decided to let them each pick one other activity. Then they can try new things over spring break! Thanks again 🙂

      • And sooo sorry for the long winded comment! I just remember struggling with these decisions, and I just want to reassure moms that SOMEHOW it all works out. Beats me how, but it just does. I think maybe love really is inspiring, and so you go down the right path with your children.

  5. Oh my goodness Bianca! I haven’t thought that far ahead and this is stressing me out! Just kidding =) I kind of think for my kids, if they show an interest in something, then we’ll pursue it. If they whine about it then that means they don’t like it and won’t do well in it. I think we all have our strengths and weaknesses and I’m going to have my kids pursue their strengths and not their weeknesses, even if it means they’re not ‘well rounded.’

  6. I wish my children were not in so many different activities…this year is the first year they have all been old enough to actually be in un-parented classes. Each of my three children are in two different activities – so six things, plus school, and whatever else. This morning I put on a sleeveless t-shirt and realized that I had forgotten to shave an armpit. Enough said. No mom is superwoman, I think less might be more!

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