I think our culture is starting to see a pushback against the over-scheduling of children. I see three articles a day about how children need more down time and family dinners and time just play in the dirt in the backyard. I am sure many of y’all reading this blog agree children need all those good things but – like me – find it difficult to reach that happy medium, especially when you have multiple children and add in life’s normal commitments.
So today I am sharing how we make decisions about our children’s schedules each fall and spring. Even better: I asked some wise mom friends with middle school and high schoolers to reflect back on the decisions they made for their children when they were young. Y’all are going to LOVE this post!
When it comes to extracurriculars, I have made a lot of poor choices. When my first child was in kindergarten I signed her up for four different activities. She was only in school three half days a week so I figured it was fine.
Like a lot of moms, I wanted to know which direction I should steer her in: Was dancing her passion? Maybe its gymnastics? The church choir is so sweet – and it’s at church when we can socialize with other sweet families! Maybe she will be super gifted at tennis! How will what her “gift” or “passion” is if we don’t try them all???
But it backfired. She ended up in tears almost every afternoon because between her activities and driving to lots of therapy appointments for my other daughter we had very little down time. I think all children need down time but my first born really needed a lot of it. After a few months I cut it back to just dance. And life was much better!
Since that learning experience I have become more intentional about choosing extracurriculars for my family. I am sharing how we do things in the hopes it will help as you figure out what’s best for your family. I realize every family is different, though!
Here are four things we consider each year:
1. What Season Are We In?
In Tuesday’s post I talked about how different seasons of parenting allow for different outside commitments as a mom. But I also think about seasons in terms of children’s sports and activities. For example, last August we had a preemie baby. Our family needed to kind of regroup after a traumatic summer and not be distracted with lots of activities. Our baby also had a weakened immune system so we also couldn’t be siting in dance studio lobbies with a bunch of children. I didn’t sign my four year old up for anything outside of preschool.
On that note, we are not in a season where we can (or want to) do club sports. I think I may be too greedy of our family time! It’s not only a huge commitment of the parents, but of siblings, too. Not to mention the cost.
Having said that, we have friends whose children have had great experiences with club sports and they have developed wonderful family friends with the parents of the other athletes. Perhaps if we had a naturally gifted athlete who was asking us to do club sports we would reevaluate and make sacrifices. But I don’t think we would ever do club sports before middle school. Never say never though, right?!
2.Will our Children Have Enough Free Time?
My mom did not put us in a lot of activities growing up and looking back I am so thankful I had an abundance of time to do play, think, and just be a child. Even as a middle schooler. This is getting harder and harder in our busy culture. A lot of families counter with the “one activity per child.” But, goodness, with multiple children even this can add up! Especially if it’s a sport where there is multiple practices and one games a week.
What I’ve realized is that contrary to cultural pressure, not every child has to do something every season or even every year. There have been some seasons where none of my children have been in an extracurriculars and it was GLORIOUS!
And then there are times when they are signed up for a yearly activity (like dance) but also want to try a sport with a six week season like basketball. This is where I am flexible. If our family has the capacity to take that on, we will do it. We just make sure to say “no” to other social commitments during that season so they (and we!) have enough down time.
Again, this is just how we do things right now. Every semester we reevaluate and make changes (and say “no) to try to give our children enough free time and family time.
3. Is it Right for This Particular Child?
Not all children are created equal when it comes to capacity for extracurriculars. Some need and can handle more activities; some can’t. And siblings can be very different. My third child is very different than my oldest (third children are generally more outgoing and mature!).
As their mother I am in tune with my girls’ personalities, gifts, and desires and try to steer them accordingly. Just because all of her classmates signed up for gymnastics, doesn’t mean I should sign her up, too, especially if she insists she doesn’t want to. Why would I want to spend the entire season fighting her to get dressed, have a good attitude, etc.?!
I also want my children to understand extracurricular activities are a privilege so we consider: Is she managing school work well? Is she being respectful/obedient at home? Are there issues we need to work on at home at night instead of being gone several nights a week? Good life lessons can be taught through sports – and not having the privilege do them as well.
4. Am I Entrusting this Child to Her Creator?
I admittedly have a fear of my children missing out and have worried about them not finding their “sport” or their “passion.” This is something I’ve personally had to pray about and trust the Lord that he will lead my girls as they are supposed to go and help me make the right decisions to get them there. And trust my mom friends who have gone before me when they tell me it will all work out.
Moreover, our life experiences (and really our children’s health struggles) have led to many discussions between my husband and me about what really matters in the long run. The blessing of having endless doctor and therapy appointments and surgeries is that we see the beauty of a non-scheduled life. We want to enjoy our children as much as possible when they are young because – as we have seen with our friends with older children – teenage life is quite different! We will be missing those times when they were home most of the time!
Speaking of my friends with older children, I reached out to some of them and asked what they would say to moms of children just starting out in the world of extracurriculars. These are all quotes from women I admire and respect and look at their children and think what a good job they’ve done. These are boy moms and girl moms and moms with big families and moms with children who do club sports and moms of children who don’t. But I trust that they all put a lot of thought and prayer into the decisions they made for their families. I hope it helps you as make decisions for yours!
“I have loved the idea of giving children “space” – space to just do nothing, space to think and process and reflect. If the schedule is jammed packed, this doesn’t happen. For my girls, too much really seemed to cause anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed and exhausted. In order for that “space” to happen, it seemed like we really had to stick to the one sport activity per child per season. I also heard a thousand times that “boredom is good for kids” and I’ll have to agree. Out of many times of boredom, great creativity has blossomed in my kids or even better – the desire to clean or organize their rooms!”
“Avoid scheduling activities everyday of the week. It’s SO nice to have 1 or 2 days that are just designated homework and play at home days.”
“I heard a speaker when my children were little talk about the multiple disadvantages of kids riding around in a car seat all day/afternoon. They miss opportunities to be at home where opportunities for conflict resolution with siblings happen and gross/fine movement as well as creativity happens.”
“Respect your child’s personality! If activities with lots of kids drains your child, limit them. Allow that child lots of time alone or in activities that do energize them (maybe a one on one art lesson or tennis lesson instead of Group Classes).”
“If you start competitive sports too early, they will burn out sooner.”
“Baseball families don’t get much of a summer.”
“Someone once told me that in Pioneer times, families would have to slow the pace of their travel and activities to match the pace of the newborn. I appreciated this information tremendously because it reminded me that we could, as a family, slow down and enjoy our newborn together.”
“Reevaluate every year, avoid the mindset of a lifetime commitment.”
“If they are truly a gifted athlete, it doesn’t matter if they start a sport at 4 years of age or 7. They are probably going to rise to the top no matter what.”
“I think it’s good to expose your children to many different activities. A week long summer day camp is one way to give them a taste of something without a huge commitment.”
“If your child loves an activity and shows consistent commitment over a number of years, don’t be afraid to invest in it. Use their time as kids/teens to develop gifts that they will enjoy throughout their life!”
“I knew my shy daughter really was serious about soccer because she was begging me to sign her up for a team where she didn’t know a single person. And she wouldn’t let it go.”
“Think outside of the box for your child! Don’t let FOMO guide you.”
“My solution has been to hire a college girl to do some of the late afternoon activity driving for my older children. The cost has been worth it so I could be at home to make dinner and be here my younger children.”
“Children might not ever find their ‘passion’ as children and that’s okay.”
“With a soon to be sophomore, I don’t have any regrets over the amount of time we have spent in our home. Although it seemed to require more energy and planning at times, the push to have family dinners around our home table has proven to be invaluable. I can see the fruit of family dinners and what it does for my children’s sense of belonging and identity and confidence. I also think keeping the schedule simple is helpful – what activities and where they are in regards to driving times, etc. “
I hope these quotes were encouraging to you as they were to me! If it was please share with your friends to encourage them, too!
Planner: Emily Ley Simplified Planner
Be on the lookout for the release of the new 2019 Planner!
Pin this post!