“Wow – you guys sure are busy!”
As a mom of three, I’ve heard this phrase a lot already, and my kids are only 7, 5, and 2. We’ve tried to strike a good balance of getting our kids into different types of activities while maintaining a good amount of free time, but sometimes our schedule finds itself out of whack and causes me to re-evaluate what we’ve voluntarily put on our plate. While there is definitely no definitive “right” answer for every kid/family, I think it’s helpful to consider a few different questions when you’re faced with each additional sign-up opportunity for kids activities.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the types of activities available for your kiddo depends on his/her age, and the options are markedly fewer for babies/toddlers than they are for grade-school kids. And until they’re around 3 or 4, their participation is YOUR participation, so keep that in mind before you sign up.
Some of my mom friends enact hard-and-fast limits as to how old their kids are when they get to start extracurricular activities (usually around age 3 or preschool).
For us, it has changed with each additional kid. For example, our oldest was jumping into the pool with me for swim lessons around six months old, but our third/youngest has yet to start anything, and he’s getting ready to turn 2 ½. Fair or not, when you are further down the line in a bigger family, there are finite resources (more on that below).
You know your kid(s) best, so don’t force an activity upon them that they just aren’t developmentally ready for yet or won’t appreciate. There will be plenty of time for that later 😉
With the exception of a few, extracurricular activities generally aren’t free or cheap, but there is definitely a range that can fit most budgets. Think about your kid, what he/she enjoys, and their aptitude for that activity. Budding artist who trips over her own two feet? Maybe you could splurge on local weekly art classes but stick to the rec league for t-ball. Have multiple coaches told you that your son is REALLY good at baseball, and he also wants to try and start learning how to draw cartoons? Then consider trying out for the local club team (that comes with a bigger price tag) but stick to the free drawing clinics at the local library branch.
Before you turn in that enrollment form, make sure you understand exactly what sort of time investment you’re committing to: are these piano lessons going to require daily practice sessions? Will graduating to the next level of swim lessons lengthen the lesson to a full hour? Unfortunately, some activities are pretty vague on the specific details when it’s time to sign up and pay in advance. After four seasons of soccer, I’ve learned to accept the fact that you won’t find out your weekly practice day/time or game schedule until RIGHT before the season officially starts, sigh.
Again, knowing your own kid will help you here – if your five year old can’t sit still for five minutes, then maybe piano lessons aren’t in the cards just yet.
Try It Before You Buy It (Or Commit an Entire Semester To It!)
Take advantage of limited-time opportunities to have your kid try out a potential activity before you commit to an entire season, semester, etc. Summer is a great time to try out something new–there are endless choices of summer camps and clinics. During the school year, keep an eye out for after school clubs, one-time sports clinics, etc. And to try and avoid sinking a lot of upfront costs into a potentially short-lived activity, think outside the box: rent that violin month-to-month, for example, or borrow some field hockey equipment from friends with older kids until you see if it’s going to work out.
How Much is Too Much? And Is it Ever Okay to Quit???
Sometimes the only way to figure this one out is to find out the hard way. Each kid (and each family) has a different capacity for juggling multiple things, and you will figure out quickly when they’ve hit their limit (and your own). But hey, I’m still working on this one, so when you figure it out, will you let me know?!
And as far as quitting goes, I’ve learned with my own kids that their moods change with each practice/game sometimes, so I try to look for an ongoing pattern before I jump to conclusions. We also believe strongly in following through with commitments (when it makes sense), so when those “I don’t like soccer anymore” moods pop up, we talk about how the team is counting on him/her to show up and play, and we try to focus on the parts of the activity they DO like (the universal answer is the after-game snacks, of course).
In today’s culture, it feels as if the choices we make for our kids’ extracurricular activities now will determine their college admissions, but let’s not put too much pressure on them or ourselves just yet. Wave your soccer/hockey/marching band/theater mom flag proudly!