Extracurricular Activities to Supplement Academics

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The following is written by Life as MOM contributor, JessieLeigh:

We all know one of “those families”– the ones who have their children’s lives so full and micro-managed that there’s not a single spare moment to breathe or relax. I definitely do not advocate over-scheduling little ones. I’m a firm believer in family-time, down-time, and prayer time. That being said, I do think that it’s possible to enrich your child’s school years through some carefully selected extracurricular activities.

Here are three broad categories to consider as you navigate the options:

Team Sports

Baseball, softball, basketball, football, soccer, and many others fall in this camp. Even preschool aged children can join many t-ball or youth soccer leagues. Not only do these sports help keep children healthy and active, but team sports also help your child work on teamwork, trusting, cooperation, turn-taking, and sportsmanship.

These activities require lots of interaction with other children and they help little ones learn to win, and lose, gracefully. A team sport helps teach young ones to cheer for one another and make choices that benefit the whole team rather than just the individual. Seeing a child choose to bunt the ball and take an out in order to bring his teammate home is truly a lovely thing!

Individual Sports

Sports like swimming, ballet, and the martial arts are often practiced as a group, but focus more on individual growth and development. As a child moves up the ranks from white to black belt, she is primarily competing against herself.

While swim teams and dance teams certainly exist, these are sports that can easily be practiced and developed individually. These teach independence, self-awareness, and self-confidence. A child’s success or lack there-of will rest, for the most part, on her own shoulder’s. There is a lot of responsibility in that. Like team sports, individual sports are wonderful for their role in keeping children strong, healthy, and active.

The Arts

While most schools do include Art and Music in their subject line-ups, extracurricular activities provide the opportunity to delve deeper and specialize more. Taking a painting class or studying the violin allows a child to explore his creative side.

Some children thrive on the almost mathematical nature of music (where there is a “right” answer/method) while others prefer total freedom and abandon in how they share their art. Either way, learning an instrument, being part of a chorus, or doing extra art work can help a child explore another side of learning and experience the joy of creating something all his own.

For our family, we try to limit each child to one or two activities at a time and, if they’re involved in more than one, we like to see them come from two different categories. They’re young yet, and practice times tend to minimal, so that’s what has worked for us, thus-far. For now, we find that our children still have plenty of time leftover to relax and rest-up.

What do YOU do?

Are your children involved in extracurricular activities? What are their favorites and why?

— JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles. She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles.

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  1. We allow two activities currently, Scouts and a fall or spring sport. We limit our activities in December to faith-related ones as much as possible.
    The summer we enjoy our neighborhood pool rather than do another sport. Summers should be lazy!

  2. We are encouraging our 5 year old to try a variety of sports, but only one at a time. He is also participating in church choir. Right now that seems like plenty!

  3. My son participates in band and scouts and then in the spring and fall we add soccer. My daughter participates in chorus and a church youth group for girls. Our school offers an art program called abradoodle once a month on their early out day. We look at the activity for that month and if it is something they like we attend. My daughter and I are also in a mother/daughter book club. Summers are also lazy for us. I work at their school so we all enjoy a carefree schedule in the summer with a limited amount of activities.

  4. My daughter is three and at the moment I’m digging my heels in against the wave of extracurriculars I see her daycare friends enrolling in. Dance. Soccer. Phonics lessons. Art classes. It’s just too much. Because I work full time, our “family time” is limited and precious. I don’t want to be picking her up from daycare and whisking off to another commitment.

    I did also want to add one thought on team sports which is: pick your team carefully. Many of my friends have experienced the awful youth coaches who seem to think that t-ball is one step away from the Olympics and put huge emphasis on winning. Especially for younger kids, you’ll want to pick a team/coach who appreciates that FUN comes first, LEARNING second, and WINNING a distant third (if that).

    1. I totally agree with you on this, Kate! We experienced polar opposites just this year between our son’s t-ball coach (fabulous, encouraging, amazingly patient) and his soccer coach (short-tempered, victory-driven, critical). That can make or break the value of the experience for sure.

  5. My daughter is 9 and participates in 3 extracurricular activities, which have been taken one after the first one has been tried and tested for a while. She started with ballet when she was 4, then clarinet at 8 and last year we started with horse riding. The first two she has during the whole school year, resting in the summer months, but horse riding is more when we have free time in the weekend. She is coping very well with all 3….love your site, thanks for sharing all these writings with us.

  6. My son is five and has done soccer the past two years, in the fall. We’re trying basketball this winter for the first time. He also did tball last spring and summer but didn’t really like it. We’re just trying to get him experience in different areas and let him do what he likes. Nothing if forced. He will probably never play tball or baseball again! But he does enjoy soccer.

    My daughter is three and has tried gymnastics which she loved but it was costly. She’s currently doing dance and absolutely loves it! She would go every day if she could. She’s also going to try soccer next fall but she’s a very girly girl so she may not like it.

    I really want to get them into piano lessons but we aren’t big on being too busy. With my son starting school this year he may do the art club next year after school.

  7. My daughter is 11 1/2.

    She did Daisies & Brownies from first grade through fourth grade, but decided she didn’t want to continue.

    She started playing clarinet in fifth grade and is now in the middle school concert band + jazz band.

    She has never done team sports, but has enjoyed riding lessons since she was 6 1/2. It’s very low-pressure (she took about a year off a while ago – mom got to take the lessons instead 😉 ) but now she is looking really forward to it. I think riding is one of the best activities any child (but especially girls) can get involved in.

    Riding does not have to be a “money” sport. Our one-hour lesson is $40. A good pair of riding boots can be found for less than $50 online, or check your local horse rescue – they may have a “tack shop” where people donate items to be resold for funds for the rescue. (Boots can be resold on eBay or Craigslist, or donated back to the tack shop at the rescue when they are outgrown). A helmet is the only thing that must be purchased new, but again, checking online retailers can net you a great deal.

    The responsibility & awareness of something outside of themselves that a horse requires + the confidence a child gains from controlling a 1000lb+ animal = priceless.

    1. We would love to get our middle child (a girl, as it turns out) involved in riding, Jenne. We’re currently on a waiting list and we think it would be truly excellent for her– her physical and occupational therapists agree!

    2. A friend of mine is heavily involved in riding, so much so that she often mentions (not so happily) the time and cost it takes to maintain the trailer, the truck, the truck’s gas, the truck that doesn’t fit in any parking garage or spot, the horse, the trainer, the groomer, the clothes, the time on the road, the time away from home, the time away from the other kids…the list goes on. It’s nice to read a post from you about a more reasonable riding experience, one that is manageable and more giving than taking. Thanks.

    3. Thanks for the comments!

      Food, it sounds like your friend (or her kids) are involved in showing horses. That can definitely add up quicker than the national deficit! Hubby already had the big truck when we met almost 10 years ago, and I drive a big truck too, so we’re used to the parking & the gas already….

      JessieLeigh, when my daughter (D) started riding, she was actually in a hippotherapy program (lesson programs didn’t start until she was 7) which did wonders for her balance & coordination. When we moved, and first met our current trainer, she was reluctant because she usually didn’t do lessons with kids under 8, but she let D ride as a test, and was very impressed with her balance, and knowledge, and agreed to lessons even though D was only 7 1/4 years old.

      Before starting lessons, I would highly recommend the video series “In the Stable”: http://www.inthestable.com/order/ (the vcr tapes are only $10 for the set – I won’t tell you what I paid!). This gives your child a very solid foundation in barn basics & manners.

      What we’ve done for the last 4 years is once a week riding lesson. Sometimes my daughter and I both have a lesson ($80/week), and we did shareboard/lease a horse for six months ($250/month + lessons). Our barn does have an equestrian drill team, but we are not on it. We donate to support them, and go to as many performances as possible (for moral support, but also so my dear daughter understands the time commitment involved should she choose to try out for the kids’ team).

      I will tell you that neither my daughter or I will be giving Beezie Madden a run for her money anytime soon LOL. I’m sure my trainer would not hold us up as an example of her finest work (ha-ha)….But that’s not why we do it.

      We ride because there is no other feeling like it….even my husband notices that I am MUCH more relaxed after I go to the barn. I have the best trainer in the world – anyone else would have dumped us ages ago for inconsistency of lessons (have to stay late at work, it’s 100 degrees out + 100% humidity – usually only on my lesson night!), not practicing between lessons (we don’t own a horse), etc.

      But I can text my trainer and say I’m going to be late and just pull the messiest horse out of the paddock & I will brush it instead of riding – and she does. It’s therapeutic, and gets your mind off the 956 things you need to do and reduces your world to you and the horse.

      Or I can call her and say “Hey, feel like driving two hours each way to the vet school clinic with 6 really thin horses?” (I am a humane investigator) and she will show up with her trailer without question to help. Or I can call/text her with questions about horses anytime, and she is happy to share her experience (vast) and knowledge.

      As you can tell, I am a HUGE fan of horses! LOL Feel free to ask any questions you might have. 🙂

    4. My daughter worked at a local barn in exchange for free riding when she was in middle school. It was such a great thing, because we didn’t have the money to pay for lessons and it was a great way for her to earn something she wanted to do. Made it that much more valuable t her.

  8. Each of our children (son, almost 8, and daughter, 5 1/2) is involved in scouting, and we also give the option to play non-competitive basketball for 8 weeks in the winter. Our kids enjoy scouting and right now we find that one activity is plenty. We simply get too busy otherwise, since my husband and I are involved in scouting leadership and our church’s handbell choir. I feel it’s important for parents to also have some activities outside of work/home.
    The 8 weeks of basketball season are very busy ones, but a great way to keep active in the winter, so we make that exception to our current “one activity” rule. As our children are older and able to manage more activities, additional extracurriculars will become an option.

  9. I teach cello lessons to upper elementary through high school kids. Most of my students have one sport at a time (sometimes they overlap a week or two) and cello with a few adding Youth Symphony. I’m sure quite a few of them also have church activities but I don’t hear about it as that doesn’t affect lesson times. Only one of my current students is over scheduled, in my opinion, and in that case I see how the parents are feeding into it.

    My joke is that soccer and school plays are The Enemies. I’m not a big fan of sports in general because of the emphasis our culture places on them and I get really, really tired of having to arrange my schedule around soccer practices and games. The petty part of me wonders why I’m always the one who has to bend, especially since it costs me money, but realistically I get why a group activity takes precedence. School plays make me nuts too when all of a sudden a kid can’t come at their regular lesson time for two months. But again, I get why this happens and I don’t think most kids should be forced to choose between cello and a play if they’re not over scheduled. It’s part of the job for me and I have great families in my studio so I try to be as flexible as I can. 🙂

    My own son (5 y/o) has one major activity which is cello lessons. For the winter I signed him up for basketball at the rec center. It meets one hour a week. Hardly super intense. I’m not sure what I’ll do about the school leagues as he gets older because I’m really not crazy about an activity that meets 2-3 times weekly. He’s started going to the aftercare program at school one day a week and they do a lot of organized games like dodge ball. I’m very happy with that so far.
    I’d love to do some kind of martial art wtih him but right now I just don’t see how that would fit in without making things crazy. My own teaching schedule is becoming problematic as he gets older because I have to work during the late afternoon and early evening hours. That will change next year.

  10. My daughter (age 5) is currently doing dance (ballet/jazz/tap combo class) and a kids’ church choir. I like that the dance is active and that the choir is providing her a good basis in musical training and in church music. She likes them both, and also wants to do soccer again when our church offers it (once a week for a month, a good way for kids to try out different sports without a huge commitment). We did (and do) take a look at our family schedule as a whole before making a commitment.

  11. I teach piano lessons, and I can tell a big difference between the kids who are over-scheduled and the ones who have plenty of time. The over-scheduled ones have little time to practice (what 10-year old should say, “I had a busy week; I couldn’t practice”?!!), which means they’re not getting the full benefit of the lessons. I often tell students and parents, “The lesson is not really where you learn to play the piano. You learn to play when you practice at home.” I hate to see parents shelling out good money and their child not getting the benefits that he or she could.

    My opinion–choose the one or two activities that your child enjoys the most. If he really hates piano practice but loves sports, there’s no need to force him to do both. You’re wasting time and money 🙂 If he develops an interest in music later on, there will be time to develop it then.

    Of course, you as the parent get to make the final decision on his activities–don’t give in to every little whim, either! Many of my students have struggled for the first year or so, and then it all clicks and they really start enjoying the piano.

    Just my two cents! Thanks for the fabulous post, JessieLeigh!

    1. Thanks, Diana! I appreciate you weighing in from the teacher’s perspective too. And I agree– children do not *have* to do both athletics and the arts. It’s totally okay to just follow their joy. 🙂

  12. With our six children we have tried a variety of sports and activities over the years. Personally, we have found that when each child picks and activity and we run around all the time, we are stressed out. We changed all that and now have very few activities. We plan lots of family outtings for exercise and togetherness, we attend arts events etc.

    For us, it’s the right choice. I’ve seen too many families busy for years and years then look back lamenting the money spent and time running around constantly. It starts around age three where there’s pressure to put a child in “something” and then stick with that something in order to get a scholarship. Parents run from gymnastics to swimming, to art and then ballet, then music lessons….there’s no time left to just be a family.

    The balancing act looks different for each family and the talents and gifts of each child must be noticed and nurtured. Family life is not one size fits all so while one family thrives on a buy baseball season, another enjoys just going camping each weekend as a family. Finding what works an keeps the home happy is what matters.

  13. My boys need some extra activities that disperses energy, so I have to look and be willing to drive and go to them. This fall, it has been basketball. In the Spring it is Soccer and in the summer, Swimming. I try to limit it to one thing for the whole family, but sometimes it does not work out. One is in dance, and the other two in basketball. It makes for a lot of running, but it is good for them. I attend all the games, so that makes for busy times too. I would love to do piano, but besides being able to afford it, the extra weekly commitment would send me over the edge. I worry though that they are not getting the arts in their life like they need. What is too much and what is too little?

    1. In my (very humble and probably not very important :)) opinion, Martha, the “right” amount of activity/exposure will vary wildly from child to child. I believe YOU know your boys best and I love that you’ve recognized their need for burning off some energy. Do I believe exposure to the arts is important? Absolutely. But it can also be something that’s done casually at home… a trip to a museum a few times a year or some books/CDs from the public library that introduce new ideas. If something really sets off a spark, I think there’s always time to pursue it later.

      1. They love museum’s and we do that whenever we can, they listen to CD’s of all types, pretty much non-stop and we spend a lot of time at the library. I just feel bad sometimes as my limitations might limit what they might need. We homeschool, so after books are done, sometimes I am so exhausted, with the extra things we do, housework and all, I think we all need down time too! There just isn’t enough hours in the day sometimes!

  14. We, too, did various sports over the years. But now with only one homeschooled child left in the nest, our lives are all about music. He takes piano and tuba lessons, is in a homeschool band and our county’s youth symphony orchestra.

  15. Both my girls(almost 7 and almost 5) take dance once a week and participate in Awana at our church. My younger daughter goes to dance in the mornings and my oldest goes after school. Awana is one night a week. This has worked well for our family. We do swim lessons in the sumer. Our son is only 2 so he just goes along but we’d like to put him in t-ball when gets older.

  16. We too have carefully protected our family time. Our kids are 16, 18. My son does soccer and snowboard team and my daughter does basketball. They are both involved in youth group as well. Other than that, they hang out and act like teenagers.

  17. All of mine go to public school…the 14 yo girl is in cheerleading, plays the viola in orchestra, and is in 2 volunteering focused clubs…over the years she has done gymnastics, dance(both as an individual and on a team) and soccer

    My son(12) does band at school, plays soccer and this year since he is eligible, wants to go out for track in the spring. He’s played soccer since 3rd grade and has also done gymnastics and martial arts

    The 4 yo really hasnt got into outside activities…we take her to brother’s and sister’s things and do play groups. She has asked to play T ball, but that’s not available until the spring

  18. Unfortunately, extra classes are just so expensive in my area. I don’t know how people afford them especially when they have more than one child. They have programs for low income families but unfortunately, we fall in that in between too poor and not well off enough.

    1. I understand this position well, Elias. We live in a very well-off part of Connecticut and, while we certainly don’t live in poverty, the cost of living here is high and we don’t have a lot of extra pennies. Sometimes (though not always), programs through the local parks and rec department can be more reasonable than the private programs. Luckily, programs at the public library and public parks provide lots of free opportunities for growth in these areas, too! 🙂

      1. Thanks for the tip. Yes, we definitely get our use out of the library and parks! They don’t really offer classes but we use them on a weekly basis. I haven’t checked out pricing for scouts yet so I’m hoping it will be an option. 🙂