Do you ever wonder, “If a woman’s place is in the home, why am I always in the car?” Do you find yourself hurrying your children through chores and schoolwork to get to lessons, co-op classes, and sports practices on time? Is there just too much pressure in your life? Help is on the way!
We have a love-hate relationship with those outside-the-home activities called extracurriculars. And they really do serve a good purpose when thoughtfully selected. They can fill in gaps in your curriculum: Many parents use piano lessons as a music class or gymnastics for physical education. Extracurriculars provide opportunities for social interaction. Children (and parents!) can develop leadership skills and learn to serve others while participating in supplementary activities.
But every parent soon learns the challenges of outside-the-home activities. If overdone, activities may divide the family, stealing time and energy. Children may form new loyalties toward peers, teachers, and coaches, challenging the authority and wisdom of their own parents. If an older child is on a sports team, all of the younger ones get dragged to every practice and game, regardless of nap times or unfinished schoolwork; their needs as little ones take a backseat to the coach’s schedule.
It is easy to fall into the trap of signing up your children for every class or club that comes along. They all sound so interesting. And sometimes we’re afraid, deep down, that our children are somehow getting cheated by not being in a “regular” school. So we compensate by saying yes to too many activities.
You don’t have to do this! Your children will do just fine, even if they’re not involved in every activity that catches their fancy. No one can do everything. Children need to learn time management along the way, just as we do. Creativity grows when a child has enough unstructured time to get bored now and then.
In my piano studio, I’m often struck by the impact over scheduling has on children. These children rush in to their lessons, often without all of their music, giving excuses about why they didn’t have time to practice; and then they nearly nod off on the piano bench, they’re so tired. These poor tykes are the victims of over scheduling or, perhaps, of their parents’ need for bragging rights. What a contrast with the children whose parents don’t feel the need to schedule every moment of their children’s lives! Often students with less natural talent play better than those with loads of talent but little time to develop it.
Here are some suggestions for making extracurricular activities work for your family.
• The younger the child, the more time he needs at home.
• Consider activities that all or most of the family can be a part of, such as church or service activities. You will develop wonderful shared memories over the years, as well as spending less time in the car. Whether your children sing at nursing homes or raise money for missions, they will learn the joy of serving others.
• Check out 4-H with your county extension agent. This organization offers hundreds of projects, from electricity and photography to clothing design, public speaking, and training service dogs. The materials are very economical and offer many hands-on activities; some families even use them for science curriculum. Perhaps other homeschoolers in your area would like to form a 4-H club that meets during the school day.
• If you decide to participate in team sports, try to find teams that allow several ages together so you aren’t racing from one practice or game to another multiple times per week. You might choose a city league instead of a competitive league; the time commitment difference is huge. Our boys played city-sponsored soccer for six weeks each spring, but didn’t do the summer-long, four-times-a-week baseball with out of town travel to games. With five sons, it would have been insane; summer would have been anything but refreshing.
• Some large families allow each child to be in just one activity. One may take violin lessons, another be in sports, and another prepare for a nursing career through volunteering at a nursing home. Since the child has selected the activity himself, he is more likely to be enthusiastic about practicing and participating.
Life on the go demands strong organizational skills. Note that I said skills, not gifts. A skill is something you can learn, whether or not it comes naturally like a gift. Here are some things that have worked at our house.
• Before saying yes to a new activity, refer to your calendar or planner. How will it fit with what you’re already doing? Are you and your spouse in full agreement about it?
• Think through where the uniforms, equipment, books, etc, that your activities require will be stored when not in use. Piano music can stay in a tote bag in a basket near the piano, ready to be grabbed on lesson day. Shin guards for soccer players might be stored in the trunk of the car or hang in the garage in a net bag with the soccer ball. Perhaps you will invest in lockers for the garage or mudroom for uniforms; we used them for the boys’ chore clothes when they raised livestock for 4-H.
• Plan to take care of errands while you already have everyone in the car. Many moms make a quick trip to the library for new books before coming to piano lessons in my home. The other children are eager to devour their latest finds while their siblings take their lessons.
• Bring along mending, crocheting, lesson planning, or other work to do while you wait. Or, if not all of your children are involved in the activity, use the precious one-on-one time to read to your little ones or take a walk in the neighborhood while you wait. Even though you’ve been with your children all day, they’ve still had to share your attention with their siblings. It is the rare child, even a homeschooled one, who gets the undivided attention of an adult for even 15 minutes per day.
There are some wonderful options out there—support groups and service opportunities, clubs and classes, lessons and language learning. They add spice to your life and may even develop a career interest in a young person. But like the herbs and spices you use in the kitchen, they must be carefully selected and used sparingly. You may love oregano in your spaghetti sauce, but you wouldn’t measure it by the cupful! Sprinkle in just enough extras to enhance your routine curriculum, and savor the balanced life you’ve created.
Published on March 18, 2009
©2008 by Marcia K. Washburn, who writes from her 19 years of experience homeschooling five sons. Watch for her new Web site at www.marciawashburn.com and catch her blog at www.HSEBlogs.com/marcia
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm