What's Your Line?
Decide how many activities kids can pursue
By Kelly TaylorFor our family, summer is a much welcome hiatus filled with movie marathons and days spent at the beach. Everything slows down—unlike the hectic pace of the school year, including many of the children’s extracurricular activities. However, when school starts so do most of the children’s activities. Kids are often enthusiastic about having a finger in every pie. My 10-year-old daughter wants to be involved in violin, travel team soccer, piano, a community art class and her girls’ group at church. The question is: How much is too much?
It’s hard to say no, but at times it is necessary for the sake of your child’s well-being, your own peace of mind and the general chaos level in your family scheduling.
There are weeks when I feel like I am sinking in a sea of extracurriculars. All I need is my little black cap and I’d make a perfect chauffeur. It’s pathetic when my husband and I circle a date on the calendar in bright red, because we have an evening with no commitments. Boy, does that sound heavenly!
We want our children to have every opportunity to find interests and talents that excite them. Maybe we want to give our children everything we never had the chance to try. As a child, I desperately wanted to take piano lessons, but financially that just wasn’t possible in our home. I made a vow that my children would learn piano when they were young.
With more than one child, the extracurriculars can start to feel unmanageable. In our family, we have taught our oldest children to rank in order of importance the activities they have chosen. With our daughter, the jack-of-all-trades, her true passion is soccer. We finally asked Camryn to choose two activities in which she wanted to participate, and we would support her in those. (We didn’t include piano as one of those activities because I insist on it.) She chose soccer and her girls’ group at church. She feels like this is a compromise that can work for her.
We also have a son who falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. He sometimes struggles to find activities he likes. Our family rule is that you have to be involved in something. I learned that from a mother I know who has eight children. She said, “Involve them in good things, so they won’t have too much time on their hands to get into mischief.”
We don’t care what activity they choose, but our children can’t sit at home and play video games 24-7. We like to encourage our kids to be active. And this son loves swimming. So, we got him involved in swim lessons, and now he looks forward to attending his class each week.
Extracurriculars can add up financially, too. Again, with more than one child, you just double everything or, in our case, quintuple it. Certain activities are out of the question, simply based on cost. Gymnastics is a good example. I was a gymnast and love the sport, but it’s way out of our price range.
For those activities that are more mid-range, sometimes my husband and I agree, with stipulations. For example, our son Bronson wanted to attend a church summer camp out of state that was quite expensive. We wanted to be supportive, but couldn’t justify forking over half our retirement. We asked him to pay a fourth of the camp’s cost—well over $100, which seemed insurmountable for a 13-year-old boy who makes about $10 a month in allowance. He agreed to our terms, however.
And he surprised us. First, he voluntarily gave up his allowance until it was paid. He then offered to pet sit for our neighbors’ three golden retrievers while they were out of town. And lastly, he found a job doing yard work for some family friends. By the end of these odd jobs, he’d paid his portion of the camp and had money to spare. I have to admit that Bronson impressed me with his stick-to-it-iveness.
I count myself fortunate to live in a time and place where my children can experiment and try new things, where they can learn if they enjoy tennis or bowling, trumpet or guitar—or maybe even all of the above. But I also believe too much of anything is not a good thing.
Setting limits regarding extracurriculars won’t hurt your children. If anything, it will help mold them into individuals with the ability to compromise, prioritize and sacrifice for the activities that are most important to them.
Kelly Taylor, her husband, Alan, and their five children in 2008 moved from their Liverpool home of 10 years to Greenville, N.C. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies. To comment on this article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.