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Kids' Extracurricular Activities: Expectations vs. Reality

Why do we enroll our little kids in extracurricular activities? I mean, seriously, why?

My daughter’s only four, so it’s not about padding her college applications. And there’s certainly no pressure coming from my kid, who’d be just as happy digging in the dirt all afternoon. Yet I couldn’t resist signing her up for swim lessons. My logic: kids need to learn how to swim for safety’s sake. Plus maybe she’d get good at it, join the swim team, and who knows, get an athletic scholarship to college? And then one day she could be up on the podium, telling Bob Costas how she owes it all to her mom, just like Michael Phelps.

RELATED: In Defense of Skipping Extracurriculars

As you might have guessed, the reality of swim class was a little different from the Olympic dreams in my head. My kid couldn’t focus, scrambling out of the pool every 5 minutes to find me and the snacks in my purse. And she wouldn’t put her face in the water the entire summer. I’d say she learned nothing, except I noticed that at bath time, she became quite expert at flooding the whole bathroom with water, which must have been due to her improved kicking.

When it comes to extracurriculars, our high parental hopes are often crushed by kids being, well, kids. For example:

KARATE

What we hope they'll learn: Self-discipline, confidence and respect for their elders

What they really learn: Creative ways to inflict pain on their siblings

GYMNASTICS

What we hope they'll learn: Coordination, balance and following directions

What they really learn: That the couch at home is great for trampoline practice and—good news‚it is possible to scale the bookcase to reach the highly breakable knick knacks on top

TAP DANCE

What we hope they’ll learn: Shuffle/ball/change, of course. Plus, they’ll look so cute in those fancy satin costumes at the recital

What they really learn: That they can make more noise with a pair of tap shoes than with a drum set and jackhammer combined. Oh, for the love of God, please take them off!

SOCCER

What we hope they’ll learn: Teamwork, cooperation and stamina

What they really learn: How boring soccer is

RELATED: My Kid is Overscheduled and It's Not All Bad

COOKING

What we hope they’ll learn: Healthy food tastes yummy when you make it yourself

What they really learn: Ingredients are even more fun to spill than finger paints

BROWNIES / CUB SCOUTS

What we hope they’ll learn: Every life skill, from pitching a tent and tying a knot to pet care and sewing

What they really learn: How good mom and dad are at earning their merit badges for them

Buzzkills, every one of them! But I’m not suggesting we stop taking our kids to activities. It’s great to expose them to new experiences, as long as we realize that most probably won’t become lifelong passions. So instead of inflating our expectations of kids’ extracurriculars, let’s appreciate what they’re really good for—killing time between school and dinner.

Image via Twenty20/aario

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