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10 Moms Share the Truth About Extracurricular Activities

"What sport do you play?" a stranger asks my 6-year-old while we wait in line at the grocery store. When my son looks bewildered, the stranger says, "You should play basketball, you're so tall!"

The flyers come in the mail and home in the school bag and, in case I missed it, there are newspaper inserts to remind me. Music lessons, peewee football, dance lessons, soccer, gardening club, art camp … the list is endless.

"What do you do?" has been replaced with, "What does your kid do?" And, so far, my answer has been the shocking, "Nothing. No extracurriculars yet."

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Hey, my kids are 4 and 6 years old. Ask them what they want to do besides go to school and the answers range from, "Play Minecraft!" to "Build a robot!" to "Fly like a bird!" Sure, I could sign them up for a coding class, robotics or aerial acrobatics, but at this stage I'm content to watch them explore the world, and their interests, without enrolling them in anything, driving them anywhere or, let's face it, spending a lot of money.

I asked several moms to weigh in on the extracurricular debate and was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't entirely alone in thinking it's overrated.

"We signed our daughter up for everything she said she wanted to do the minute she said she wanted to do it. That meant we spent a lot of time driving to soccer practice and dance lessons only to watch a 3-year-old throw a tantrum when she was expected to do anything other than run around playing. It was a waste of time. She's 5 now and we won't sign her up for anything again until she's at least 8." — Amy

Maybe when they're older. Maybe.

"My boys are 7 and 9 and the only activity they've ever taken is swim lessons. And that was more a matter of safety than interest. They're in school for long days and there is always some field trip or event they're attending, so I don't see the need to sign them up for something that also takes up all of their weekend hours. Maybe when they're older. Maybe." — Melissa

"My sister signed her son up for piano lessons before he was 2. I thought she was crazy. He's 6 now and plays beautifully, but … it feels like too much. He cries about having to practice, he says he wants to quit, it's a battle between my sister and her husband (who would rather he be more physically active), and I wonder if it's worth it? My baby is just a year old and my sister is already asking me when we're going to sign her up for music lessons, too. It's exhausting just thinking about it." — Caren

"Oh yeah, we signed all three of them up for everything. Peewee football, ice skating, scouts, swimming, gymnastics, karate, hockey. Three kids, at least two activities per school year for the last five years, plus summer camp. I live out of my car and you know what? I wish we'd taken all of that money and put it into their college funds instead. But it's too late now." — Greta

This idea that we should be pushing our kids younger and younger is ridiculous.

"My kids are teenagers. One is very good at music and plays three instruments, the other is athletic and plays just about every sport. And neither of them started their extracurricular activities until middle school. This idea that we should be pushing our kids younger and younger is ridiculous. Let them play while they can—there is plenty of time to dedicate to their interests when they're older." — Martha

"I wish I hadn't felt pressured to sign my pre-schooler up for dance classes. She hates it, I can't stand the dance mom mentality and it's a miserable experience for both of us. I'd pull her out, but my husband insists she needs to finish out the year. This, from a man who won't finish reading a book he doesn't enjoy." — A.J.

"Our extracurriculars are done as a family. We 'train' for fun 5Ks in the area and on weekends we go hiking or fishing or work on home improvement projects together. We also go camping every summer. Our kids are 5, 7 and 8 and these years are going by fast. They have their entire lives to learn how to do things. Right now, they're learning how to be part of a family." — Rachelle

"Extracurriculars? Who can afford it? It's a rich kid privilege that poorer families feel bullied into for the sake of having a 'well-rounded' kid. I've watched my friends go into credit card debt to sign their kids up for things they weren't even interested in just because all the other neighborhood kids were doing it. No thanks." — Val

It's not about her anymore, it's about you and what you want. I learned that the hard way.

"Someone tells you that your 4-year-old has a natural talent for dance, you sign her up. You spend all of this money for classes and private lessons and costumes and all this time driving to those classes and recitals and competitions and you never question it. Then two years in, your kid comes to you and says she doesn't like it, she wants to quit. And you have so much invested, financially and emotionally, you insist she keeps going. And it's not about her anymore, it's about you and what you want. I learned that the hard way. It took another two awful years of making her go to classes for me to figure out, no, she really isn't interested in dance. It broke my heart, but it's not about me." — Terry

"I have four kids and a tight budget, so I said no activities or sports until they were 10 and then only one activity per year. It's working out well for us so far (only two are over the age of 10). This push to have little ones taking 'classes' is about two things: proving what a 'good' parent you are and meeting whatever unfulfilled dream you had to be a ballerina or football star or whatever. Take the class yourself and let your kid color and watch 'Sesame Street.'" — Danita

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As for my husband and me, we don't have a hard rule about extracurriculars, mostly because our kids haven't asked (yet) to sign up for anything. Based on what other moms have said, the secret is waiting until a child is mature enough to know what he wants and also understand what's involved in committing to an activity. So for now, I'm taking a page out of Rachelle's book; my kids are learning how to be part of a family, and that's the only extracurricular they need right now.

Photograph by: Twenty20

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