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"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
"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."
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
"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
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.