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In Defense of Skipping Extracurriculars

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When our girls were younger, we were always careful not to overschedule them. We didn't care that our kids were the only ones in the neighborhood who didn't play soccer, or who weren't on a rigorous schedule of dance/art/music lessons. Our girls were limited to one extracurricular activity each, making sure to keep our schedules free for other impromptu outings and, more importantly, time to just chill at home. We liked to think of it as "unstructured creative time," but deep down inside we knew it was just slacking.

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But that doesn't mean we weren't providing them with enriching activities. They had guitars, drums, keyboards and all the art supplies they needed. We took them to museums, concerts, libraries, movies and art galleries. Aside from that sculpture they saw of a man having sex with a goat that might have scarred them for life, we felt we provided them with good cultural experiences.

We all enjoyed this life free of extracurricular activities, but I did often worry they might not be getting enough structure. I worried about middle school—what if napping and snacking weren't considered stimulating extracurricular enrichment?

When my mind went to the really dark place, I wondered if the lack of water ballet training or private French lessons would hurt their chances of getting into a good college. I pictured my oldest daughter sitting in an admissions office, looking humiliated when the dean pointed to her application, laughed and informed her that no, 35 minutes of a beginning pottery class back in 2007 did not make her Ivy League material.

My girls were home at 3:15 everyday, Skyping with their friends who probably weren't going to get into Harvard, either.

And for a while our fears were realized. When they did hit middle school, they'd become so accustomed to a life without outside commitments that I couldn't get them to sign up for a single after-school class or activity. "This Ironic Poetry class sounds awesome," I'd yell out when the email schedule arrived, only to be met with a disagreeable silence. While other moms bragged about their free afternoons while their kids were busy after school building robots and honing their hip-hop skills, my girls were home at 3:15 everyday, Skyping with their friends who probably weren't going to get into Harvard, either.

But I didn't have to worry. Believe or not, their lack of specialized classes or outside training didn't have an adverse effect on them. They diligently pursued interests on their own and became passionate about their pursuits—my oldest fell in love with music, and my younger daughter discovered she had a gift for filmmaking. The best part? Now they're in high school and sign up for after-school classes and extra tutoring on their own without any begging from me.

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So, I'm going to go ahead and conclude that opting out of all those extracurricular activities in their childhood has had no adverse effects, so far. Between the two of them they writes songs, make videos, draw pictures, perform in musicals, volunteer and form clubs. They're straight-A students, and neither of them has been in jail or run off with her gym teacher. As for college, we'll see. My 17-year-old starts applying this summer, and I'm going to see if by fudging a few dates on her application, we can stretch that beginning pottery class out to at least two months.

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