After I spoke at a homeschool conference last year, a mom came up to me with a big thank you. She breathed a huge sigh of relief, saying I had just given her great freedom.
I looked at her quizzically. What had I said that would have freed her? It was an almost off-hand comment I had made to consider whether or not an extracurricular activity or two might be a good fit for her family.
She explained that she had just come from another session where the speaker said she should never put her children in extracurricular activities. He had said that good homeschool moms keep their children with them at all times.
I know that different approaches work for different families. And many do well with no outside activities. But when I had my kids at home, a select few extracurricular activities provided a great blessing to my family and those around us. Why?
1. Extracurricular Activities Can Teach Homeschoolers Valuable Life Skills
Different activities help kids learn important skills they can carry with them for life.
- music can teach perseverance
- sports can teach teamwork
- any structured outside activity can teach responsibility (e.g., how to get out the door on time and keep track of your belongings)
- competitions can teach sportsmanship
Is there something you want your children to learn that an outside activity could help you teach or, perhaps more, help your children learn (by doing)?
I should probably point out that when I speak of teaching—or, rather, learning—responsibility, I mean holding children accountable for their own behaviors and not "doing it for them."
One advantage of teaching responsibility in the context of an extracurricular activity your kids love: There will come a time when you say to your child, "You must take care of your equipment," or "Don't lose ______," and then your child promptly loses the equipment or leaves it at home. If you refuse to jump in to save him, he will never forget the lesson; the pain of the lost opportunity will etch it in his mind.
And while I'm on the subject, I should probably note: These kinds of lessons can be very painful for you as well as your son or daughter. You may be sorely tempted to step in and reduce the pain. I urge you not to. Your son or daughter will not (I hope) have Mom or Dad standing by to pick up the pieces after him when he is off at college or married. He needs to learn these lessons now . . . at age 7 or 8 or 14.
So let him pay the price when he forgets or can't find his goggles and he is at the swimming finals. Let him pay the price if you're on the way to the band performance and he realizes he doesn't have his music. In the long run, he'll be better for it.
2. Sports Can Help Homeschoolers Get the Exercise They Need
I enrolled my children in a club swim team as a way to encourage them to get out and exercise. And I found that swimming for two hours a day was very effective in keeping them calm at home. With such a fun and productive outlet for their energy in the pool, they didn't really want to do anything too wild in the house. Plus, I really believe the great exercise helped them stay healthy and prepared them for active lifestyles as adults.
It was actually this point that led to the idea for this post. John and I had just spent several hours in the presence of a family with a bunch of young children. Wild children. We were driving home and remarking to one another about how exhausted we were. Why? Why couldn't we take it the way we did back when we had children of our own of that age? Was it really that we were getting so old?
And then it hit me: No. Our children never acted that way. They didn't have the energy to be wild at home because they had used it all in the swimming pool.
Do you have wild children who wear you out? Maybe a focused sport activity—like swimming—could be the perfect solution to multiple problems.
3. Extracurricular Activities Can Help Homeschoolers Develop Socially
Dare I say it? I do think that a carefully-chosen extracurricular offers socialization opportunities:
- developing new friendships
- learning how to interact with a variety of peers and their families
- working together with people different than them
- being part of a team
There are other ways to find these opportunities, but consider whether extracurriculars might be a good fit to help with this.
With that said, it's important to remember that all extracurricular activities are not created equal. Some activities help your kids get the exercise they need. Some involve incredible time commitments. Some are relatively inexpensive. Some tend to schedule all major competitions on Sundays. Some teach self-discipline. Some seem to attract encouraging families ... while others, unfortunately, seem to attract parents who display a shocking lack of sportsmanship at games.
So my advice is to think carefully about which activities to pursue before you sign up your kids. I pray God blesses you and your family as your learn and grow together inside the home and out in the world.