When I was a kid, I had a few activities available to me: a Christian version of Girl Scouts, high school track, summer camp … and not much more than that.
But today, the possibilities for children can be overwhelming. Depending on where you live, you could choose anything from soccer to cross-country, equestrian team to baton twirling, taekwondo to pottery-making.
How do you even begin to choose? As you pray for guidance, talk with your spouse and children, and look into options, consider these questions:
- What are my goals for this activity?
What do you hope your children/family will gain from an outside activity? Perhaps you want your children to make new friends, get exercise, learn how to work hard physically, or explore a potential talent. Whatever your goal, let that direct your selection process.
- What skills will this activity teach my children?
Once you have an activity in mind, take stock of the skills it could teach your children. As I shared in my last post, different activities tend to teach different skills—from teamwork to responsibility to creativity.
- What is the realistic time commitment and cost for this activity?
Now it's time to look honestly at an activity and consider the time commitment and cost it entails. Is your family ready for the cost and time the activity requires?
- Can I put all (or at least more than one) of my children in this activity?
In my early years of homeschooling, I really wanted to give each of my four children the perfect opportunity to explore his or her gifts. I wanted each to pursue whatever activity his or her particular interests inspired. So I signed Amy up for ballet and Luke for baseball, put Jonelle in soccer and took Justin to karate.
It was a nice idea. But before long, I was going crazy driving all over town and accommodating four different schedules! The hectic pace made our family feel scattered and stressed. So I drastically reduced. We decided that all the kids would swim on a year-round team and play in an honors band. It was such a relief to have our schedules align, and our kids enjoyed being on larger teams together.
I know many families want to let their children do many different activities in hopes of giving them every advantage in life. But I also know that homeschooling is (often) a huge advantage in and of itself. And I know how busy homeschooling moms are. I don't like to watch a mom become exhausted from running her kids to and fro … and ultimately feel like she has to give up homeschooling because she has too much on her plate. In my particular situation, it worked beautifully (for the kids and me) for us to condense our activities. Would a similar strategy work for your family?
- Do I like the coach/leader and the other families in this activity?
What is the coach like for this activity? Do you respect his or her teaching and character? As we all know, coaches can have significant influence on children.
Also, I hesitate to include this because I don't want to over-generalize or imply that you should only interact with families just like yours. But I would encourage you to consider the types of families you'd interact with in a given activity. Would you enjoy their company? Would your children benefit from spending time with them?
My kids participated in swimming and band while they were young, and then cross-country and band in the high school years. At least where we lived, the families and children involved in these activities tended to be hard-working and encouraging. They were just the types of people I wanted to influence my own children.
- What do my children want to do?
Of course, I would also encourage you to involve your children in the decision. If your kids really want to try a particular activity, consider giving them a trial run. Or maybe give them a way to show you they're serious. If your daughter is begging for piano lessons, for example, you might work out an agreement that she can start lessons if she practices 10 minutes a day for the next month. Then agree that you'll re-assess after 3 months of lessons. Who knows? Maybe your children really will fall in love with music, art, dance, or whatever it is they keep asking for.
- How can I help my kids explore their gifts?
Do you suspect that you have a budding artist, public speaker or dancer in your house? Perhaps a trial run of a certain activity will help you find out.
Or perhaps there are other ways to encourage these interests. From the moment he knew it was possible, Luke has loved to make films. Jonelle is a natural artist who constantly creates with her hands. When we discovered these interests, John and I helped Luke nurture his gifts without enrolling in "extra-curricular activities." We helped him purchase some start-up equipment. Whenever an art course came up within our schedule, we signed Jonelle up. The projects she created in these classes were the foundation of her art school portfolio. That portfolio provided her with both entrance to her school and a scholarship to attend.
Luke went on to study filmmaking in college, and now produces films as part of his full-time work. Jonelle went to art school and continues to use design in all areas of her life. They both developed skills that will give them a venue for expression (and income) their entire lives. Are there ways you can similarly encourage your children to pursue their interests?
Now that I shared my thoughts, I'm curious to hear yours: What questions have helped you decide what activities to pursue? Which activities does your family particularly enjoy?
Blessings to you and yours,