The General and I have always had similar opinions when it comes to the extracurricular activities of our children. We both grew up with minimal amounts of after school activities with the exception of participating in summer little league and later junior high and high school sports. I remember a time when I desperately wanted to join Brownies and dance, but my parents stood firm in their refusal. I can even recall at one point in my childhood wishing that our family was Catholic just so I could attend CCD with many of my friends. I was that desperate for socialization outside of school. The General tells a similar tale from his years of growing up - aside from Little League there wasn't much running to town unless it was deemed vital (e.g., a carton of Prairie Farms milk from Clapps).
For our family, we have always agreed that we weren't going to put our children in every activity offered to them especially in the years preceeding enrollment in kindergarten. Our list of reasons supporting our decision is lengthy with the main reasons including:
- it can get expensive
- it's time consuming
- the girls already receive "social exposure" to peers at daycare
- we spend time away from them during the day so our time at night is designated for family time (even though The General isn't able to join us during the week for the time being)
We've also unanimously agreed not to send Shortcake to preschool (although this is a decision that is still being debated for Punkin). She's a fairly bright kid, she again gets plenty of social interaction at daycare each day, and I'm concerned that with all day kindergarten AND a preceding year of preschool she'll be bored (and possibly burnt out) educationally by the end of her first year in school. And given that she's got at least twelve years of schooling to follow, that's not exactly the attitude I want her to have at five years old.
I've received a few strange looks and dumb founded inquiries into why we've made these choices, and it doesn't really bother me. We may be in the minority, but that's okay. It's what we feel is best for us and us alone. This is how we've decided to do things. I've got no say in what other decide to do in their homes and with their children, nor do I have any problems with what others decide is right for their kids. Different strokes for different folks, and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other. Every parent, every child, every family is different and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Diversity is what makes life so much fun.
That being said...
I can't help but think that our kids today are given too many options. I don't remember having such a smorgasbord of fun being offered to me when I was as young as our girls are. Three or four years ago I was at our elementary school open house and I was astounded at the number of second and third graders coming to school with their parents in various uniforms - football, soccer, dance, gymnastics. Many of these families were coming in at 7 pm straight from practice, having not yet eaten dinner. I heard one girl, dressed in her dance outfit, mention that she still had to go to her piano lesson for the week after leaving the Open House before she could go home to do her homework. This girl was eight years old! I remember thinking "When do these kids get to bed at night?". At eight years old my afterschool schedule looked something like this: change clothes, snack, homework, play, dinner, play, bath, bed by 8:30. Rarely (with the exception of my Wednesday afternoon piano lesson with Mrs. Rigby) did our routine deviate.
With all that is offered to our children, some activities as young as three or four years old, I often wonder if it's too much. It's only natural for kids to want to do everything, but is it okay to indulge them in their every request? How much is too much? Do parents know when to say when? And when they start this early, do they still enjoy it when these activities at the age that I started (i.e., junior high)? What's left for these kids to do when they get older?
I often hear people talking about how kids these days are different from kids back when (circa 1988 as an example), saying things like "They don't know how to just play" or "They are always asking to do something or saying they're bored". In my mind I'm asking can we blame them?
In a slightly unrelated yet totally related question, I often wonder if families sit down and eat meals together anymore. This was a staple, a fixture, a predictable occurrence in our house growing up, and it's a tradition I strive to continue in our family. But as busy as families seem to be these days is this even realistic? Call me crazy, but I think a lot of the world's problems could be fixed if parents and children just sat around the dinner table together (talking and listening to each other while there would also be an integral part of the process).
Does this post even have a point? I think it's in there somewhere. My back-to-school brain melt is in full effect, and the alarm clock going off at 6 am for the first time since the beginning of June is not helping my muddled ramblings any. The above thoughts are just a tiny portion of the hundreds of thoughts that run in-and-out and through my head on a fairly regular basis. Other thoughts I've been pondering lately include visual supports for a fifth grade student on the spectrum, room configurations at the intermediate school, bulletin board ideas, how to streamline my documentation of progress this year for my speech students, possible tactics for improving my reaction to Punkin's strong personality, remedying and eliminating Punkin's need to scream, ways to incorporate activities which will improve Shortcake's fine motor skills including practice in writing her name, the kindness of The General for making the bed on the first day of school, the need to get on track with making weekly menus. And this is just a sampling people. It's exhausting being me, listening to all the
voices ideas I have bumping around in my brain. Luckily for you I'll spare you the boring details on my thoughts and opinions on these others...for now.
Now I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on extracurricular activities for young children? Do you let your kids participate? Do you set a limit on how many things your child can be involved in? Do you think that kids are too busy today, or does it seem just right or even that more needs to be offered? Also, what do your dinners looks like? Do you eat as a family, is a free for all, or do the adults eat in the home eat (in peace) after their children are finished? Talk to me, people. I'm dying to know.