Activities and sorting them out

I remember when my kids were little and I was home with them. I needed to get out of the apartment, and I was trying to do everything as correctly as a middle-class white mom in a bad marriage could, so we took classes. Music classes, movement classes, art classes, dance classes, soccer classes.

It was pretty simple then. Just sign up for what the kids seemed to like and we could afford, and I'd try to pretend it was exciting for me while I was also hoping all the stimulation would help them become interesting people.

Thank goodness they got older, but now there are actual decisions to be made. I know there are people who load their kids up with as many classes as possible to try to make them "accomplished," and there are also people who think kids shouldn't take any because they "should just be kids." I think there's a balance, and that activities can be fun for kids while also giving them the chance to get good at something.

I tend to feel like kids need unstructured time to hatch their own plots and read and play what they want to. But that activities are good experiences with developing skills in a group setting, and also signposts for the week.

The question, for me, is figuring out what that balance is. Is three a week too much, even if two of them are part of an afterschool program? (What about kids who are in afterschool every day, then? What about kids who take none?)

I also wonder about committment. Specifically, when should a kid be allowed to quit something they don't enjoy? So far we've established a policy that if you are part of a team you need to finish up the season, and you need to finish out any series that's alreayd paid for. We also let our kids choose which activities they do, so wanting to quit is a result of discovering they didn't like something they thought they would.

For those of you with kids old enough to do activities on their own, how do you do it? Do your kids take classes or join activities? Who chooses which ones they do? How do you know when to quit?

86 thoughts on “Activities and sorting them out”

  1. I have two kids who are old enough to do activities on their own, and one who is almost there (he’s three). With the two older ones, I find that it’s a balancing act. My eight-year-old boy is always hesitant to try new things, so if it were totally up to him, he would do no activities at all. However, when I sign him up for things I think he’d enjoy, he usually enjoys them (but still gripes on the way there!). My seven-year-old girl is more social and generally likes classes and groups but still has some initial reticence.They both take piano lessons and they usually do one sport in addition to that. During the late fall, things got crazy because they were both doing piano, basketball and indoor soccer. It was too much. Now they are doing piano, ski team on Saturday, and my daughter is still doing basketball. She is also adding an art class this week, but that is right after school in the same building, so it’s really just an hour added to the end of the school day for her.
    I let them quit most things after a session or season, but I am making them stick with piano for now. They actually seem to be enjoying that more as they get better at it anyway.
    After talking to a friend’s 16-year-old daughter, I feel justified in “making” them do something extracurricular. This girl’s mom allowed her to choose whether she did activities or not…and she chose not to. Now that she’s older, she wishes her parents had made her do at least one “extra”.

  2. Mine are a little younger than yours, at 5 and 7. They are currently in school but no aftercares. I am currently signing them up for anything they are interested in, up to two sessions per week. If they want to learn lacrosse, great. If they want to take a Spanish class, terrific. We do have the rule “if it’s paid for, you finish it,” but you never have to do it again if you don’t like it. I do not push activities on them (or they’d be in some different choices!), and I do have veto power. They loved wrestling, for example, and while I liked the coaches, I decided the timing is too late–it gets over at 7:30pm, which is the bedtime start time for us. But after wrestling, they are starving and wired and it takes ages to get to bed from there–so no more wrestling until the practice time or their schedules change. But, we did ride out last season for the most part, until they got sick towards the end of the season. Also: it is imperative to me that they are good swimmers, so that is non-negotiable. (There is a lake house in the family.)My older one is not a joiner. We have learned this the hard way with tantrums when it’s time to go to activities he begged to do. He’s a little better with sports, but even there, I’m careful. He is very interested in lacrosse right now, but the equipment start up costs are mammoth so I’m trying to figure out the depth of interest and where the used sporting goods places are…
    My younger would join every club, class, or activity he could if we could afford it! He loves them, learns from them, and is thrilled to be in just about anything he’s tried. But I will say: he did a baby Spanish/music class when he was 2 and eventually made it clear he was “over it.” Now he’s five, his best friend is in the older version of it, he asked to go again, and I cannot believe how much he loves it and how much Spanish he’s picking up! So we do the same as far as letting them pick and if they don’t like it as well as they thought they would–no big deal. And if they want to try again later–terrific.

  3. A friend who has 3 kids all older than mine (7, 10, and 13) has a great rule that whenever one of her kids says they want to do a new extra-curricular activity, she gives them a brief “trial period” during which they can try it out, attend once or twice if possible, see how they mesh with the coach/teacher, and then they must make a formal decision as to whether or not they want to commit to pursuing it. If they do choose to commit, she makes them put it in writing. She actually writes a family contract between the parents and the children, and it includes things like what amount the kids have to chip in for the privilege for doing the activity, how long the commitment lasts, and even has a clause in there about consequences of “breach” for quitting etc (things the kids come up with themselves like no video games or TV- funny, the kids come up with harsher consequences than their parents).They’ve had a lot of luck doing it this way. Two of the kids have each “tried” something once and decided not to pursue it (FYI it was horseback riding lessons, and hockey – two very expensive, time-intensive activities). Overall, structuring it like a real contract seems to have taught the kids to be very thoughtful about advance planning and learning the value of doing what they say they are going to do.

  4. Now, way past the Gymboree age, my family is doing pretty much what you’re doing. Over the years my kids (13 and 17) have tried a variety of things (that we could afford) including self defense, robotics, art, and music. I don’t put them in activities that they haven’t asked for, or that we’re not absolutely certain they have room in their school schedule to do. Like you do, we finish out paid classes or team seasons. It was disappointing when 17 quit karate just shy of black belt, but he certainly knows enough to defend himself, plus he cleared his schedule for FIRST Robotics and music, which is great. 13 did a kickboxing class with me during the summer, found he liked it and is now doing it at afterschool. For the past 2 summers 17 has been working unpaid internships rather than flipping burgers for pennies, because they’re in his field of interest and contribute to his resume for college and beyond.

  5. Like @MemeGRL, swimming is non-negotiable – I consider that to be a necessary life skill. Our kids are still little but I am inclined to agree they would have to stick something out if it was paid for but not past that point.

  6. It’s so interesting to hear about older kids!My husband and I have always said that at a certain age (maybe 5?), each kid will take at least one music lesson and one sport. We want to let them choose which instrument or sport (that we can afford). We’ll also offer them other classes, like art or drama.
    I like the trail period idea, because I remember being stuck in classes I hated, though my parents would let me quit after a session/season.

  7. When my kids were younger I didn’t have as much money to sign them up for several classes or after school activities so something that really helped me was buying them (often Christmas gifts!) at home activities. Something they really loved was the AnnaBean play center: http://www.annabean.com/gc-g51062.html which gave them a new setting for whatever imaginative game they wanted to play that day. I like these kinds of play centers because your kids can develop their imagination, it’s great for when other kids come over to play, and it can also be educational.Now that they’re a bit older I agree that you shouldn’t let them quit something until the season’s over, but I keep it to them trying what they want and at least being involved in one activity. I don’t feel the need to force them to participate in a bunch of things if they happen to really gravitate towards one individual activity and only want to pursue that.

  8. Eva, I misread that as “Here’s a relevant piece on WHAT they should be allowed to quit:” and was like, wow, people have studied what activities will do kids better in the long run! Ha.

  9. The 17 year old decided not to re-up for Boy Scouts for this year. But he had been in scouts since he was 7. For the last several years it was the subject of much discussion – going to summer camp, etc. Where he would not want to go do the stuff, but he would end up having a great time once he was there. So, that’s tricky. I think there’s a certain amount of wanting to say no just because you can, and you have to find a balance of control for this stuff.My 8 year old is in Girl Scouts, plays soccer at the Y (an 8 week season, no official score keeping, spring/fall leagues).
    The 3 year old will start playing soccer this spring – I think she’s ready, having been to her sister’s games since she was an infant. We’ll see, though, how it really works out.
    Over the summer, the 2 older took guitar lessons. (their choice). It was kind of a compromise because the 8yo wanted to take martial arts, but it was expensive and difficult to figure out a schedule that wasn’t disruptive. She also had been wanting to take guitar lessons and so did the oldest. I got a recommendation from the elementary school music teacher for where to go, and it was a place where we could book both lessons at the same time with different teachers. It worked out well over the summer – Girl Scouts was on hiatus and there was no homework. Once school started again, it became obvious that it was too much. It was difficult to figure out the menus for the week and to have time to do the 10-15 minutes of reading + homework for 2nd grade.

  10. We had a “one activity per season” rule when I was growing up, but with 4 active kids, that’s all we could afford and make time for. We were also allowed to do plays.I’d like to do 1 sport, 1 instrument, 1 activity per child, but I’m not sure that’s realistic given the way kids activities are set up now (with kids playing the same sport through multiple seasons). I don’t want them to be limited to one sport all year.
    My son is only 22mo, so I have some time to decide. 🙂

  11. My daughter, 7, is currently doing Kindermusik and ballet. I have set a limit of 2 extra curricular activities for now. If there is an activity at school, that doesn’t count, so last quarter she did a meditation club after school.Last semester was the first half of first grade for her, and it was a big adjustment for her, even though she had been at the same school with the same length days last year. Ballet turned out to be just one too many during the adjustment period, so I didn’t make her go, even though I had prepaid for the semester. She decided she wanted to go back after Christmas, and luckily they let me apply the fall’s payment to the spring session.
    This time I am making her go even though she doesn’t want to sometimes. My reasons are: 1) She does enjoy it when she gets there, 2) She has made a commitment and I have paid for it, so she needs to see it through, 3) The discipline, challenge, and routine are really good for her – she needs more of that in her life, and 4) It is something that gets more rewarding with practice so I want her to stick with it long enough to enjoy the rewards.
    She is aging out of Kindermusik after this semester, and she has been talking for at least a year about taking violin lessons after that. She also wants to take riding lessons, but I don’t think we can afford either the money or the time.
    I do worry that because my own leaning is towards the arts rather than sports I am not encouraging her enough to play a sport. She has expressed some interest in soccer. But 2 things/weeks is more than enough for her – bordering on too much, and I don’t know how we could fit another in. Maybe during the summer.

  12. My kids are still too young for classes & activities (4 & 2). This, of course, is only in my opinion, since most of the parents in my circle start signing their children up for extracurriculars at age 2. I just don’t see any value in that.My daughter (4) has started noticing that other little girls are in dance class, so we may do one or two sessions of that, but she is extremely sensory-sensitive and I think the music will probably be too much for her.
    In general, though, I think 1 extracurricular & 1 sport (in addition to unlimited church activities) are the limits I’ll place on “joining,” at least until their talents and interests become more well-defined and they can begin to manage them on their own. I am a Tiger Mother (too soon to joke?) about family dinnertime and early bedtimes, so I will guard those times jealously against the encroaching activities …
    I have a strong belief that sticking something out just to prove you can be miserable for the duration is useless, so I will probably allow them to quit things that are causing them genuine misery. I learned that lesson too late and wasted a lot of time on an extracurricular activity that I didn’t love because I felt guilty for disappointing my parents and the other kids involved. Turns out neither group cared one way or the other, and I was MUCH happier after I quit.
    By the time they get to high school, when quitting something might genuinely have an impact on others, I expect their interests and talents will be clear enough that they won’t be picking up and dropping things willy-nilly.

  13. It was Mrs. Haley who talked about deliberately keeping her world “small”, and that really struck a chord with me. Right now, with a 7 year old and and an almost-5 year old, we have no scheduled activities. That is very deliberate. And DH and I have worked out a very clear plan for the next year: Eldest will be taking a 3 session package of skateboarding lessons later in the winter. Then, if she still wants, we will start her on piano lessons. Younger will take swim later in the winter (Eldest did the whole swim sequence already.) Next year, when Younger starts kindergarten at the same school as Eldest, we will enroll them in 1 or 2 afterschool activities. Their school has some really awesome ones. That’s how we’ve decided to structure it, it’s right for us.

  14. My 6 year old daughter is in aftercare two afternoons a week, and she takes swimming lessons and is in an active Brownie troop. I just returned to work part time, and I am gone two nights a week and Saturdays. I don’t want to put her in additional activities right now, since she is having a bit of trouble adjusting to my return to work. She seems to want to do things and hang out with me whenever possible, and I want to be here for her whenever I can. She does seem to enjoy the activities she has right now, and she is looking forward to day camp this summer.

  15. Mine are only two but my friend made the rule that each kid could only have two activities (one art/language and one athletic). The kids originally had more but were becoming stressed trying to get anything done and not having enough down time.

  16. My kids are 4 and 7. The 4 year old does nothing outside of after school; at after school he tried but chose not to do Tae Kwan Do, has just started a weekly music class, and does “run and fun time” with the school PE teacher once a week. These activities tend to run like British TV series, so for 6-8 week runs. He wants to learn to play soccer and our neighbors know a local program for little kids that has practices and games all at once on Saturday mornings (YAY), so we will probably do that this spring.The 7 year old tried YMCA soccer at age 4 and we stopped going because she was so uninterested. She’s done Tae Kwan Do continuously at afterschool since age 5, and some on and off short-term activities through after school (she’s currently in a child exercise study there). This summer she begged for dance lessons, so she is doing dance class for an hour once a week, on Sundays. It’s hard to say how attached she is to it; we’ll ask over the summer if she wants to continue. Last year she did girl scouts at afterschool, but the school policy on girl scouts changed so that is now once every other week at night (and I am the leader. We are lazy girl scouts.)
    I don’t have an activity policy per se. I let a 4 year old quit soccer; she was just too little to care, and the schedule was a hassle for us. I have noticed that this year a lot of the 7 year old’s peers are suddenly doing a more lessons and activities. I would like my kids to know how to swim and learn how to play an instrument (or at least bang around on a piano a little), and could care less about organized sports. I am kind of fascinated by the parent-child dynamic as it comes to activities – which ones the child loves, which ones the parents push, or require. I had non-pushy parents and came away from my childhood with very little to show for my activities – no lifelong talents or habits identified (though I can swim.) I wish I hadn’t been allowed to quit piano lessons at 6, or at least had been offered lessons again at a later age (it never occurred to me to ask for them!) Once we can afford a piano, I am actually hoping to take some lessons myself…

  17. I don’t know how parents find the energy to make a child, especially if they are raising more than one, go and do something they don’t want to do week after week… (considering the standard grousing that comes with do your homework, help around the house, go to bed, etc.) My former step son played baseball from a young age and was naturally talented but hated going to practice and omigoodness, the foot dragging and grumping. You could see though that he was going to be good enough to play high school and probably college if he kept at it. (Both parents played sports into college). So his parents kept dragging him to practice and games. He’s six years into it. I hope he enjoys it more now.My little guy is too young for anything other than activities provided by his school. I am excited for when he can play soccer or t-ball at the Y. But if he truly dislikes it, I’m not dragging him there week after week. And call me a quitter but we stopped going to swim lessons last summer because his screaming fits were scaring the other children in the class. We will try again this summer.

  18. Oh, god, there was a little boy who was terrified and had screaming fits at swimming lessons last summer. And his parents wouldn’t quit. He screamed the whole two weeks. I mean, if your three year old is afraid, please quit, people!

  19. Since Mouse goes to afterschool every day except Thursday (see below), she can do whatever she wants that is offered there. Right now that’s hip-hop, yoga (both weekly), and there’s a 10-week theater class coming up. She takes swimming (which I also consider non-negotiable) and dance on weekend mornings. Just this month, after much begging, we started piano lessons, which are on Thursday afternoons, so I negotiated to get out of work early on Thursdays and take her there. If she sticks with it, she’ll get a later time, as the teacher sees the youngest students earliest in the afternoon.Oh, Mouse is 6 going on 7 in April and in first grade. I feel that her schedule is pretty much full enough, but not overwhelming. If she wants to try something else (so far she has no interest in team sports or competition, which is killing Mr. C), I hope it will be something with a session length.
    Since (see “goes to afterschool every day”) we also need full time care in the summer, Mouse does a lot of daycamps and I try to make sure there’s a lot of variety since that seems like a good way to try new things without having to commit to a semester or a monthly bank draw (which is how our swimming works). I do feel that if you sign up for something you have to finish out the session and do the necessary work. Piano, however, takes a hiatus in the summer, which I think is nice. So does dance – both have options for taking less intense a la carte classes if you want to.
    Piano is a little different for me since it’s not just “go to a class once a week” – so now our daily routine ends with not homework-dinner-bath-bed but piano-homework-dinner-bath-bed. She plays to me while I cook dinner and I don’t call it “practice” I call it “will you play me a little music”. So far so good. I’d hesitate to take on a second activity with a daily practice requirement.

  20. Oooh, I’m adding this one to my “parenting ideas” file. My kids are too young for this to be an issue- or so I thought. But then a friend of mine casually asked what activities I’m planning to sign my almost 4 year old up for. I said we’ll keep doing Chinese lessons because she really likes them and I’m determined to get her swim lessons this spring/summer, even if I have to take that over from my husband, who is theoretically in charge of them but keeps not signing up.Ahem. Sorry. Back on topic. My friend has one older child (about 8) and two little ones. She said that she took the laid back no activities approach with her older one, and now regrets it, because when she signs him up for some new sport or something, all the other kids have been at it since they were 3, and he gets discouraged by how much better they are than he is.
    That blew my mind a bit, and I haven’t really figured out what we’re going to do. I don’t want a bunch of activities eating into our family time, but I don’t want her to feel left out (or left behind?) when she is older. So I’ll read all the comments here and hope that something clicks with me.

  21. So I differentiate between swim lessons and swim team. It’s non-negotiable that my kids learn how to swim. Once they learn to swim, it’s up to them if they want to join the swim team as their sport. I will highly encourage that one, because I want to be a swim team mom! But if they try it and don’t like it, then I won’t force them.But they do have to learn to swim. That’s a life skill, especially since we go to the ocean every summer and I spend a lot of time at the pool in the summers.
    Is that just me? Does everyone else consider swim lessons/classes a sport, not just the swim team the sport aspect?

  22. My kids aren’t to that age yet, but a conversation with a friend recently brought up a good point – make sure you understand why they want to quit before deciding if they can or not. Her son liked skating, but decided he didn’t want to do it again, so they didn’t make him. Later conservations revealed that he was feeling intimidated since he’s be switching to a class where he’d be one of the oldest kids to one where he’d be the youngest. If they’d realized that earlier, she would have tried to get him past his fears rather than letting him quit because she thought it was the sport he didn’t like.

  23. I was a big-time activity joiner when I was a kid. I loved loved loved to do things – clubs, sports, dance classes, academic stuff, whatever. My kids seem to be similar.The 1st grader and 4 year old both do swimming 2X/week. I don’t ask them if they want to do swimming — as a few others have mentioned, to me that’s a life skill and as we can afford it and work it out with our schedule, they will do it until they are very competent swimmers.
    1st grader takes karate 2X/week also. So that’s 4 days/week for her. A lot but she is so happy, she’s always asking if she can do more things (school play, choir, etc). Doesn’t want to give up karate, though, so I haven’t added another.
    4 year old (who is in preschool 8:30-3p, 5 days/week) has an after-care class 2X week (soccer and music) that take place during 1st grader’s swimming. I find it’s better than having her just hang around while the older one is swimming. Then 2X she has her own swim lessons (of course it’s not at the same place as the older one!), plus a ballet/tap class one day. So she actually as stuff 5X!!! A lot, I know! But she is SO HAPPY doing all the stuff.
    Anyway, I find that what works for us is load up during the week and then try to avoid weekend commitments at all costs. My husband works very long hours during the week (I work part time from home during the week but the hours are not long and are flexible), but is pretty much around all day, both days on weekends so we like to try and concentrate family time then. Plus the kids have lots of long hours to just monkey around at home on the weekends and de compress. Plus again, I find it helps me getting through the afternoon/evening routine on my own (bc of husband’s late work sched) to have activities to go to.
    Oh, and the baby (1 year) just started taking a music class 1x/week. Not because I think he “needs” it (!) but because he has a very long day with a sitter that day and just hanging around the house I think was boring for both of them and this gets them out of the house.
    We look a bit over-scheduled, don’t we? But no one ever asks to quit or not go to things so I feel like we have a good system going at the moment. 🙂

  24. my plan (since he’s just turned 4 and we live in the sticks with the closest kindermusik an hour away) is to encourage him to take something arty and something sporty. we’ll see how it all unfolds, of course…

  25. @caramama, I agree about the difference between swimming lessons and swimming as a sport – you have to go to swimming lessons because it’s a safety issue and a prerequisite for all kinds of things you might want to do (boating, surfing, being a camp counselor, etc.); swim team is a separate choice. I wish there was a swim team around like the one I participated in as a kid – Seattle had a summers only league that was great.

  26. Personally, I can’t handle more than 1 activity a season. And even that is way too much sometimes with 3 kids. We both work full time out of the home and I do contract work as well. My kids range from 3-8.I’m not going to push sports… no one in my house is coordinated so we’ll stick with drama and art and house league soccer. Living in a country with a lot of open water swimming is non-negotiable, but I also have 2 kids who are too short to touch the bottom of the shallow end and are phobic of the pool as a result. That takes time to work on 😛

  27. So here’s an interesting idea y’all have presented … I’ve never thought of swimming as a life skill, a safety issue or an entree into other pursuits. As such, I’ve never put my kids in swimming lessons. I hate swimming and wetness and all things water (boats, surfing, waterskiing, the beach) so it never occurred to me to inflict that kind of misery on my children. We’ve hung out in the ankle-deep baby pool the few times we’ve been to the community aquatic club, and it has never even crossed my mind to expose them to any more than that, since I’m loathe to do so, myself.Water is icky. Why would they want to SWIM in it?!? I guess I will have to fork over for *someone* to teach them how to do it. Watch, one of them will be the next Dara Torres and I will have to spend the next quarter-century at The Pool. Eeeeew.

  28. I apologize if I am misdirecting this thread, but it looks like an opportunity to get some much-needed suggestions. I think my daughter (almost 14 months) is getting ready to go to one nap. Any ideas for a morning activity? (structured, unstructured?)I have considered the obvious ones, like Gymboree or swimming, but just wondering if there is anything else out there. Thanks.

  29. Oh yeah, somebody mentioned cub scouts. I forgot about that. My son LOVED cub scouts for a while because many of his friends from school were there. They all showed up once a week, and it was great they had that time because we all didn’t have much free time for making playdates. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting my son to do the assignments, to wear the uniform, and to care about the “stupid” little tokens of accomplishment. This program just wasn’t for him, but he obviously needed the weekly playdate aspect of it. So we quit and moved on to more interesting things.

  30. At this point (kids are ages 6 and almost 9) I’m trying to strike a balance between letting them try enough different things so that they can begin to decide which ones will be keepers, and not committing to so many things that I drive myself completely mad running to lessons. The tricky part for me is that my husband travels frequently, so no “getting kids to lessons” strategy works unless I can manage it all by myself, preferably without finishing the week in a state of total exhaustion.My kids are definitely busier than I was at their ages, but not a lot busier. I think sometimes I look back on my childhood and it seems less busy than it actually was. I enjoyed all my activities so it was fun. But if you asked my mom, she would probably say, as I do, that between gymnastics for me, and horseback riding and pottery for my sister, she felt like she was running every minute.
    I’ve never really had to deal with either of them wanting to drop something because they didn’t like it. My son recently opted to temporarily stop piano lessons in order to have enough time for fencing (something he has wanted to try for years) without having to give up basketball. We’re fortunate to have a really low key piano teacher who is happy to let him pick up where he left off when he’s ready. He likes piano a lot so it was a hard choice for him, but one I’m proud of him for making. Taking a break isn’t quitting, and it’s important to learn to be realistic about how much you can do and still enjoy the things you’re doing. I think it was a good lesson for him in setting priorities. He loves fencing, and he misses piano, so I suspect that maybe next time it’ll be basketball that gets the ax.

  31. Swimming: The Shorefront Y has an amazingly pristine pool, which is hard to find! And if you want lessons their teacher is an ex-Olympic swimmer. We don’t use the lessons but we go to general swim times and my younger son is learning just fine.

  32. @S (14 month old daughter): When my kids were small I met some moms/grandmas/nannies & toddlers (some at the park, some at the library, some at mommy & me, etc.) and brought them together at my house for a large playdate. They got along well, and we decided to move the playdate round-robin. The kids loved the variety of toys at all the different houses. Sometimes we planned crafts such as edible play dough. We did outings in warmer weather. It’s DIY preschool.

  33. Hmmm. Interesting reading. My DS is not yet 4 and to the extent that we’ve explored his being involved in organized things (soccer, gymnastics) he’s declared himself not interested, so except for signing him up for one set of group swim lessons and pursuing some private ones (life skill, yes, but we also spend lots of time at our wonderful indoor town pool and it is a fabulous place to burn off energy in bad weather).I hope there’s a decent cub scout troop in our town and that my DS will be interested, but unfortunately unless BSA changes its policy toward allowing gays to take leadership roles I’ll be keeping DS as far away from that as possible, hoping he doesn’t notice it. I don’t want to have to tell him no, but I also feel very uncomfortable with the idea of his joining an organization that wouldn’t consider, among others, some of our family members to be capable of supervising nurturing children.
    As for the rest, I wish/hope that there will be opportunities for him to get together with other neighborhood kids (of which we have plenty) and plan and play their own impromptu games of soccer and kick-the-can, as we did. But as far as I can tell in contemporary US society, at least in my town, that doesn’t happen much anymore.

  34. I think you will learn the balance by trying a few things ago and realizing either the kids have ample energy and that energy can be directed or they are exhausted and it’s all too much. I have a 4 and 6 year old. 6 year old is in school from 8:15 to 3:15. Twice a week she has after school special, painting and acting. On Sundays, she takes horseback riding lessons (we live in PA, it’s cheap and accessible here). I hate having my weekend spliced into activities with specific times because then I have no rest or any time to catch up on chores. I work more than full time and need the weekends. When I sign her for more, I notice she becomes too tired and a bit cranky, too few and she is scaling the walls in the winter. My 4 year old on the other hand, has very little stamina. She still needs a nap. So it’s all unstructured stuff for her, playdates, snowangels in the garden, walk to the library sort of thing. She goes to preschool 5 days a week in the mornings and she is absolutely knackered. I would not sign her up for more now. And yes, I let my 6 year old try the 1st class of each after school schedule, if she does not like it, she can switch, but once she attends a few times, she has to stick with it until the end of the semester because I paid for it damn it and I need the childcare.

  35. @Alexicographer: IMO, the only “activity” that lets kids have any kind of impromptu time is an after-school daycare program — the kind where kids go directly from dismissal to the cafeteria, have a snack, do their homework, and have free time (games, crafts, playground, etc.) until a parent picks them up after work. It’s sad but you can’t just let them go out and play anymore.

  36. This is very interesting. My son just turned 5 and just started violin lessons. We would have started anytime in the past year, we just had trouble finding the right teacher. My husband is a professional violinist, and I’m a singer, and we believe pretty firmly in the Suzuki method — that means we don’t think our kids are predestined to be “musical” just because we are — but we want our kids to learn that when you practice something every day, you create in yourself the talent and skills to do amazing things. The joy of making good music is worth the work, and he won’t realize that until he’s older. He may switch to a different instrument when he’s older, but he’s not going to quit. At the moment “practice” means standing and playing a few little games with a fake violin and bow, we’re talking 10 minutes max, and that’s all I require. And I keep it fun, it’s something we do together, but it’s non-negotiable.My husband began Suzuki violin when he was 3 years old, and was pretty meh on it all until he was about 15. Yeah. Then he heard Benny Kim play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, went to UMKC to study with him (Kim, not Tchaikovsky), and is to this day continuing to create ever more amazing and moving music. I want that opportunity to be there for my kids.
    Also, by the way, you make *way* more money playing gigs as a violinist than you do as a singer. Just sayin.

  37. My son is 4 and goes to bed around 7. Which means that weekday evening activities are not possible since I work all day. I would like to continue swimming lessons, or start him in some kind of martial arts on the weekend but since his dad doesn’t have a kid-friendly car (only 2 seater) it means he would miss every other class. Right now finances are tight and I can accept paying full price when only half the classes are attended. But I hope once he gets older and stays up later in the evenings we can register in something.I am planning a one sport/one musical class agenda, leaving time for family and school and free play.

  38. As a former competitive swimmer and also a strong believer in the importance of basic water skills for safety, I couldn’t wait to sign my son up for lessons. Like others, swimming is non-negotiable for me. But what do you do when your child refuses to participate?He’ll go, get in the water, and watch, but he refuses to do half of what his teachers ask of him. He’s not really stressed out by the classes, he is just only willing to go so far. We’ll finish this session, but I’m torn about making him continue with more classes (I hate to waste the money/time/energy, but he NEEDS to learn how to swim). I think he’d participate more if a friend were in class with him, but his friends are now in more advanced classes.

  39. I’m just curious, how many mid-thirty year olds did “activities” when you were kids? I never took swimming classes, but was a capable swimmer by the age of 5, and I love swimming (despite the fact that no one in my family had a pool or a lake or anything like that). I never took music lessons until I went to school (of course, my elementary school had one of the best music programs in the country so, perhaps my enthusiasm for in school music programs is based on an atypical experience) and I played two instruments at a regionally competitive level from the age of 9-18. I think the only activity we had to pay anything for was softball, which I also played all my life.Is this all simply because my family was pretty poor, or because activities weren’t pushed like they are now.
    As for our experience… my son is Four and I don’t know what we’ll do with him. I barely have enough energy to get through a regular day, I can’t imagine adding stops or extra organizational problems into our life. I’m not sure how to get a four year old (even my exceptionally well spoken and thoughful four year old) to tell me what kinds of activities he’d want to take part in, so I imagine I’d just be choosing and given that, I’d probably just choose t-ball since I know what I’m talking about in that field!

  40. Thanks, lolismum, for saying that about your 4 year old and stamina. I feel that way about my almost 4 year old, and I sometimes wonder if I should worry about it. I really don’t think anything is wrong, except that she’s had a cold so often this year (she wasn’t sick for the first 2 years of her life, so she is apparently catching up), and she probably doesn’t get quite enough sleep (working on that). She doesn’t seem to need extra activities right now.

  41. My older is 3, so we just started this phase. I did a bunch of activities when I was a kid (maybe too many; looking back, I was a little entitled). Perhaps my fondest childhood memories are of things like community theater and orchestra and dance lessons, so I don’t think it’s problematic to do even a lot of activities, as long as the family can work out the schedule and the finances.Last semester we did gymnastics with the 3-year-old. We asked him at the end of the semester if he’d rather do swimming, gymnastics, or t-ball this semester, and he chose swimming. Like other people here, I don’t really regard that as optional, but I might have limited it to the summers.
    I’m from a musical family, so the kids will have at least a couple of years of piano, too, and be encouraged to stay with that or choose another instrument. Everyone sings; again, a given in my family. (We wouldn’t force an older kid to do it if he hated it, but everyone will learn the basics.)
    I’ll probably also offer the option of a ball sport pretty soon – I wouldn’t force it on a kid who didn’t like it, but there is a high probability that my kids will be weird (see: my husband and me), and I know sports can really help with fitting in, especially for boys.
    Our main problem is that my son’s behavior in these classes is not always great. He’s excited about them beforehand and he does well at day care, so basically he likes them and can handle the structure. I don’t know if it’s just that he’s tired, or he’s decided that he can get all Mommy’s attention this way. The first day of swimming lessons did not go well, and I could have been the horrible mother mentioned above forcing my crying child into the pool (in my defense, I know that he is not at all scared of the water). Luckily, the next few days were better.

  42. My family was all about activities when I was a kid. Music in particular (instruments, voice, and choir) but also art, pottery, gymnastics, swimming, creative writing…basically whatever we took a fancy to, my mom would find some sort of instruction or activity to suit. Where it didn’t exist, she would scare it up – when she couldn’t find writing classes for me as a teenager, she recruited a local graduate student to be my “mentor”.I imagine this sounds intense and pushy to some people, but I loved it. Everyone should have that kind of encouragement, support, and opportunity to exercise their interests. I imagine the attitude behind it has a lot to do with how it comes across to the kids. It also made a big difference that it was OUR interests being championed, not mom’s (although that line got blurry sometimes with music, which is the one thing I would dial down with my own kids, although it was definitely valuable to learn the discipline it takes to practice and get good at something.)
    It had its pros and cons, in some ways. Because mom took our interests so seriously, we had the opportunities and support that it takes to eventually make careers out of them (my younger sisters make their respective livings from art and music, and I’m an editor). And as an adult, I know how to drum up ways to learn whatever I might take a fancy to dabbling in, and I do so fearlessly. It was a minor revelation to me, though, when I figured out that I could have a hobby without needing to turn it into an income stream.

  43. @S – story times at the library are another good free outing.@MrsHaley – I’m in Florida where there’s a copious amount of water and/or drowning. Learning to swim is a life safety issue here – did not even mention it in our activities, but we do a week of swim lessons every summer until competence. The 3 year old will start this summer – had been thinking about the “project safe start” swim lessons before.
    @Elizabeth – Around here, you can find private lessons either through the Y or an individual. That might help to be out of the group setting.

  44. @Nutmeg: I’m 37, and I remember my sister and I going to Brownies for a few years, until we dropped out before Guides. I also took guitar lessons in high school and my sister did basketball–and we both took a few swimming lessons. We now take things on and off–like DragonBoat or language lessons–but we’ve never had life-long hobbies. I actually like coming home and doing nothing but read or cook or watch TV (well, before having S, anyway!). That weekly hobby always feels like a drag and an obligation.I don’t know what we’ll do with S… hubby is Irish and wants soccer, and swimming seems important, but she’s only 15 months and we’ll wait and see. The last thing I want is to become slave to the hobby grind, as well as the daily one.

  45. DS is almost four and has been doing swimming lessons since he turned 3. As so many others have said, we regard this as non-negotiable. He’s progressed through the parents & tots levels and is now in the preschool classes. I’m glad we started early because it is not a skill that came naturally to him but now we can see his comfort level is so much higher in the water. So swimming once a week at the moment, but he generally has a break of six weeks between levels.Along with swimming though, we do see skiing and ice-skating as important skills too – we live in Calgary, Canada. He did skiing lessons in December and loved it, but it was expensive! At the moment we haven’t scheduled more but we do try to take him for fun skiing & skating outings at the weekends – they’re fun family activities! I think one scheduled activity during the week and one at the weekend is plenty for him right now.
    Here’s my dilemma though…we also want to fit in our hobbies! So during the week, DH does photography on Monday nights, I do karate on Tuesdays & Thursdays, and DS does swimming on Wednesdays – that leaves the weekends for chores, and just hanging out together (or going to birthday parties, or playdates, etc.) I honestly don’t see how we could fit in any more ‘organised’ activities without one or all of us getting stressed out!

  46. What Cloud mentioned about the mom of an 8-year-old who regrets not putting her son in activities earlier struck a chord with me. My 4.5yo son does not want to take any lessons or do activities, period. I am, like others, pushing swimming a bit (to his displeasure). I don’t know whether I should push him to try things now, wait another six months – year, or not push at all and just wait for him to express interest. I think that part of it is because he is a perfectionist and doesn’t like to do things he’s not good at, even when he’s never done them before (drives me batty!) He cannot seem to handle the idea that practice makes perfect, and that means NOT being perfect to start with.Sorry, this is turning into a bit of a ramble, but would love any input on this!

  47. @Nutmeg, I am 38 and can recall swim lessons (YMCA, in the 4-6 age range), piano (age 6, quit after 3 weeks with much tears and stubbornness), suzuki violin (age 6-7, hated it – I remember that violin hurt me to hold under my chin!), Girl Scouts (age 8-13), 4-H (around 8?), ice-skating lessons (maybe around 10), church choir (10-13) and then in high school we had required after-school sports and various other extracurriculars associated with school (I played soccer, tennis, did plays, was in Amnesty and a literary magazine.)I grew up in a variety of places, from standard suburbs to a very small rural community in Maine. My parents were college-educated and middle-class but I don’t think anything I did was very expensive.

  48. My kids are now 13 and 16, and I would say let them try as many different things as possible that they express interest in when they are young. As they get older, most activities require a bigger and bigger time commitment. For my guy who likes and has some talent in sports, that means choosing which ones he will pursue and putting others aside. Much easier to decide when they have had exposure to a number of things. I also found for the “must haves” (swimming and self defense for us) inviting a friend with a like-minded parent to enroll at the same time made it easier.

  49. I am not struggling with this so much yet because my kids are only 4 and 2. However, I believe that preschool is an activity so my daughter has that every morning for 2 1/2 hours. My son is only 2 and he’s shown a lot of physical ability already so I decided to have him take gymnastics one morning a week. My daughter also loves ballet a lot (I established this first before signing her up for her second ballet class) so she gets to take ballet once a week. I take my son to our county’s rec center at least once a week so he can take advantage of “open gym” for toddlers. I also share a sitter one morning a week with a friend of mine so my son gets a “playdate” with another boy who is his age. I feel that this is plenty of fun stuff for the both of them. Not sure how things will go once they start school, but for now, this schedule works great for all of us.

  50. Oh, and of course, in the summer, the kids take swim lessons once a week! It’s super important for us too because we belong to our local pool.

  51. My kids are 6 and 4, go to kinder full time and by the time they walk in the door it is already 4.15. My policy is one activity a week (swimming in our case), but the motivation is more along the lines of giving them something to do to suck up all that extra energy that they have in abundance. Honestly if I could somehow harness that energy of theirs and put it back in the grid.Of course the 6 year old would do everything if given the chance, but there are only so many hours in a day. They go to bed at 7.45, need their down time. One activity is certianly enough for now.
    I also figure what they get at kinder contributes to the sum of weekly activities. Big boy now does calisthenics once a week, music ( they are learning the recorder) and a language ( OK, so it’s English), so with swimming there is plenty of stuff there.
    Will take next year as it comes. First year at Primary school and doors open at 4.30. The poor kid still naps at weekends and I suspect he will find the transition exhausting. Swimming on the weekend ‘cos he loves it, but I really don’t think htere will be much time for anything else.

  52. Another point. Personally, I feel like I really ought to be serving my community more, and focusing on personal fulfillment less. I’m incredibly fortunate as it is – do I really need to indulge myself further, even if my hobbies are basically good?But it’s hard to work that out, and you can’t really enroll kids in do-good class like ballet class. I don’t know how to make that more of a habit.

  53. My daughter is too young for activities, but I remember that my mom signed me up for a TON of activities when I was a kid. Tap dance, jazz dance, ceramics, drawing, tennis, swimming, piano lessons, girl scouts, flute lessons… it didn’t end!These weren’t all at the same time, and frankly I loved almost all of them, and never “quit” anything, if you define “quitting” as stopping in the middle of a season. I did do different activities every year, and by the time I was in high school all my activities fell away except for music, which I got quite serious about and joined a youth band that toured internationally.
    My mother never wanted me to be a tennis star, but she gave me the chance to learn. Now I’m very highly educated and work in a field that combines creative and technical skills, and I definitely think the variety that filled my childhood had something to do with that. Thanks, mom!

  54. @Retrofresh when you write, “It’s sad but you can’t just let them go out and play anymore,” I both agree and disagree. I do think you can still let them go out and play, but it’s certainly difficult to the extent that others aren’t doing the same. And for now mine is too little just to be sent off on his own, so, that’s that.@Elizabeth how old is your son? We’ve done both private and group lessons and DS has been fine with each, but I can see where private (we did those first, as it happened) would work better for some kids.
    @Nutmeg, well, I’m in my early 40s, but yes, I did “activities.” As noted in my original comment we kids organized our own activities more than I see going on in our neighborhood today, but I also swam (not team, but lessons), rode horses (I was one of the “I want a pony” girls and my mother obliged, at considerable cost — even on the low end — and time), was in Girl Scouts, played (organized) soccer, played piano (privately organized) and violin (through school). My stepkids, who are approaching 30, as teenagers organized their own games of street hockey and played (through school and/or town organizations) basketball, softball, volleyball, and ice hockey. At least in our neck of the woods I think organized activities are something of the norm and have been for awhile (I still live where I grew up). Oh, and my mother WOH in an era (early 1970s) when that was somewhat less common than it is now.

  55. I’m late to the discussion, but here are my data points. I’m 37 and did tons of activities growing up (swimming, ballet, soccer, camps, running, etc.), so I don’t think structured activities are a recent phenomenon. And my mom stayed home so it wasn’t for the child care.My kids are 9, 7, and 4; I work part-time outside the home. With trial and error, we have settled into a routine that works for us. Before kindergarten, we only do swimming (I agree that it’s a life skill) and classes/play groups that are an outlet for the parent as well as the kid. Once they are in school, we limit it to one physical activity and one music lesson. So far that has translated to rec activities with short seasons so that they can try lots of different things. We are fortunate to have a good rec dept. that offers everything from art to dance to music to sports. I’m guessing that this system will work until middle school, when they may want to concentrate more on one or two things and then we’ll look into private lessons/travel sports if need be.
    It’s definitely a balancing act, and we try to re-assess frequently and make sure that we are fitting in family time and general down-time too. Overall, though, I think the kids have really enjoyed having some structured things to do and it’s been a good opportunity for us to meet other families with similar interests.

  56. DD is in third grade. She goes to latchkey. She takes swimming lessons periodically; right now she’s at the next level and it goes for 6 weeks, once a week. Because we have the commute, our take is she can only be in one thing at a time. She has an interest in piano lessons, and we haven’t figured out how we would manage doing that as well as swimming when she goes to the next level. One activity feels like plenty. While we could do two, it would feel like a lot. We’ve decided three things would be out of the question. Part of it is the money, part of it is the parents waiting around, part of it is the practice required on top of lessons (in the case of the pool, practice involves more parental time–in theory the driving parent could also get in a workout, but in reality our only child doesn’t enjoy alone time in the pool even though she is old enough).Prior to the interest in piano, she had interest in scouting BUT there was no troop available. She goes to a little Bible for a short time once a week, but it’s at lunchtime at school so it doesn’t have any impact on family life. I feel like homework has a significant impact, and that too is part of my thinking on activities.

  57. Oh how timely! DS is only 2.5, but after recently hearing that our friend/neighbour had her daughter in classes from age 2, I began to wonder if we should be starting something for DS. But, after thinking about it, I’m pretty sure we’re going to wait until 3, if not 4. Except for swimming. Count us in to the ‘swimming as life skill’ group. DS took a swim class at 6 mos with his papa and did really well for his size/age. I actually think it helped him like the bath more. But I want to start going to our community pool this summer. Lessons (for safety) are a must.As for everything else, we’ll see. I suspect not more than one activity per week until he gets a bit older. Right now we’re focusing on scheduling one playdate per weekend so that he has a chance to work on his social skills w/ other kids… One on one. And, well, you know, to have some fun. There’s just not enough time For more than one activity and I want to leave room for family time and activities at home together. DS is quite social, but at the same time slow to warm up to a situation so activities will be interesting…esp if we’re not there.

  58. Oh, and I totally agree with @Julie’s recommendation on finding out why they want to quit. But overall I plan on using the ’till the end of the session/season approach.@Nutmeg, we did lots of activities as kids. But I don’t remember it being anything other than our choice. And I know my mom was very careful not to over schedule us and to leave us enough down time. I TOTALLY wanted to take piano lessons and would try to convince my parents that we had enough room to take my grandmother’s piano for practicing (we totally did NOT have enough room). But otherwise, I think they signed us up for what we wanted (that fit into the budget). I figure skated for 13 years and especially when I got into my teens we routinely had the finances discussion around lessons. Not inexpensive, that sport. Otherwise activities were brownies, ceramics(which I did with my mom),t-ball (my dad coached when we were in it), swimming lessons (which I didn’t particularly like, but I can swim, and I like swimming now),as well as after school activities like recorder, school play, track team, etc.

  59. Finally getting to respond, first I don’t necessarily think 3 activities a week if 2 are part of after-care are too much. As long as the kids want to do the activities and there is still time for family and homework. I also agree to sticking out the season or the session that was paid for.I am 37 and grew up in a rural area. I did swim lessons, gynmastics, Brownies, 4H when I was younger and a ton of activities when I was older although most of those were through the school.
    My stepson is almost 12 and has some developmental delays (mostly processing and speech) and has had a liver transplant. But we let him do whatever he is interested in and capable (no contact sports or martial arts per transplant team). Right now he plays kickball once a month but the league is weekly in the summer. Plus Special Olympics basketball, choir, science club at various times during the year.
    My oldest will be 5 in May. He played soccer when he was not quite 3.5 and HATED it. But it was right after baby brother was born so maybe that is why. He is very excited to play kinder basketball next month and then he is trying t-ball this summer. We might give soccer another try in the fall. I really really wish there was a hip hop dance class for his age. Because he loves it and would have so much fun. Alas, in our area all the dance class for kids his age are ballet.
    And the baby is 18 months old and taking a Gymboree class. It ends next week and we aren’t going to continue as the location is not convenient at all. Maybe a music class or a toddler gym class at our local rec center
    We are very fortunate that our school offers some great clubs/after-school activities. I work from home now AND we live less than 10 minutes from 2 rec centers that offer affordable classes/activities.

  60. I did a lot of activities growing up, and I loved it. My daughter, so far, is the same way. She just turned 4, and she does ballet, skiing and swim lessons. As a family we love to hike, ski and snowshoe. My son, not quite 2, also skis and snowshoes and I think he is going to do tumbling this fall. Both are in daycare/preschool all day three days a week. I think organized activities are a great way for kids to make friends and have a good time. I did all sorts of activities growing up, but I never felt overly competitive or stressed- just busy. We’re going to play it by ear. We’ll do what we can afford and what my kids are interested in, and if they seem overloaded or stressed, we’ll back off. But for me, it is a requirement that, once they are a bit older, they do SOMETHING.

  61. My munchkin is too little for much in the way of activities still, but I am very much appreciating this thread (and Moxie, your blog in general).Given the discussions about learning to swim in these comments, I thought I would pass along a funny piece of trivia: everyone who graduates from Harvard has to pass a swim test (unless they have a disability that precludes it). An enormous donor’s son died in the Titanic disaster, and she made Harvard agree to institute the requirement in return for her donation.

  62. Wow this is so timely! I’m currently pregnant with my third and I’m freaking out about how I will juggle a brand new baby in April and activities for the older two. My daughter 4yrs, is only going to morning preschool 3 mornings a week. We had dance in the fall and swim lessons but now I’m a big lump. My son also did swimming in the fall and that was it. I find he can only handle one activity per season if he’s also going to get all of his first grade homework done and have time to also play with his friends after school. Luckily, our elementary school in in the neighborhood and over the winter they have offered some once a week 45min/1hr after school camps that run 6-8wks. Art and Science experiments so far. It’s all I can handle in my current state. Not having to really go anywhere else right now is fantastic. Honestly, by writing this tome, I’ve realized that my son can do at most one extra activity a season and my daughter can do two without me losing my mind. Summer is a whole different story. Maybe when it gets closer can you do a spot on that? I think it would be so helpful and great to see different solutions. Thank you so much Moxie! Not to be all sappy and hormonal but honestly, you really do get me through my days with all this “am I doing okay by my kids/is this normal” loop that has been playing in my head non stop for seven years! It’s so great to visit a site that has respectful, intelligent conversation between mothers. What a rarity. Thank you.

  63. Another data point: Our son turned 5 in September and started kindergarden. He goes to after-school daycare 5 days a week until 4:30 (right in the school building). They play in all kinds of ways and they do not offer special lessons like English class or guitar, just fun at the gym, drawing, open play, computer sessions, the school library… I think its ok like that. He has swimming lessons since he turned 4 (so for 1.5 year) and he can now swim on his own and is moving towards the “junior” level. So if this can help the poster who was wondering if she should keep her son in swimming lessons (or other) so he does not get left “behind”, I think I can say that by some standards he started swimming late but caught up quite fast. So starting later when a child feels like it may be more beneficial depending on his/her temperament (our son is shy and a perfectionist)This fall he started ice skating and hockey stick handling every week-end (with us, no class), which is “mandatory” is you are a little boy from Quebec. We do not want him to be in a hockey team because of the weird and intensive practice schedules but he can play hockey for fun with his father of friends as he gets older. He also started snowboarding lessons once a week after christmas so he has swimming on Saturday and snowboarding on Sunday and that is a little too much for me in terms of organising what we can do during the week end. But soon we will be skiing and snowboarding as a family so I accept this tight schedule for now. He could not handle more than two schedules activities for sure, its tiring for him (I am pretty sure the stress of being in a group outside of his familiar environment wears him out and takes all his energy as he must control is innate shyness, although he is enjoying himself).

  64. I’m 36 and grew up in the suburbs. Both parents went to college. I didn’t do too many activities, but I did some. I was a quitter though. I was an artsy kid (drawing, not music), and not athletic at all. I hated swimming lessons, but I took the bare minimum and could probably save myself if I had to. I quit gymnastics in first or second grade after the first lesson (hated it). I quit clarinet in 4th grade (the elementary school lessons, not private) after a month because my fingers didn’t reach all the keys. I did one year of soccer in 4th grade and after getting hit in the face with a ball, I was done. I think I did two years of soft ball in 6th and 7th grade but was scared to death that the ball would come near me (I played right field). I also took one year of tap dancing in 6th grade, which I enjoyed, but I didn’t like the ballet or jazz portions of the class. I took one year of piano lessons in 10th grade because I wanted to, but by that time, I was more interested in my social life than practicing – and cutting my finger nails!I think the reason I was “a quitter” was because I was shy and insecure, although I did have friends and generally had a happy childhood. I also blame my parents. They never pushed me. I don’t know how things would have turned out if they had. My husband had a similar childhood. He did some activities, but his parents also never really pushed him. Looking back, I really wish when I quit clarinet, I was pushed to take up another instrument. I regret not being able to play any instrument now.
    As adults, I think we turned out okay for the most part. We both have college educations, own a home in a nice town, etc. But I don’t think either of us are really living up to our potential. So this is a tricky topic for us with regards to our son, who is 5. He’s had a few swimming lessons and will continue that in the summer, at our local pond. He did pee wee soccer this year and last and wasn’t that into it. We probably won’t do that again, but I want to instate a rule that if he agrees to sign up for something, and we pay for it, we keep the commitment, but he doesn’t have to sign up again if he doesn’t want to.
    Since we both work full time, and he’s in daycare full time, it’s really hard to fit anything else in, and we all need our down time. I think we will keep it to one activity per season as he gets older. I’m not in a hurry to sign him up for lots of things at this age though, aside from swim lessons. We need to find a balance of not raising a quitter, but not being too pushy either.

  65. @kates,Um, I think I know you and your husband! If you’re who I think you are I was the cellist in the quartet that went to Prague. Weird.
    My 4 year old son is in cello lessons which is our main activity. He’s been doing soccer for a few months but it’s 45 minutes a week through the rec dept. so it’s hardly intense. I’m not keen on team sports so we’ll see how this developes. We also do a lot of one time activities like classes at the zoo every month or so. During the sumemr we do a few more things but it’s mostly for something to do and adding structure to things when school is out.
    I’d love to do martial arts at some point but I’m not sure how we’d fit it in.

  66. Forgot to add, we let him quit when forcing him to go is more trouble than it’s worth. Swimming this past summer, for example. He wouldn’t get in the water or listen to the teacher and I didn’t see the point of making him stick with it. He’d just turned 4. We’ll try again this summer as I do think swimming is non-negotiable.I’m also pulling him from the group cello class that goes along with his lessons. He’s the youngest in the class and doesn’t function well in the group setting. It’s a lot of work for me to teach him the music and I get frustrated and angry when he’s goofing off in class. We might try again later in the semester but right now it’s just too much for him.

  67. On swimming: my kids learned swimming informally with me as opportunities permitted – mainly lots of fun in the shallow end – so they learned that water is fun – with ever-more encouragement to hold their breath and go underwater with me helping them … but starting the summer after kindergarten each of my kids goes to a day camp that has swimming lessons daily. I think this is the best way, because by 5yo they’re ready to learn, summer’s hot and it’s a great thing to do (personally I hate swimming in indoor pools during the winter – it’s too cold when you go back outside with wet hair, and it feels weird somehow to me).Also, at day camp, their friends are all swimming too and the daily practice really helps them make progress.
    I tried a Mommy&me swim class once but didn’t think it was useful. So I don’t think at 2 or 3 it matters much. But in the summer I like swimming with my kids whenever I can.

  68. Mine is 1 yr behind your oldest (you forgot to mention the swimming we all did years ago!).I am lucky and take him to the playground behind school when we don’t have anything else like religion or therapy scheduled.
    That works so much better than the scheduling I did his first semester of Kindergarten, hey, what did I know. The added dimension is that they get a mind of their own. Now we have to find basketabll for him as he says he doesn’t want softball.
    I was not given these choices when I was growing up!
    http://www.gaynycdad.com

  69. I have 3 sons (6,9, and 12). We end up doing lots of activities and sports throughout the year since we have 3. One thing that has worked for us is trying new things during the summer. Our county has a great and inexpensive camp program; sometimes as low as $15 for a three day camp. It is much easier to try a new sport or instrument or activity when we don’t have to worry about school on top of practices, etc. Plus, they know if they want to pursue the new activity because they actually try it out. During the school year we do have to limit what we can manage because school comes before extra activities.

  70. We are dealing with some physical issues and part of our toddler’s physical therapy is keeping her active.So we do some kind of (lame) toddler gym class where we encourage her to run the halls before class. Then PT bi-weekly. Swimming and Ballet. Plus preschool which also has gym.
    We’re going to replace the gym class with skating at the PT’s suggestion and we also planned for her to play hockey too.
    Once she can do soccer, we’ll sign her up for that.
    We’ll be busy for a while.
    My thought is to look into Suzuki piano for her in another year, which is a huge commitment. But I like the idea that she would develop musicianship along with being able to play the piano.
    M

  71. @Nico — I totally get the perfectionist thing — my son is like that off & on. We’ve talked a lot about how long it takes to get good, and how everyone is terrible at everything until they practice. Maybe an activity that lets you both learn together? Not to trumpet Suzuki as the solution to everyone’s problems, but that method depends on moms/dads learning along with kids. I wonder if he sees you trying new things and screwing up and laughing about it and getting better, if that would help him. It’ll probably just take time, too. And I’m sure there are plenty of non-musical activities that also offer the learning-together model — karate? Does he like guns? You could learn to shoot together. (I know that one’s going to get me some grief, but hey, we’re all different here.) If I were you I’d maybe think of something cheap-ish that you’d like to try and see if you could learn it together.Also – Hi, Beth! Yep, that’s us. Nice to see an old friend around here.

  72. @S: memberships to something local. I try to do one per year, but your situation may be different. If I were staying at home with my little guy, I’d have more memberships. Right now we have a zoo membership (about to end) and a botanical garden membership (just started). I like things that get us outside.@Nutmeg, I’m 36, and remember a fair number of community activities: Little League, Girl Scouts — the kinds of things with dues, mainly. And figure skating, but that was through the city’s youth hockey association — group lessons, more expensive than Little League, but not very expensive. It changed a bit when my dad’s salary changed.
    For my son, I try to have enough good toys around that he can do things at home that others might be doing in clubs. He has a ton of musical instruments (west music on amazon, y’all), so gets experience with that. I feel that’s more important than clubs and such, to be honest.
    I’m on the fence about forcing a kid to do something. I think even pulling that off depends on your kid’s personality and your own craftiness. If my 3yo doesn’t want to do something, ain’t gonna happen. OTOH, to really master something calls for a certain amount of perseverance and dedication. I suppose I’d make the call based on how serious he is about something, how long he’s been committed to it, how valuable it appears to me, and so on.
    On the swim lessons front: I nearly drown when I was 4 years old. It’s a life skill — one my son is disinclined to practice. We’ll try again next year.
    Mostly, though, I have a friend who’s convinced me to follow the energy — to not let life stagnate, to grow and thrive and change and move. And I want that for my kid, too.

  73. Actually, that follow the energy thing is a mainstay of our parenting: We both agree that we want to support our son in whatever he wants to do. this resulted in my once telling my husband: “He really wants to tear up that napkin. Let him.” Seriously, who knows what’s going on in their minds and souls and psyches? How much do I want to trump that? I always want to see myself as helping that along, whether that means questioning him about why he wants to quit or letting him take up some other interest.

  74. I have three children ages 15, 10 and 4.My 15-year old daughter takes two dance classes, violin lessons and string bass lessons. Yes, the string bass is that gigantic orchestra instrument that must be played standing up. I had to cub some of her activities because they interfered with her schoolwork. At one point, she would get off school at 3:30pm, have theatre practice from 3:45-5:45pm and then colorguard practice from 6:00-9:00pm every day of the week. Her grades suffered, but the theatre production was in a few days and colorguard was almost over. We let her finish it out for those few days but could see that the poor girl wasn’t getting any sleep.
    Our 10-year old son takes flute lessons year-round, baseball in the summer, basketball in the winter and hip hop and breakdancing during the school year. He is able to do his schoolwork and enjoys each of these activities. They are all activities he enjoys and in which he asked to participate.
    Our 4-year old just started with an activity. She takes ballet/tap. I suggested the activity and she said okay. I think she liked the leotard and the shoes at first! Now, she likes the class. They make it fun for the kids with fun stretching and make a game out of floor work. Our daughter has expressed an interest in tumbling/gymnastics and we are going to let her try. She has also expressed an interest in playing an instrument. I taught her a bit on the piano and she thinks it is fun.
    I won’t push my kids to do an activity but have gotten each of them started with their first activity. Sometimes they really like that first activity and sometimes they don’t. As they get older and school makes more demands on their time, it is necessary to monitor how many activities they have and whether they have enough time to do their activities and their schoolwork. If they are overscheduled, it is up to us, as parents, to teach them to prioritize and construct a realistic schedule.

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