I've always struggled with this. And as a mom to younger children (though our oldest is almost a "big kid" now) I know it is my responsibility to make these decisions for them right now.
It seems like the feelings on this subject are really divided: you're either really gung-ho for extracurriculars or you avoid them like the plague. I'm assuming this is because when your child is involved in something, it usually requires A LOT of dedication and time. Believe me...I know from experience.
Here is our story with extracurricular activities:
It started when Skyley (our oldest) was two. (That is, if you don't count the "mommy and me" swim class we did when she was 18 months old.) We had just moved to Idaho and we started her in Dance. Honestly, it was sooo adorable and fun and perfect to "test the waters" of activities so to speak. It wasn't cheap. Not only were we paying monthly, but we also had to buy outfits, shoes, tights, costumes. And for two college students that was a lot. But she loved it and we loved seeing her challenged. She was also in preschool at the time. About six months later, we started her in Suzuki violin lessons. Kris and I both always agreed that we wanted our kids to play an instrument. I did a lot of research in the Suzuki method and really felt strongly about starting young. By this time, we had started our photography business and used that income to cover her lessons. She was still an only child, so we just didn't think much about her being involved in more than one activity.
When she was in dance, they would always stretch beforehand and Skyley could do the splits so well it was almost scary. I would watch her and cringe at the thought of trying to do that myself. And her teacher would always say, "you should put her in gymnastics". So we went to check it out one day and before you knew it...we signed up. That's right, she was in dance, violin, and gymnastics. But wait....it gets worse.
You see, Skyley is obsessed with horses. Always has been and still is to this day. It's her spirit animal. And if you ever ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she will reply "horse trainer" without hesitation. So yes...when she was about 3 years old she was in dance, violin, gymnastics, and horseback riding all at the same time. I'm not kidding. I'm sure you can imagine what our schedule was like. And we only had one car....and Kris was in school.....and we were running a photography business. It was exhausting. We were overreaching and trying to do too much, honestly.
And then Saylor came. Believe it or not, we stuck with this schedule all through my pregnancy and even into the first few months after she was born. But it didn't last long. It couldn't. Kris got into nursing school, we shut down the business temporarily and went into survival mode. Having a second child (at least in my experience) is a big change from just one child. And Saylor was NOT an "easygoing" baby. So we decided she would stick with violin and one other activity. We chose dance. Horseback riding was too expensive unfortunately.
A few months later, one of her friends from dance invited her to a karate class (bring a friend day.) That really is such a sneaky marketing technique, isn't it? Well we fell for it. We signed up for karate. I justified it by telling myself that it was teaching her "self-discipline." Really? (Ok, I know karate does teach discipline and a lot of other really important virtues, but it was just too much.) That lasted just a couple of months. I just had to tell myself no. It's too much for her and it's too much for our family.
So we eventually scaled back to just violin. Kris was finishing up nursing school, we opened up our business again and started preparing for our eventual move back to Texas. Skyley was really excelling in violin and even played in front of her whole school at a talent show. It definitely served as a reassuring pat-on-the-back moment to see her overcome a fear. Saylor was about two at this time and was not in any extracurricular activities as we were dealing with speech issues and we were really focused on getting her therapy for that. It was also around this time that I got pregnant again.
Our move to Texas and the transition once arrived (buying our first home, Kris transitioning into his first nursing job) consumed our life my entire pregnancy. And then, due to pre-eclampsia our third daughter (Searsha) was brought into this world at 32 weeks. 2015 was a really rough year for us.
It wasn't until a few months later when that guilt thing struck me. "You need to get BOTH of the girls into something." "They need to be doing something." So, Skyley got back into private Suzuki violin lessons and since she had never played a sport we also started her in Soccer. Then we felt like it was time for Saylor to do something so she started t-ball. And I just have to say....watching Saylor play t-ball was about the cutest thing ever! That is, when we could actually get her to go out onto the field to participate.
And ummm....t-ball was one of the most time-consuming things ever. It was worse than both of Skyley's activities combined!
And just like that...we were consumed in activities and had no downtime again. And anyone who knows us knows...we like our downtime.
T-ball season and soccer season came to an end right around the same time. That's the good thing about sports...they have a season :) We got our break. It was summer....we did some traveling. Okay, a lot of traveling. Last summer we did a road trip from Dallas, Texas to the Grand Canyon stopping at Monument Valley on the way there and stopping at the Sand Dunes in New Mexico on the way back. Then we did a road trip to 30a area in Florida. And in-between those trips? Basketball camp for Skyley. I know, we're either crazy or stupid. Maybe a little of both?
So in the 7 short years we've been parents, our kids have been in swimming, dance, violin, gymnastics, horseback riding, karate, soccer, t-ball, and basketball. This may not seem like too much to some parents and to others this may seem obscene. But for some reason, we just can't seem to find a middle ground. And now that we have two old enough for activities, it is even more complicated.
Since our life has now been consumed with our recent move from Texas to Alaska we really haven't given much thought to extracurricular activities. We are so busy right now with searching out and buying a home, getting Skyley settled into school, getting Saylor settled into preschool, and Kris settling into his new job. But I am already feeling the pressure. Am I making a mistake? Should I be more focused on making sure the girls are challenged and pursuing their interests?
But then I remember...they are kids....let them be kids. They need downtime just like we do. Skyley has just started a Waldorf school (which is absolutely perfect for her) so I know she is being challenged in a holistic way.
The pressure we feel as parents stems from this fast-paced, competitive "achievement" mentality. We are pressured to "push" our children into what we think they should be or be doing. Our expectations as parents seem to be getting higher and higher. And I'm not down for that anymore.
Yes, I want them to be challenged...but at what expense? Am I compromising their health, their imagination, their happiness?
What it all boils down to for me is that yes, extracurricular activities are awesome and fun...but use them sparingly. Don't schedule every minute of your child's life. One of the main reasons I am a stay (and work) at home mom is so that I can be there for them....so that they can be home and have downtime for unstructured, free, creative play. And I feel so lucky to be able to do that.
If your child has a passion...by all means...chase that s*%$ down. Just make sure it is THEIR passion, not yours.