What if we took a break from extra-curricular activities for a season or a year?

Recently, I posted the following thought on Facebook:

“I wonder what would happen if we just took a year off from signing our kids up for extra-curricular activities. Would we miss them? Would our children miss them? Or would we all enjoy the break from all the crazy?”

There are now twenty comments in response to my question given by various moms who apparently are feeling the same way. A couple are home schoolers who feel a need for activities for their children to get them out of the house and to give them interaction with other kids. Another home schooler only signs her kids up for activities during the summer, keeping the school year simple with lessons during the day and time to just be during the afternoon and evening hours. One mom with older children shared that looking back maybe she shouldn’t have started the kids in activities when they were so young. She shared that now that her high school aged children have practice after school and the transportation to sporting events is provided by the school, so the days of getting them to and from practices and events are over. Another mom expressed her frustration for the need to stay in an activity like gymnastics in order to advance to the next level. I have thought about this with Irish Dance as well. If we took a year off, then Dimples would not necessarily advance with her classmates the next year. That would be difficult for her. Then again, I took a year off from dance and I jumped right back in the next fall where I left off. Taking that year off was so difficult for me. I’ll never forget the sadness I felt watching my class from the seats dancing in the recital. Oh did it hurt! But looking back, it made me appreciate dance and my love for it even more. So perhaps that was a good thing.

Finances, work schedules, school schedules, and the crosses that come our way sometimes play a roll in our decision making process. I do agree whole-heartedly with the statement one mom shared on our little Facebook discussion: “Stop the glorification of busy.” It’s all about our attitudes and approach, isn’t it? If we are signing our kids up for all sorts of activities, paying for them, driving hither and yon, spending too much time away from home and each other, what are we communicating to them? How are we enriching their lives if all we’re doing is spending time in the car? There are so many questions to ask ourselves and our spouses.

  • What is the motivation and intention behind why we are putting our children in activities?
  • What end result do we hope for the child to achieve?
  • What are they capable of achieving and are our goals for them or their goals for themselves realistic?
  • How much of a financial burden is a particular activity putting on the family budget?
  • How much stress or enjoyment is the activity causing the child, parent, and/or family at large?
  • Are we enrolling our children in the activity in order to fulfill a dream of our own?
  • At what age should we allow a child to start participating in extra curricular activities?
  • How much time are we willing and able to commit to these activities?

As a couple, our goal is to afford the children the opportunity to learn skills that team sports and dance classes can teach. However, I am not about to allow the area of the country in which we are raising our children dictate what is necessary or good. This is not easy, especially because of the pressure that we feel as parents to give our children every opportunity that presents itself to be active and essentially to learn. In the end, as parents, what we value most is time together as a family, because the fact is, when we and our children look back on their childhood, I suspect that the memories that we will all hold most dear will be of the time we spent together, experiencing all our beautiful world has to offer. I’m thinking now of playing on the beach, traveling to visit family, playing in the creek at our favorite park, parish picnics and fire pits with s’mores in the back yard, and on and on. Sure, we will all remember the joy of playing and watching sporting events and watching Irish Dance performances, and I think it’s important for each child to have an activity that they call their own, and skills that they hone and are proud of. In fact, I think it’s the time away from family, especially one that has siblings so close in age, that makes it easier to spend so much time together. I think time outside the home and away from parents and siblings is healthy and balanced, and it can also help the child appreciate their family more, and don’t we all want that for our children? The questions remain: How much time? and When?

I guess what I’m realizing now that we’ve had children in activities for about five years is that there is no hurry to be busy. It will come soon enough. Each family has to approach activities for their children as they see fit. For us, sitting down as a couple and discussing how we want to keep the glorification of busy at bay has worked really well. We say no a lot and we explain why to our kids. If we took a break from extra-curricular activities for a season or an entire year, I think perhaps we might find that we’re happy people without all the running around. Maybe we would see that we had been glorifying busy after all. I’m not sure.

I really enjoyed reading all of the other mom’s comments on Facebook and I hope if they’re reading this post they will add some thoughts in the comment box as well. There is no one way to approach activities for our children. Families aren’t one size fits all. I definitely find the perspective of other moms valuable, especially the wisdom of those who have approached this issue differently, and I hope you do too. As you’ve probably figured out by reading my blog, I like a schedule and believe our kids thrive in a routine so please pitch in with ideas about how you’ve made the chaos work for your family’s schedules and routines. It gives me perspective and sometimes helps me to identify things we could be doing differently as well as the things we are doing well.

stop the glorification of busy PINTEREST


Categories: Reflecting


5 Responses to What if we took a break from extra-curricular activities for a season or a year?

  1. Love this, Mary. The “rat race” as we refer to it is just too much sometimes and it is so critical to take that step back and reflect on our motives! To be willing to go against the grain and do something that may look radically different but is the perfect fit for your family, like taking a year off altogether. Wow. One of the myriad of reasons that we homeschool is because we value our family time so very much, and this lifestyle affords us the opportunity to have our family time and still have the children in the activities they love most. We can have slower days and our evenings are busy with activities and the enjoyment those bring. It’s a nice balance. We still discern our motives using all the criteria you listed above, but for us, this just works. One principle that has always guided our decision making is ‘How much of a time commitment is this activity’? In other words, how much time away from the family will this cost? And is it worth it? While away from us, will they grow in character and have fun? We have a family rule of only one ‘sport’ per season, because they both have piano during the school day hours, we don’t count that as their ‘one’. We have made exceptions to the rule if our family felt like the extra activity was worth it and didn’t “cost” us too much in the way of family time, or resources. Most often those exceptions are made for something that would fulfill a current need in the child: growth in friendship with those particular friends, trying something new, diversifying activities, cultivating a skill. But they are definitely the exception, which works for us. Anyhow, I am so enjoying your blog. 🙂 I write my blog as well but almost never find time to read other blogs unless they are about adoption. 😉 So this has been fun re-discovering your blog!

  2. This is something we are struggling with this fall. In the summer, we leave the hustle and bustle (or “rat race” as Stacey called it!) of Northern VA and spend our time in a small lake community in Central VA. No devices for the kids. No teams or practices. Just us and any invited guests. We all covet this downtime where we are free from schedules and the “hurry up!” that goes with them. But, the kids miss their friends and they eventually need a schedule to encourage their productivity, if you know what I mean. And, we parents need a schedule for our children (read — SCHOOL) to enable us to get done what we need to accomplish. But, within a couple of weeks of the start of school and fall sports, I’m nearly frantic. We have 4 of our 5 children playing one sport each and I know it will become more hectic as the years pass. I have to plan so very much more, and it stresses me out. I have to pack lunches on Saturday, too, as we maneuver through the schedule. And, I feel overworked, stressed, tapped out and late all the time. I don’t think there is much of an alternative for us as we are limiting it to one activity per child and technically we can keep up with this schedule. But, I don’t like who I become when I’m this scheduled. It is not busy. It’s scheduled. Sigh. June is soon, right? Thanks, Mary, for a good conversation started.

  3. One more comment… I find myself feeling very competitive when I’m following this schedule. In a way I am not when it’s summer. This time of year I compare EVERYTHING in my head in a way I know is harmful. I worry about who is better at cleaning baseball pants, packing healthy snacks, bringing along dinner so the kids don’t eat too late, doing homework at the field with DS #2 while DS #1 has practice, being patient with their kids, keeping their car clean, etc. The comparison monster rears her ugly head when I am over scheduled and I know it’s because I feel like I need to do everything perfectly to balance this schedule while not falling behind in other areas.

  4. This past year was the first time we had 4 kids doing any activities consistently. 3 took Taekwondo, and one was in violin. For a short time we also had swim lessons. It was so busy! We had barely enough time on some days to complete our homeschool lessons, with all the driving and practices. Now that two of our kids are in full-time school, it is even harder for us to enroll in any outside activities. Not only does it take so much time away from our family time (we would never have a regular time for dinner!), but it is so exhausting! After a full day at school, my boys are so tired and cranky and hungry that spending another hour away for a practice would just make for a miserable time until bedtime. I don’t know how that makes for a good family life at all.
    I wish it was simpler. My children enjoy these other activities, and I see many benefits to children participating in sports and music and the arts…but how does a typical family make it happen, without too much sacrifice of family time?

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