Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On Extra-Curriculars

Good old game of family ball hockey a couple of weekends ago up north
One of my favourite bloggers recently wrote an awesome post over at the Yummy Mummy Club. I had been planning on writing our family approach for awhile and this made the perfect opportunity. How do you find a balance between enriching your child's life with extracurriculars, allowing them to have free and unstructured play, and not burning them or yourself as a parent out at the same time. Multiply the number of kids and this equation can get increasingly difficult, not to mention expensive. 

I was recently scrolling the EQAO (standardized testing) results for our school and found the questions they asked of the kids the most interesting - an overwhelming number of them participated in extracurriculars. Nearly all of those extracurriculars fell under the "sports" category. Undoubtedly a part of this is the federal tax credit for qualifying activities which get kids active. Remarkably few children at our school took extracurriculars in the area of art, drama, or music but I imagine this would be much the same for other schools in the area. The EQAO also asks the child about screen time and parent engagement  - I'd encourage you to search for the results from your school if you live in Ontario. 

Both our boys absolutely LOVE the outdoors. We have no trouble getting either to go outside and play. It also helps that we live in a neighbourhood with many kids and the park/playground is really close. We also have a decent-sized backyard and whenever people have asked what they'd like for their birthdays (both in the Spring) we always answer anything for outdoor play. So, they are quite active. We often like to "let them burn off steam" by playing outside. 

Our family approach:

- We've never done more than one extracurricular at one time for each kid. At this point, N (2.5 yrs) has only ever taken swimming lessons and I think we'll keep it fairly limited until about age 4. We tried B at 3 yrs with soccer and he didn't particularly enjoy it. He was also developmentally very focused on himself still and playing alongside other children rather than with them. It was effectively a waste of both time and money. Since our little guys are very active on a regular basis, I would argue for our family, getting the required amount of physical activity won't be an "issue" until at least age 9-10 when more technology starts infiltrating their lives. 

- At least, once in the Fall, Winter or Spring (usually Fall of Spring to avoid missing too many lessons from ear infections) both boys take swimming lessons. We think of this as non-optional and as a life skill. It costs about $80 for 9 or 10 weeks which isn't too bad. In the past, the boys were lucky to have Grandma take them to their lessons. This gave them special time with her. In the summer, we are usually around pools or water a lot more and they can practice their swimming then with us in an unstructured environment. 

- We also want to try to encourage at least one extra curricular other than sports. B is really interested in drawing lately so this might be an option. 

- Down the line, if either child gets particularly interested in one sport, we will have to weigh our options both in terms of time/cost/impact to the rest of the family. We're all for nurturing interests and talents in each child but also being mindful of the family as a unit. 

On timing... 

Finding a good balance with the timing of extracurriculars has been something that I only think we finally got down recently. Our family rule is that we will spend more than half of the evenings in the week at home together as a family this means no more than 3 nights/week can contain activities for all family members. As our family grows, we will have to be conscious about scheduling so as to not break our rule (adult extracurriculars included!). 

Both boys are taking swimming lessons this Fall and we thought about scheduling them together except one parent has to be in the pool still with N which makes it a little bit difficult if you're going solo and doesn't give the chance to watch B's lesson. Also, most of the lessons are at 6 or 6:30pm which makes getting back for our 7pm bedtime difficult and makes for cranky kids the next morning. Also, after dinner both of my kids are tired and consequently their listening skills aren't the greatest and melt downs are at their prime. Another consideration we have is that while DH is home every night of the week, I often have work meetings in the evening or volunteer commitments. On average, I am out 1-2 nights/week but some odd weeks, as many as 3 nights. This makes it more difficult for evening activities since both kids need to be dragged along and while B is a little bit more flexible with bedtime, often N is falling apart before bedtime. 

Since N is home with my sister during the week, she volunteered to take him to swimming lessons during the week in the mornings when he'd be well rested. This also gives them something to break up their week a little bit. Since this was B's first year of full day kindergarten, and given our past experiences with night time lessons, we opted for morning lessons on the weekend when he is also well rested and it doesn't cut into the rest of our day together. This schedule is working wonderfully for us so far. I even enjoy going to watch the lessons more since I haven't been working all day and stressing to make dinner and get out the door. 

I'd love to hear how others handle extracurriculars!


Mo said...

Thanks for linking to the article :)

You know my opinion on this, and it's much along the lines of yours! It's hard enough for busy working parents to get a work life balance, but now our kids need a school/life/activity balance. It's only going to get crazier as they get older, especially if they love one activity and are really good at it. But what happens when they start having home work most nights, plus activities? Kids need to be active, but they need down time too (ok, Ill stop before I re-write my article on here, lol)

Love that you pointed out that most kids are in sports. I hope my daughter will want to go in to Girl Guides when she's older (I loved it when I was little), and my son loves to sing, so I keep bring up our Church choir to him.

Kristy said...

I really loved your article Mo. I was dying to put B into Scouts this year but they only meet at 6:30pm on a weeknight which is manageable in the summer but a little too late for us still during the school year. I think it was also pretty expensive! I remember bringing 50 cents each week to Brownies! My guys both are still going to bed at 7-7:30. Maybe we'll attempt it next year. In the mean time, maybe an art class on a weekend in the Spring.