I once overheard a fellow homeschooling mom explain that she enrolled her daughter in as many activities as humanly possible, whether the daughter liked it or not, because she felt that extracurricular activities would help her daughter become a successful adult. The mother was convinced that her own lack of involvement in sports and other activities as a child had caused most of her adult failings.
Wow. This extracurricular activity stuff is, apparently, quite serious.
Maybe Johnny’s wanting to stay home and dig around in the dirt rather than play little league clearly indicates that he is doomed for a life of mediocrity and social ostracism. Maybe Suzy’s assertion that she has no interest in softball means that she’s lazy and won’t ever get into college.
Or perhaps our 21st century adult anxieties have the potential to hijack our children’s lives and schedules. When is a soccer ball not just a soccer ball? When parents view it not as a source of fun but as a tool for allaying their fears about their child’s popularity and future, that’s when.
We homeschoolers may be especially susceptible to the tendency to push our kids into lessons or activities that they don’t really enjoy or find meaningful. We may fear we’ve already made our kids a bit weird by homeschooling them in the first place, so we need them to play some normal, all-American sports to even things out, right?
Also, sports and other activities can help us to feel that we are giving our kids opportunities for socialization. However, as I’ve noticed from observing some of my own children’s activities, kids often have little time for developing meaningful friendships when they are in a highly structured, adult-led environment such as a gymnastics lesson or karate class.
Informal play at the park or casual meetings with other families are often much better ways to let our kids spread their social wings.
A few years ago, I became convinced that I was failing as a parent because my kids were not enrolled in any sports-type activities. Much like their (admittedly) non-sporty mom, my kids showed little interest in team sports. As a compromise, we settled on ballet lessons.
The kids liked their instructor, but the required recitals proved nightmarish for everyone in the family. I know that many children love ballet and greatly enjoy performing, but to my kids, the recitals seemed like a dog and pony show they had to perform just to make adults happy.
We stopped the lessons after a year. I realized that my insecurities about providing the perfect childhood, not my kids’ interests, had been the motivating factor for beginning lessons in the first place.
Team sports and other activities can be wonderfully fun for kids and their families, but we do need to make sure that we’re following our children’s lead and not pushing them into things we feel they “should” enjoy.
We need to trust our children to discover activities of their own choosing and to tolerate a little boredom. As Peter Gray asserts in his book Free To Learn, free play is essential for self mastery and self discovery. Keeping kids too busy with structured activities can rob them of the freedom they need to fully develop as human beings.
A child who chooses to climb trees or draw is not missing out; they are enjoying the precious freedom of childhood where the self and personality have room to blossom and grow.
As for our little family, in addition to plenty of free play and family time, we’ve finally settled on lessons and activities that suit our kids’ unique interests and personalities. We’ve had great success with art classes, swimming lessons, and volunteer opportunities at church and at our local animal shelter.
I’ve learned to embrace our family’s preferences and passions and to ditch the impulse to enroll the kids in more conventional activities that just aren’t right for them.
It looks like I’ll never be a soccer mom, and that’s perfectly fine by me. My kids are happy, thriving, and having fun. So, goal!