How to Intentionally Choose Children's Extracurricular Activities

How to Intentionally Choose Children’s Extracurricular Activities

Figuring out activities for your kids this summer? or after school programs for the fall? Here's a great guide for intentionally picking extracurricular activities throughout the year!

By Erin Odom, Contributing Writer

Dance, gymnastics, art, music, drama, sports, scouts, choir: Today our children are busier than ever.

How can we, as parents, intentionally choose our children’s extracurricular activities?

No doubt, there are many benefits in activities beyond the realm of academics, but where is the line? How much is too much when it comes to extracurriculars?

I most definitely don’t have all of the answers, but I’m hoping that with careful consideration my family can be more strategic and intentional in this area.

How to Intentionally Choose Children's Extracurricular Activities

Check out these 7 things to consider when seeking to intentionally choose children’s extracurricular activities:

1. Cost

Can you afford for your little girl to dance in the competitive troupe or for your son to play on the all-star team?

Will you have to forgo giving or saving in order for your child to participate? Will you sacrifice in other areas–such as the quality of your food or a yearly family vacation? Will you charge the cost of supplies on credit cards?

If the activity will force your family into financial strain, just say “no”!

How to Intentionally Choose Children's Extracurricular Activities

image by PublicDomainPictures

2. Sustainability

Perhaps you can afford to send your eldest daughter to dance lessons now. But will you be able to sustain them long-term?

For example, we have three daughters. Our firstborn is 5 1/2, and many of her friends are now enrolled in dance lessons.

When we discovered that one year of dance costs more than $1,000, we knew that, even if we could afford lessons now, there is absolutely no way we would be able to afford them for all three girls in the future–especially since a family goal of ours is to send all three to a university-model school.

Dance, for our family, is not sustainable.

Also, consider whether or not this activity will be something your child will be able to carry into adulthood.

If your child is naturally gifted in a certain sport, and you have the financial means to sustain it, might it be a worthy investment to continue if the talent your child is honing will land him or her a college scholarship one day–or even a career in the field?

Child Sitting On The Grass Drawing A Picture With Multi Colorored Pencils

3. Time

Does your child even have time for this activity–or do you have the room in your schedule to cart him or her to practices, lessons, games, etc.?

My husband and I desire that we be the biggest influences in our children’s lives. In order for that to happen, our children have to spend a lot of time with us.

One reason we waited to send our 5-year-old to kindergarten is that we wanted more time with her!

If you homeschool full-time, allowing your children to participate in two or three extracurricular activities per week may not take away from you being their primary influence.

But if you do not homeschool and your children are involved in a plethora of activities after school, when will your children ever be at home?

My husband is a high school teacher. He has told me about students of his who will attend school until 4:00 p.m. and then participate in extracurricular activities until 9:00 p.m. (or later!). I often wonder when the parents even see their children!

little boy with basketball

image by Greyerbaby

4. Commitment

Will this activity require a year-round commitment or is it just seasonal? Are activity fees based on a month-to-month payment, or must you pay up front for an entire year?

Our girls take swimming lessons each summer, but it is only for two weeks out of the entire year. The commitment is low, but we see these lessons as a safeguard and, therefore, essential.

If you are just delving into an activity, perhaps signing up for something short-term is better. But if your child is older and more experienced in the extracurricular, maybe a longer term commitment will even save your family money.

5. Priorities

Is this activity in line with your family’s priorities?

What are your goals for the future, and how do extracurriculars fit into them?

In Crystal Paine’s new book Say Goodbye to Survival Mode, she recommends moms create a “best stuff” list–essentially, a list of priorities for how to spend their time.

If your family’s number 1 priority is God, for example, and your children’s ball games always take place on Sunday mornings (taking you away from corporate worship), you may want to re-think the sport.

If your priority is quality and quantity time together as a family, and you spend most of your “time” together in the car while traveling from activity to activity, perhaps it’s time to trim down the number of extracurriculars.

Two Kids Outside Lying And Playing On The Grass

6. Interest

Is this an activity your child is interested in–or are you interested in it yourself because you feel like you missed out during your childhood?

I would venture to propose that the classic “transfer of dreams” conundrum has not disappeared from our generation.

Be sure that your child has a natural passion, talent and desire for this particular activity.

7. Purpose

There are, no doubt, many benefits of children’s extracurricular activities. According to the essay “Positive Effects of Extra Curricular Activities on Students,” these can include: “behavior, better grades, school completion, positive aspects to become successful adults, and a social aspect.” (source)

But it is simply impossible for our children to do it all. Ask yourself: What is the purpose of this particular activity in the life of my child?

Will sports enhance his or her self-esteem and ability to work within a team? Will music or art lessons stimulate their creativity? Will church activities aid in spiritual growth?

Are there two to three activities in which your child is involved that are all meeting the same purpose? If so, why not scale down and just choose one?

Are the elective classes at your child’s school already meeting the purpose of this or that activity? If your child is taking art class, Spanish and music at school, is there a true need to add additional lessons after hours? There very well may be, but it might be worthwhile to take this into consideration before enrolling your children.

Are children’s extracurricular activities necessary?

Sometimes I wonder if, in our drive to ensure that our children do not miss childhood that perhaps we are missing the point of childhood all together. What other time in their lives will our children have the opportunity to be so carefree and full of imagination?

Yet we fill their schedules with activities that take them from home and from the margin needed to hone their creativity. I recently enjoyed reading Sheila of To Love, Honor and Vacuum’s bold post “Are Kids’ Sports Teams Worth It?”

I personally do not believe there is a right or wrong answer here; I think that each family is unique and needs to choose how they spend their time based on their family dynamics.

But let’s seek to choose children’s extracurricular activities with intentionality and purpose–instead of just going along with the flow of whatever everyone else is doing.

Do your children participate in extracurricular activities? What are your tips for how to intentionally choose children’s extracurricular activities?

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  1. Thank you so much for this post. This is something I struggle with alot. Our girls attend a private school (so there’s a large cost to that already) We feel this is the best decision for our family right now, but then it’s hard to see other families with their kids in all sorts of activities while ours do really nothing. Our girls don’t really ask to do extra activities, once in awhile they may mention something, but in all honesty I don’t know when we’d have time. They are on the bus/school from 7:30 – 4:15, I really appreciated the down to earth approach on the subject. I’m feeling much better about the fact that right now it’s not the time, in the budget or really necessary for our girls to be running here and there.

    1. I have struggled before, too, and I know it will only get harder as more “peer pressure” comes, but it has felt SO good to release the guilt!

  2. My son (7) does play sports year round, but he LOVES it and he needs the activity. He is an only chid with sensory issues and was in speech (still is), OT, & PT for years. When he is playing hard with sports, practices, games etc. His issues are much smaller and we have found during these times we do not have to do PT and OT (which is VERY costly).

    So we do have people that say he does too much but for us we make that our family time (going out to dinner after games, the whole family enjoying games and practices) and we see him thrive in that area. However, he would like to do boy scouts and 4-H since he loves nature and animals but since we see such benifits from sports we don’t allow him to do other activities like the 4-H and scouts and we foster that love at home with just us. It is a fine line for sure. He is also our only child and likely to always be our only child.

    1. I think there is definitely a “case” for an only child to be more involved–and if you make it a family affair like your family does, it might just be a win-win for all!

  3. My oldest has taken karate for many years and his younger brother is almost 2 years into violin lessons. We are about to add a short season of spring soccer for my 7 year old and I’m hoping I won’t hyperventilate over the extra time commitment! I have a friend who keeps trying to talk me into signing the boys up for Scouts, but I know it’s way too much for us. Between homeschooling play dates, we have enough to keep us very busy!

    Thanks for a well-thought out post.

    1. My girls came home from preschool yesterday talking about Soccer Shots! Right now it’s not in our budget…but I can already see peer pressure taking place (which I hate!). I am sure your son will enjoy the short soccer season!

  4. I homeschool, so that really helps. We do limit extracurricular to one per child per season. But as long as they really want to do it, we try to make it work. For example, my daughter LOVES gymnastics. When she has a week off because the gym is closed or we are on vacation, there is a noticeable difference in her. She is restless, she climbs everything, etc. It’s expensive, and a commitment now, but I can’t imagine not doing it because she LOVES it to much and it is really important to her. It is her only outside activity, though. My son love baseball. He wants to play for the Atlanta Braves someday (yes, we know that is highly unlikely). He spends hours on nice days out in the yard “drilling” on his own and practicing. So we make it a priority to make little league work in the spring. My point is, your child’s passion should also help drive the decision. If they love it, and continue to love it, and it’s important to them and not detrimental to your family, I think we owe it to our children to try to let them do what they love. Not saying it’s always possible, though.

    1. My girls are in gymnastics for the first time right now–through our rec. department…and they love it! It sounds like you have chosen your activities with a lot of forethought. I think homeschooling families definitely have a “case” for more activities since they are already together as a family more than other families.

  5. We were just talking over this very thing yesterday! My first grader is already in 3 after school activities (that each meet once weekly) and we have been discussing adding 2 church based activities in the fall plus piano lessons. We knew that would be too much for her! So we started talking about what to cut out to preserve her freetime and my sanity! The criteria we used were 1) what are our values as a family (faith, social relationships, fun) and 2) what interests do we see her pursuing on her own (she draws for fun, but only dances in class. Art class can stay, dance class is gone).
    I wholeheartedly agree, we need to be intentional about these things!

  6. My kids are in private school also Bambi, and I also don’t have them in any activities for now (new baby). Well, my daughter does an inexpensive church ballet class once a week during the school year. I am considering what to sign them up for in the summer. Baseball, we have signed up for my older son and I may do the two oldest in swimming as they need to learn. We have a lake we swim at often, but it is so shallow they don’t really swim. Maybe a weeklong church day camp also. I had them in no activities last summer, except my son in baseball last year, and they could have been in something during the day a few times a week. They could have used that. I don’t want to overcommit as I wasn’t in anything except church twice a week as a kid and enjoyed just playing and reading every day. I’d like them to maybe do Awana in future as I liked the Bible memory and games. But beyond that I don’t want daily extracurricular activities.

  7. This is a thoughtful post and I know some families struggle with this and knowing when to add more and when to stop. We require our kids to play sports or just do something and we don’t dictate what that has to be. My 9 yo son plays basketball, which Dad coaches, in the winter and summer, and soccer in the spring and fall. My 12 yo daughter takes dance 2 nights a week and plays volleyball in the spring and fall. These are all rec leagues except for dance which is still just for fun, albeit expensive. With that said, we live in the burbs and without structured activity, they end up sitting around a lot, especially in the cooler months. So I choose to put more emphasis on raising well-rounded children and ensure their physical, spiritual and mental needs being met. Regular exercise is required for balance…I get imbalanced regularly. 🙂 Plus, here in North Dallas, if they want to play or be involved in anything in high school, they almost have to have a lifetime of practice. eek!

  8. My kids don’t participate in extra curricular activities because of the cost. There’s no room in our budget for these activities. In a way, I’m glad I can’t afford them; it seems like several of my friends who have their kids in extra classes are over extended, either with their time or money.

  9. Great post! 🙂 The season of life we are in right now doesn’t go very well with lots of other outside activities(we have 5 kids under the age of 6.) Other than church, we do our home school group(classical conversations) and for right now that’s plenty.:) I do sometimes feel guilty that we don’t do more, but I like your point about letting our kids have a childhood.

    1. I know the guilt, too, but I have released it (when it comes to extracurriculars–mommy guilt is so rampant today, isn’t it?!). I have heard wonderful things about CC!

  10. This is an area we’ve been blessed in, tremendously. We’re homeschooling our kindergartener, and there is a strong homeschool community where we live. One mom teaches 2 ballet classes (older girls, younger girls) and only charges $40 a semester! The semester fee only exists so she can rent studio space. The recital will be in a nursing home. They dance to Christian music and pray at practice. Another mom teaches a monthly painting class and charges a $5 supply fee. She teaches that we give glory to God for our talents. I’m so thankful that we’re able to be involved with both ballet and paint class. I’m not sure if she’d be involved with anything right now if we weren’t homeschooling, because of time and budget.

  11. This is a really good topic. Thank you for writing on it. I think, as a Christian, we should be setting our minds on heavenly things rather than earthly (Colossians 3:2). So many Christians have a desire to conform to the world by focusing on extra-curricular activities for their children. I think we want to train our children to be servants of Christ, rather than servants of themselves and constantly seeking meaningless interests just for a bit of fun. Many families participate in hospital ministry, singing ministry, volunteering and evangelism. I agree with your post, if the priority is God than even extra-curricular activities should reflect that. It will truly show the world where our joy lies.

    1. I love the idea of making SERVING together an “extracurricular”! I wonder what a difference we would make if we poured our “extracurricular” money into giving to others?!

  12. Hey, Is this Erin who used to work in the GWU Writing Center? I can’t remember your ast name, but the picture looks like you. Loved your blog! Hope to hear from you sometime.

  13. Excellent topic. I am a former piano teacher and I used to be so sad for kids who would come into my studio for a lesson and then be heading to gymnastics, ballet, and soccer after. I wondered when they had the time to be kids. Now with my own children I have to be very careful. My oldest does piano but I hardly consider that extra curricular (music is a foundational subject for us). However, his dad teaches him and I practice with him (parents each have masters in piano!), so it’s a no cost thing and we fit it in easily in our day. We are thinking about other activities but haven’t started anything yet. We also have one daughter that might possibly need to do an extracurricular to hopefully replace therapy and we will have to spend the money and time knowing that it is in her best interest.

    I’m a firm believer, though, that we shouldn’t be overly busy or over-extended so we will have to take each thing as it comes…

    1. That is so neat that you and her dad can teach her piano together! My husband and I both speak Spanish (he’s a Spanish teacher), so we hope to teach our girls the language!

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