Monday, October 18, 2010

Finding your child's Niche

As mothers we hear it all concerning our kids ...

"Put them in every activity you can.  They need to experience it ALL."

"No, don't!  They will get stressed and develop anxiety disorders."

"All kids must do sports to stay in shape."

"All kids must do music or dance to explore their artistic side and be well-rounded."

Ahhhhh!!!!!  I just want to cover my ears and scream sometimes when I think of all the things I "must" do in order to be a "good parent."  I certainly don't want my kids scarred for life either way - because of doing too many extracurricular activities or because of doing too few.  So where is that happy medium?  How do we make sure our children are well-rounded but not overwhelmed?  More importantly, how do we find their niche - that one activity that our child will excel at and love through life?

There's no easy answer to that, but I think it takes lots of discernment about your child as well as trial and error.  For our family this is still a work in progress, but here are a few rules we go by.

When Julie was very young, Tim and I talked about what we liked about our childhood.  For both of us, we had activities we loved - piano and band for me, and Boy Scouts for Tim.  But as much as we loved doing those things, our fondest childhood memories came from just being allowed to be a kid and run around outside and play.  I remember playing very elaborate pretend stories with my sister and our barbies or Cabbage Patch kids.  I also remember all the neighborhood kids getting together after school and riding our bikes around together.  Tim's best memories include playing baseball outside with his brother and cousin.

In light of that we decided that that was the kind of childhood we wanted for our kids - a few well-loved activities and lots and lots of time for playing.  In order to achieve that, we have limited how many activities our kids are allowed to participate in at a time.  From birth to age 4, they could only do 1 activity at a time (not counting church or preschool).  Julie did dance and when that was done, she tried out Upward Cheerleading.  When Cheerleading ended, she tried out soccer.  David took gymnastics for several years.  When he decided to quit that, he tried out soccer, then T-ball.  During that time, they got to try out several things, but always only one at a time.

At age 5, they have both gone into Kindergarten.  In my opinion, Kindergarten is the hardest year so far.  They go to school all day every day from 8:10 - 3:10.  That's a long time to listen, be still and be good.  Too many evening activities just make them tired and cranky for school the next day.  We didn't realize this when Julie was in Kindergarten and we still allowed her to be in one activity - dance.  That was a mistake.  She was way too tired and didn't handle the nighttime classes well.  So, with David we decided no activities this year. When he goes into first grade next year, we'll re-evaluate that.

Last year, when Julie was 6 and in first grade, we relaxed a little and allowed her to be in 2 activities - dance and piano.  My main reason for doing that was that piano was immediately after school and didn't take up another evening in our week.  Dance was not her favorite and we didn't re-sign up for that this year.  However, piano is her new passion.  She loves it, rarely ever complains about practicing and is doing very well for her level.  Obviously, this year she is once again taking piano.  We are letting her add Girl Scouts (Brownies) starting this week.  Her Brownie troop only meets once every 2 weeks and all the extra activities are at our discretion, meaning we don't have to participate in them if we don't want to.

I feel like we have found Julie's niche.  She loves piano.  It fits well into our schedule.  It's on the expensive side, since it is a private lesson every week; however, when that's the main extracurricular activity she has, we can afford to spend a little more on it (Brownies is costing us $42 for the whole school year, or $4.20 a month - pretty much negligible).

We are still working on finding David's niche.  We've tried several sports.  He enjoyed T-ball but that is such a short season; it would be nice to find something else for him.  He wants to try out karate, but it is very expensive and very time-consuming so I haven't OK'd that one yet (for next year, of course :)).  Do I think we will eventually find his niche, his passion?  Yes, I do.  It may take a few more years and a few more activities to try out, but I think we will find it.

What about you?  What do your kids love?  What's your view on limiting or not limiting extra curricular activities?

Note on quitting an activity:  Our rules:  If I have paid for the activity for a certain amount of time, such as the length of the T-ball season, our rule is our kids have to finish that season out.  Likewise, if I have paid for a uniform or recital costume, our kids have to finish the season or semester out.  However at the end of our obligation, if they are not enjoying themselves, they are allowed to quit.  But I will only allow them to try something twice.  The second time they quit, it's over - no more of that activity.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't figured it out yet either. Of oucrse, it's more complicated at our house cause Kaylie goes to band practice and football games with me too, so she sort of participates in high school band now. I'm already beginning to think we are doing too much with piano, ballet, church choir, and awanas. Something may have to go.

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