One of the things that causes me the most angst as a mother is knowing which direction to steer my children when it comes to extracurricular activities. Of course academic success is always at the top of my list, but what mother doesn’t wonder if their child’s ultimate happiness and success will be found in an extracurricular activity such as a sport or something in the arts if they are introduced to it in the right way at the right time?
Even within the broad categories of “sports” and “the arts” there are so many different directions to take. Should you go the safe, traditional route and encourage your child to play the piano, or give them a greater chance to succeed by persuading them to play a less popular instrument like the flugel horn? The same goes for sports, dance or art: basketball or curling, ballet or swing, oil paint or glass blowing? Heck, maybe your child could be the next professional shark fisherman or a world renowned bonsai instructor if you just steer them in the right direction. Who knows?
But there are even more questions. Should you wait for your child to show interest in a particular activity, or choose it for them? How young is too young to start? How do you tell the difference between a passing interest and something worth pursuing? How much time and money do you want to spend figuring it all out? And how many things do you want your child to be involved in at one time, especially if they show more talent and interest in one area than another?
How do you decide?
Of course there’s no right answer, but when I was discussing these very questions with a friend several years ago, the only sane solution came suddenly to my mind: pass on your own talents and interests. If they want to branch out after that, support them all the way.
Most mothers I know believe things happen for a reason. It’s pretty hard not to after the experience of welcoming another human being into your life through the process of creation and birth. And while most mothers are quick to observe all the things their individual children have taught them, they don’t always acknowledge that they most likely have very specific things to offer each of their children as well.
Consequently, I like to think one of the reasons my children were sent to boring old piano playing me was so they could learn to play the piano. That’s not to say our children won’t have interests different from us–of course they will–but if you’re looking for a starting point, I vote for starting right where you are. That’s why my children are learning to play the piano, cook, appreciate nature, and speak Japanese. That’s what we do around here.
But don’t get too comfortable with the idea of creating little clones. Just a few months ago, I finally came to grips with the reality that our children were never going to be “sporty.” For a long time I liked the idea of my kids being “sporty,” but since my husband and I aren’t really into sports (as in, we don’t even watch them–I know, shocking) I shouldn’t have been too surprised when our children didn’t show much interest either.
However, not more than a week after I decided to stop flogging myself for failing to produce little athletes, my son came to me and said he wanted to join a soccer team. (This was after asking him approximately fifty seven times if he wanted to join, receiving the constant answer of “no,” and throwing the sign-up sheet away.) And what do you know? He’s having the time of his life, and doing pretty well for a fourth grader whose never really played before.
Do I think he’s going to become a professional soccer player? Heavens, no. But I’m happy that he’s trying something out of his and my comfort zone. I think it’s a step in the right direction for figuring out his real talents and interests. I like thinking that my children are hard wired to be who they will be, even if (maybe especially if) it’s something very different from me. All I can do is hope to provide an environment in which that can happen.
In the meantime, I’ll be making my kids practice the piano.
QUESTION: How do you decide which extracurricular activities to do?
CHALLENGE: Cut back where needed so your child can really shine in his/her chosen activity.