Choosing Extracurricular Activities

photo by Piano Central Studios Gallery courtesy of

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.





  1. says

    I’ve thought about this a lot as well. I want to give my kids the best opportunity to find joy and fulfillment in life, which I think they can find in extracurricular activities. But I think it also needs to be balanced with play. I had a major lightbulb moment when I asked my daughter if she wanted to take dance (I was/am a dancer and her friends had been taking dance classes for 2 or 3 years already) and response was, “I just don’t think I have time. I need to feed my bobble pets and build my fort and stuff.”

    • emiallen says

      I love that your daughter takes her playtime responsibilites so seriously! I always figured that if they are talented enough and interested enough, it doesn’t really matter when a child starts an activity. They will catch up to their peers if they love it.

  2. Sara Hix says

    I love it. I’ve always strived for a balance in this. Setting limits on me and my kids has helped. One activity per kid at a time. I’m also loving taking advantage of my kids ages 9, 7, 7, 4 and forcing them to all do the same activity. We started the year with 3 kids playing basektball, then all 4 did swim team, and I just signed all 4 up for baseball/t-ball/softball for this summer. I love the commonality we can share all doing the same acitivity. I know I won’t be able to keep this up, but for now I’m enjoying it. I use to stress about over scheduling my kids in too many activities which is why I put the limit of one activity at a time, but I also realized this is a time when they can do a lot of different things. It seems when they get older and the pressure is stronger is when they really have to choose, so it’s fun that now they don’t have to. They can be an All-Star in it All!

  3. jenni richardson says

    Nice article Allyson as always! With 5 children, we try to keep things simple so that they have time to just be kids, and I don’t get frazled running them around everywhere. We also like to expose our kids to a variey of concerts, sports games, plays etc. Sometimes it peaks their interest in doing what they’re watching, but if not, it helps them be cultured and able to appreciate a variety of activities even if they don’t actively do them.

  4. michelle says

    I have been tossing and turning with this one for years. Alot of mothers get their kids into things at the age of 3, which i personally don’t think is necessary. however, by the time they were 4 they were doing swimming lessons. that started off well. then when my son turned 5 he went kicking and screaming into the car refusing to go. when i did get him there he would refuse to get in the water. everyone naturally thought this was weird as in Australia it’s pretty much mandatory for your kids to have swimming lessons from day dot whether it be rain, hail or shine. i decided to pull him out much to the teacher’s dismay, but i figured he’d go when he was ready. We also had him in Auskick (Australian Rules Football). My husband loved it, he would help out, it was relatively cheap. Then he showed little or no interest in that after 4 weeks, and refused to go. We were at a loss. We have since had him in the After School sports they have after school. He loves it and refuses to do anything else. It gives you a taste of each sport, so he is doing basketball, cricket, football, hockey, soccer. He has shown an interest in Hockey believe it or not.
    I have warned him that once he commits he must stick to it and not play up a month in. It is so hard though to find a sport they like or are good at.
    I hope my other 2 boys aren’t this difficult. Needless to say my daughter is still doing swimming and loves it.

  5. emiallen says

    I recently had a friend call and ask me to carpool to a class offered at our neighborhood clubhouse. When I told her I hadn’t signed my kids up, her astonished reply was, “But it’s just at the clubhouse!” We follow the one activity at a time rule. When one activity comes to a natural pause, they can choose to continue or move on.

    I am considering adding piano, though. I regret not continuing piano lessons (I switched to voice, which was great), but the basis it gave me serves me well to this day. I think it opens up opportunities in all other musical areas. The commitment, though. I don’t know if I have it in me (still. I quit when I was young, remember!)

  6. says

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this web site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read through more,
    thanks for the advice!

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