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Pushing toward activities with the littles: Yea or Nay?

We seem to have entered a period of hibernation. Last year at this time, we were excitedly participating in wrestling three days a week plus weekends, and Lego club, and I was biking the boys three (plus) miles away to school, and I barely had time to breathe. I spent most of my winter feeling that I should have gotten up earlier or stayed up later. I rushed everywhere.

This year Truman is at a much closer school, and not in any after-school clubs. I've been trying to get Everett re-enrolled in school after several months of a homeschooling respite, but... ok, a story for another day. Let's just sum up: no Lego club. And after a very busy fall of coaching for me, I asked the boys if they wanted to do wrestling club again this year. "Ummm... I'm tired," said Everett. You mean, every day you're tired? "At wrestling. I just think I'd be tired." Truman? "Well... maybe... I think 'no.'"

They are still getting over very bad colds (so am I, a punishing week-long feverish exhaustion whopper, so I'm giving myself until next week to make any decisions). And they're young enough -- six and nine -- that their future athletic careers can still be saved. There are plenty of Legos at home, along with running around the block and up the hill and jumping/climbing/showing off their amazing ninja moves. Activity level is not the problem. My feeling that I should, if I were a good parent, have my kids in at least one or two activities each, is the problem.

How do you feel about pushing your kids into activities (sports, art, music, science, whatever) that you think will benefit them -- but they're "too tired" or otherwise unmotivated to do? Do you have to insist on activities, or do they beg to do them? In your opinion, is hibernating, for either one long winter's nap or a few years, OK?


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This fall was the first time we had both kids in an activity over more than a week or two at a time. Soccer was five times a week--two practices for one kid, one for another, and then a game for each. The really tricky part was that the games often overlapped but were at two parks across town from each other, and we only have one car. It was tough. Really great for my kids, but I don't know how people can keep up with so many activities. We are a two-parent household, and one of us works only part-time, so I really don't know how two working parents or single parents do it at all.

My kids do have friends at school and in our neighborhood, so they tend to have a lot of activity even when it's not planned too far in advance. And thank goodness for that.

More than a couple of activities ruins family time and "dinner around the table" time. I don't like my kids eating in the backseat. Many sports are two evenings a week and a weekend day. We are more the music lesson once a week type family.

So far my experience in parenting an almost-two-year-old is that it's all about letting go of my agenda for her, except when her health/safety/other vital need is concerned. Trusting her is *hard* for me. I tend towards impatience. I think as she gets older I'll find that I'm continually letting go of my great ideas for her in favor of what she says she needs. This approach feels like the least exhausting, most connective and least stress option for me as a parent. She's smarter about herself than I am.

with 2 in kindergarten, we have a 1 activity per kid at a time limit. they get to choose the activity, and i like that the 1-at-a-time rule lets them practice making big choices. thankfully, so far each activity only happens once each week. even at that rate, with 2 working parents we are at our absolute limit for coordinating and transporting. as much as they want to do their activities, i can't imagine scheduling them for more than they do now. with aftercare, they're already "working" from 8:00 until 4:30 monday through friday. it's a lot more structured time than i'd like for them, but it is what it is. they enjoy what they do.

like stephenson mom above, the family dinner around the table is non-negotiable for me at this point. i'm sure i'll have to be more flexible as they get bigger, though! they're constantly teaching me about flexibility. :)

My son does Fall and Spring soccer because he likes it and his team, but also because although there are two practices a week, they happen in the park at the end of our street and he walks there on his own. My 2 y.o. and I go to the park after she's eaten and we play until he's done and then we all go home together. Games are on Saturdays so my husband and I alternate going. It's been very manageable.

Awhile back my son did baseball and decided he didn't like it and I was so happy because it had two games a week - one every Thursday night that was consistently across town and the logistics of getting him there with two working parents were awful. We chose as a family not to do any activities in the Winter season so we all get a break. I think with just the one sport we seem to be at maximum for now.

My kids do two activities each - they all do weekly swimming lessons at my insistence, and they've all chosen to do gymnastics. I've offered soccer, basketball, dance, instruments, but they all have chosen gymnastics. Works well for me. I am sure as the years go by, we'll be going from here to there and back again, but I'm OK with that. I was one of those kids who always wanted to take lessons - dance, gymnastics, etc - and my mom wasn't into it (we were on a budget, and she was a single full time working mom).So, I figure I'll give to my kids what I didn't have.

I like having the activities because it gets them exercise, tired out, and gets them working on new skills, gaining confidence, etc. I think if you've got all your bases covered though, there is no need to force a child to do an activity. They'll just resent you for it.

Like stephenson mom, we are the "music lessons once a week" type of family. I'm not sure what I'd do if either of my boys begged to play soccer; I'm relieved that they have no interest in team sports, as I see the way it affects other families. (I understand that the dedication to a sports activity can make giving up family dinners and kids' downtime worthwhile, but our family would find it difficult to adopt that lifestyle.) I don't generally try to get my kids to do any activitie, (and have never associated this with my worth as a parent). If they express an interest (as they did in music) we'll go with it, but otherwise we feel that a full day of school is a pretty big activity in itself.

The only planned *activity* my boys (8 & 11) seem to want to do these days is play sedentary Pokemon. Neither has ever been what I would call enthusiastic about sports in general, though they did both play organized soccer a few times. They just never really got into it, or seemed passionate about it! I always thought that they should participate in some active, team sport though. Maybe next year?
Luckily their school has a crossfit instructor once a week, and then either kung fu or hip hop once a week too, so they are at least moving around, somewhat, in a group.

My husband and I have different perspectives on this. He advocates for one activity outside school to build the "scholar-athlete" well rounded persona, although the extra activity doesn't necessarily need to be athletic. I tend to think that if going to school is enough for them, that is okay with me. So far we have found balance and it hasn't been an issue but this winter will be the first time neither boy has expressed interest in something outside of school. They're getting swimming lessons despite a little protest, but we didn't get to them over the summer and learning to swim is nonnegotiable to me so winter lessons it is.

I think these younger ages are a great chance to try new activities while everyone is still learning and the skill factor isn't a barrier. I am unwilling to do more than one activity per week because it's too much, but I can live with the idea of pushing an activity now and then just to get exposure. I would wonder for you, Sarah, if Everett isn't in school then maybe he might need a little extra push to be sure he's getting some kind of social activity? Even if it's a homeschool "class" of some kind instead of an activity, maybe? I think for me that is part of my boundary that going to school itself is a lot when you are 5 so I'm less likely to push an activity during the school year than I am during the summer. But if I was homeschooling, I would probably insist on something just to get out with other same-aged kids.

My nephew is 6 years old and in first grade this year. This fall is the first time he has been in organized activities or lessons - my sister enrolled him in soccer and in piano lessons. So that's three nights a week and one Saturday game. In retrospect, my sister thinks that is too much all at once, and they should have started with one or the other. She's asked my nephew what he would prefer to do - it looks like he will continue with the piano lessons, but not do a sport over the winter. And then they'll see what makes sense in the spring.

We limit it to two activities per child. Music is required and they get to choose one other per season. If they claim to be tired I offer them an earlier bed time and usually they perk right up. Once they choose something they must see it through since I believe living up to commitments is an important life lesson.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this topic. My 9 year old does not choose to do physical activity and I worry that he is completely unconditioned and is not gaining the physical capabilities a child should have. We tried soccer for several years and it was excruciating. Then we basically gave up. He said he's interested in basketball, but never picks up the ball. I do feel like I'm failing somehow in connecting him up with physical activity. My husband and I are fairly active and like many sports. I keep thinking that we just haven't found his "sport" yet. If time and money were not an issue, I might be inclined to push him more. But being tired all the time is a good reason to let it go. Maybe in the spring? :)

My 6 year old loves to dance and run around, but refuses dance or gymnastics, much to my dismay, as I think she would be great at it. I don't push it, but I continue to offer it when I see her dancing around, and she always says, "maybe later." The one round of tap dancing we did was a nightmare and she would not leave my lap during the whole class. That was 2 years ago, but I'm still recovering from that tragedy! She does do Daisy Scouts, which is one evening a week, but I think that is enough for evenings, since she is in YMCA aftercare until 6 each night. Sometimes we do playdates from 6-8! Makes for a long day! And one hour of religious school on the weekend nicely rounds things off.

For all the parents concerned about their kids getting enough physical activity without organized activities: I don't see how that can be the case. Young kids are always moving. My kids play outside with their friends, running, biking, swinging, climbing (both at school and in our neighborhood). They play inside with each other, hide and seek, races, tumbling, sledding down the stairs. Granted they sometimes sit down inside and draw or build with blocks, but this is often followed by another physical activity. Is this so unusual that so many children need their parents to organize activities so that they can get enough physical activity? Its really too bad as kids can be endlessly creative with activities (many involving exercise), if left to their own devices. My kids are not in any organized activities, although if they request something specific, I might consider it . I do not feel guilty at all about it. I am happy to see them playing freely with their friends, each other or on their own. It is such a beautiful aspect of childhood and I want them to do it as much as possible while they can.

I know this isn't the real topic under discussion here, but maybe a physical activity that isn't a sport. Try going together to the bouldering gym down in Johns Landing. Or capoeira. Something unusual enough that he has no sense of measuring up to his peers might be a success. Just my two cents.

We require swimming, enough to be safe. They don't have to be on a swim team or anything, just enough to be safe and comfortable in the water. Other than that, they can choose one activity. One is in dance and the other chose music, so that's where we are.

Im not sure where you live Genevieve but where I live most kids are enrolled in activities which means they aren't available to play like you describe. One reason my son took up various sports was that the other boys were often at practice and games and so not around, once he joined sports he had the opportunity to play with peers and build good relationships that translated to time off the field/court.

Genevieve, my kids are like yours. We live in close-in SE and my kids (and others in the neighborhood) are outside almost every day it's not raining, biking, running and skateboarding around the block, climbing trees, chasing each other, and during wet weather, wrestling around indoors. Getting enough exercise does not seem to be a problem.

My 2.5 year old DS does music class and either swim or dance class. He also goes to nursery school three days a week, extended day. The other days we are always out and about--bookstores, toy stores, parks, libraries, museums, etc. It's always a balance between too much structure and not enough activity--he is one VERY active boy, and gets bored with too much time at home. Sometimes we go and run around the high school track, or jog up and down the bleacher stairs--that definitely provides a nice afternoon nap!

Yeah, anon, why should mamas be interested in the experiences/opinions/successes/failures of those outside of their insular live. Especially those with whom they might share a community or school or city? It's not about "right" or "wrong" it's about taking the time to listen to others and consider the choices you make as a way to increase understanding/tolerance in an increasingly fragmented and diverse world where mamas can be isolated or not have an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about issues.

my dear anon: respectfully, I do care what others think and do -- it's about conversation, not about finding the perfect way to be a mother. hearing other people's stories about parenthood broadens my own experience and, I hope, broadens theirs in the telling.

I think sometimes we tend to get stuck in a box when it comes to activities, when there is so much more than just soccer, scouts, and dance. What about theatre, children's choir, Audubon Society, fencing, art centers, cross-country running or skiing, Saturday language schools, or even volunteering together? 

These activities bring together social & life skills, a sense of belonging and commitment, among so many more things. I hope to encourage my kids to explore interests and enjoy (or suffer!) along side them. I credit my own parents sense of unity and commitment towards my brother's and my interests along the years. My parents each had their own interests as well, my mom being a quilter and my dad a musician. I have many memories of seemingly endless afternoons spent in fabric stores and weekends at bluegrass festivals! (My brother was surprised to learn recently he knew most of the lyrics to the musical, Annie, having attended a summer's worth of rehearsals when I was in the cast. Learning thru osmosis indeed!)

The point is, we did them together as a family unit, each attending at some level, the other's interests as well. I value those experiences from my childhood and can hardly wait to begin creating new ones with my own children. 

By all means, take a season off from the hubbub of structured activities; I'm sure you will all find the break restorative. However, be encouraged to explore new ones with your boys come spring. Surely there are passions to be discovered!

Wanted to add to my above comment, I am still in the baby/toddler stages of parenting so my "structured" activities so far have consisted of music, swimming, and swap-n-play. No where near the level of commitment or structure as older child activities. My above comments were more a reflection of my own childhood experiences. Both my parents worked and yet I see even now they managed to make parenting around activities and family dinner look easier than it really is.

I also wanted to add that structured activities outside the home can lead to teenage job opportunities, not just competition. What started as grade school age swimming and biking to friends houses later turned into teenage summer jobs; lifeguarding for myself and bicycle mechanic for my brother. Those jobs gave us a starting resume and spending money, not to mention money towards college. I wasn't the fastest swimmer on my high school team but that activity (and my parent's encouragement) allowed me the confidence and skill to acquire a summer job during the same time period.

This is something that I think about a lot, particularly as my boys get older--more interested in sports, in school longer days, and tied up in activities that spill over into our dinner hour... When they were little I thought little about morning music classes or things that we could do once a week during the hours that my husband was working or they were not in preschool. We have a first grader now who is in school until 3:10 each afternoon, and who wanted to play soccer this year. Luckily, it was only one night of practice each week and a game on Saturdays (which I love attending, especially here in AZ when the weather is beautiful). But even that one night a week got hectic with soccer practice added to our schedule. If I planned well, I'd do a crockpot that day so that I could give the boys a hearty snack before practice and then we could all still enjoy a family dinner right after. But on the days that I didn't plan for it, we were grabbing pizza on the way home, or whipping up mac and cheese and I never felt good about it.

I'm going to have 3 boys, who are mostly likely going to want to participate in extra curricular athletics. Family dinners are important to us. I'm not sure how we'll find the balance yet, so this discussion is interesting and pertinent to me.

jena m., you said so well what was also my experience with activities as a kid. i don't know whether i would push my kids if they didn't want to do anything outside of school - so far they're always eager. but i got so much out of that stuff! especially as schools reduce the PE, music and art opportunities they offer, i feel like outside activities (that don't make our schedules too insane) are super important.

In our family, swimming lessons are not negotiable, because they are a safety and life skill. Otherwise it's hard to strike a balance. I look for the line between what the kids enjoy and what of our personal and family time we give up to make that happen. So far, after-school times have worked well and evenings haven't.

@kelly, I totally get the idea of swapping stories with other mamas for support-sake,or whatever. I guess for ME, it means more to me when im talking to my close friends, my "peeps", and not so much complete random strangers who I don't know,or don't even know that we truly have anything in common(besides kids,which necessarily always make us in the same community).

Oops,that's to say "it doesn't alway mean we're in the same community "

One of the reasons I read this site is to learn about the ideas and experiences of those outside of my circle. At a certain point that becomes an echo chamber where we may not really be challanged and where we don't get the perspectives of those who may be outside of our racial/ethnic/class/sexual orientation comfort zone. Dialogue can lead us to question assumptions and helps create understanding which I find really important as a person and as a mother.

I think we should set them free. They can choose activity of their interest. We shouldn't impose such things on kids.

I have 4 children under the age of 10. I work full time. My 10 year old is in Wrestling, and was in Football, Soccer and Chess. My 9 & 7 year old were in Soccer and Chess.BUT they have excellent grades, Soccer is 2 hours on Saturday mornings for 6 times. Football was during the week. Chess is on Tuesdays for 1 hour right after school. I still have sit-down suppers with my family after work and before sports (homework is done RIGHT after school). My 2 1/2 year old is in Gymnastics. They all love their activities and it has not been a burden, but we live right by school and the other fields too.

Oh, I forgot to mention the kids do piano lessons as well, but their grandmother was a piano teacher, so that comes in to play too. It's all what is convenient for your family and also what a child is passionate for. When they are young, they can try different activities/sports and see what interests them so as they get older, they can choose say 1 sport, which will eventually be more of a time commitment with practices during the week and weekend tournaments/games. I say they are only kids once, let them try what they want. And also, it takes a village to raise a child so let other parents help out with rideshare if necessary!

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