Cons of Extracurricular Activities

by Marcie
kids sitting at an extracurricular activity

In this quick article I want to talk about the cons of extracurricular activities. It is by no means to put down extracurricular activities. We do extracurriculars, we’ve had great experience with them, and they definitely have a place in a child’s schedule. I just want to list the cons for those who either feel bad they can’t afford them, are burned out by them and want a good reason to cut back, and for those who push them on their children when the children don’t even want them. Maybe something in this article will help you make a good decision about extracurricular activities for you and your family.

Here are the cons of extracurricular activities:

  • Cost money.
  • Time consuming (takes an hour to get ready/load up/drive there, then the hour of class, then 20 minutes home.)
  • Demanding schedule. Some are several days a week, leaving the child little free time to be a kid.
  • Disrupts the whole family’s schedule. Siblings have to come along too, maybe miss a nap, don’t get to be doing what they want to do, are often on electronics while the sibling does this activity.
  • No autonomy or voice. The kids don’t have much say in what they’re doing at the class–the position they play, the warmups they want to do, what kind of strokes they want to swim, etc. They are told what to do every minute with no time to be creative and explore on their own or choose what to do.
  • There is a lot of wasted time waiting for other kids to have their turn–practicing free throws, learning a cartwheel on the balance beam.
  • There is a lot of wasted time with the coach preaching to the team, disciplining, instructing when most of what is said is boring for the kids. They just want to explore the sport on their own and not even be told what to do.
  • Loss of interest even if they have a talent for it. Since kids are instructed what to do all the time, they lose interest in the activity. There isn’t the freedom to explore, figure it out, and try it out by themselves.
  • Loss of attention and focus.

I could go in depth discussing each of these cons, but I’ll just mention a few of them

Time consuming

A lot of these cons fall under the fact that extracurriculars are time consuming and inefficient. They take a chunk out of your day. Think about it, if you stayed home, how many hours would you gain back in your day? The siblings involved would get more of their day back too. It takes a lot of time to wind down your other activity. You have to keep watching the clock instead of working freely for as long as you wanted. You have to pack diapers, toys, books, snacks for the other kids. Find shoes and sweatshirts for everyone, load everyone in the car. There’s the commute time. Activity time. Commute time home. Put books and toys away, get everyone settled. For me, when we get home everyone is cranky and I wish I’d never gone. I just spent 3+ hours on this activity. Was it worth it?

At the class there is a lot of wasted time waiting in lines, listening (or not listening) to the coach/teacher, waiting for supplies to be passed out, chit chatting, etc. Private lessons are probably the most efficient, especially if the teacher comes to your house so you can do the dishes right up until the moment she rings the bell.

If children are homeschooled and have the day home with free time to play, then activities outside of the home can be a great asset to them. But for the kids in public school all day, too many extra activities leave them little time to play and be a kid.

No Autonomy or Freedom

Adults have increasingly been excited to become a leader with children’s extracurricular activities. They want to look smart, keep the class in control, and call all the shots. They want to be an authority and boss their little team around, win some games, and look great amongst the parents. This is how I would feel if I were a children’s coach and parents were sitting there watching.

Children don’t need to be directed as much as we think they do. Their whole first year they learn to roll over, grasp toys, sit up, crawl, and walk without classes and a teacher. They figure it out with just a little bit of coaxing, help and cheers from us. From there they pick up balls and throw them, try to turn somersaults and more. I say unless they love a particular sport so much that they would thrive in organized sports, keep them home and let them learn it on their own. Children love to figure things out! There is so much growth in teaching yourself something. Pointers and encouragement are awesome as they learn, so keep that up. Then let them learn at their pace. A child’s work is play and giving them the time and freedom to do that is the best gift.

Loss of Interest

Even if they had a tremendous talent for the activity, a lot of times having lessons makes them want to quit the activity altogether. My sister-in-law is super good at the piano. She took a natural liking to it and taught herself to play. Her parents wanted to support that and put her in lessons. She hated them. She hated being told how to play and what to play. All the fun of playing the piano was gone. She hated being pushed to practice. She hated having to practice when she wasn’t in the mood. Soon she hated the piano altogether and never wanted to play it again. Luckily her parents let her quit instead of pushing her into it since she had such a great talent. When everyone left her alone she gravitated back to the piano, playing what she wanted when she wanted.

When our children have innate gifts and interests they can’t be kept from exploring them and practicing them. Let them tinker on the piano or shoot hoops at the park without putting them in a class. Children are capable of teaching themselves and when they’re ready for more, they will come ask for it.

Loss of Attention and Focus

Attention spans are going way down because kids are talked at all day–in school, sports, classes, etc. When children are away from adults and playing what they want: a pick up game of kickball, forming a club, building a doghouse, playing tag, etc they have no problems paying attention. Children need 4-5 hours of unstructured play a day to engage in these activities and become absorbed. We herd them from subject to subject during the school day and then from activity to activity after school, then dinner, homework, bath and bedtime. No wonder they have attention problems. Where is their free time to become absorbed in a project, game or activity like playing house or putting on a puppet show? In this online article it says, “Funny how ADHD has skyrocketed just as playing has plummeted.”

Summary of the Cons of Extracurricular Activities

All of these three points go together. Children need more free time to play what they want and when they do, they have better attention spans not to mention a plethora of other benefits. (There are many books and podcasts about the need for children to play. One of my favorites is Free to Learn by Peter Gray.) Children need to be off playing away from adults if possible and have the freedom to play for hours

If your child is begging for lessons, is thinking of pursuing it for college or career, or it’s where his heart is, by all means, pursue it! I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about putting your kids in classes just to have something to do. Because it’s expected of you by in-laws or neighbors. Because your child has a mild interest. If that is the case, think about the cons first and try DIY extracurriculars at home before signing your child up. Remember, your kids will learn all they need to for their career and who they’re supposed to become. You’re not going to ruin them by keeping them out of activities. They will still achieve their potential, I promise. Check out this post about it.

When you do pursue extracurricular activities, check out this post about how to make them work for you.

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