How to Make Extracurricular Activities Work For You

by Marcie
kids doing bridges in gymnastics class

I’ve been writing a lot of posts about the cons of extracurricular activities, staying home more, and how to do extracurricular activities at home. This is a post for how to make extracurricular activities work for you. We’ve lived in 4 different states and each place I formed different rules and routines for our activities.

In Texas our first 4 babies were born so activities were just storytime and park days/playgroup. We only had one car and I was content to stay home or walk to the park. In North Carolina we had 5 more babies and began formally homeschooling. We all seemed to thrive with playing and learning at home. Going out seemed a waste of time so I limited it to once a week. In Utah I had all 10 kids at home, but now had high schoolers. There were activities and friends on every side of us so someone was going somewhere almost every day. I didn’t like it but I knew it was temporary and we’d one day move to the country. So I tried to let the kids embrace the city life as much as they could and take advantage of what it had to offer. Here in the country we just do the community theater where all the kids can do it together.

Tips for how to make extracurricular activities work for you

  • If they’re lessons, ask to do them every other week.
  • See if the teacher will come to your house (beg if necessary.)
  • Make them all on the same day. Just one day a week will be “wasted” with activities and errands.
  • Protect a couple days a week where activities are off limits for sure.
  • Choose activities where multiple ages or the whole family if possible can do it together.

Every other week

For music lessons, I’ve found they are more efficient having them every other week. Unless your child practices every day, wants to get proficient as soon as possible and is passionate about this instrument. Then by all means, keeping having them weekly.

Better prepared for the lesson

Here’s my logic behind every other week. Music lessons are usually once a week for 30 minutes. By the time you arrive a couple minutes late, talk about what you did over the weekend, etc, you are down to about a 22 minute lesson. We tried weekly lessons for a very short time and I found that the kids were only practicing 3-4 times before the next lesson. So at the lesson the teacher was giving tips about the song, but then reassigning it because it wasn’t practiced enough. So I felt like we wasted time and money just to be reassigned the same song. The next week was a much better lesson, so why not go every other week? I found that they needed to practice 7-8 times in order to know the song well enough to pass it off and move on.

Less getting ready and travel time

Going to lessons was very time consuming for me. Once a week lessons cost me 60 minutes getting ready: combing girls’ hair; packing diaper bag, snacks, water, and instruments; taking kids potty; finding shoes; loading kids in carseats. Then it took 15 minutes to drive there, a 22 minute lesson, and 15 minutes home. That’s a total of 112 minutes or about 2 hours. And only 22 minutes of it was a productive lesson. That’s a 20% productivity rate.

Going every other week I changed it first to a 45 minute lesson. That way we spent 135 minutes away from home, but 40 of it was productive. That’s 30%. But the 45 minute lessons were cheaper because it was only twice a month. So it saved me money and was also more productive.

After a few months we went to a 60 minute lesson every other week. That way we spent 150 minutes away from home, but it was a 40% productivity rate. That’s twice as productive as the 30 minute lesson! And it was only every other week. So that meant I got back 2 hours of my week that we didn’t go to lessons. Getting to stay home that whole day was huge. The cost was the same as weekly 30 minute lessons, but I was saving gas and a lot of time, which is valuable. Another plus about 60 minute lessons was that I could drop the child off and do the grocery shopping.

Longer, more productive lessons

I feel longer lessons are beneficial because the teacher isn’t watching the clock so much. He can settle in to the lesson, go in depth more, and take time to listen to each song. He assigned more songs to practice since the child has 2 weeks, and that was more fun for my child than just 1 song. My child enjoyed lessons more because there wasn’t the pressure to practice every single day before the next lesson and knew he could master the songs within 2 weeks. The instrument became more fun.

Teacher comes to you

Once when one of my girls wanted to learn the oboe we found a fantastic teacher 25 minutes away. We went every 2 weeks for a few months before I said I couldn’t do it anymore. The lesson was from 3-3:45. I had to get the baby and toddler down for naps by 12:30, wake them up at 2:15, nurse, get ready to go, pack snacks and books for the younger kids, leave at 2:35, drive over there, hang out in their playroom, clean it up, come home. The 4 year-old always fell asleep on the way home at 4pm and then wouldn’t go to bed that night. When we got home I had to nurse again and scramble to get dinner on the table. Totally not worth a 45 minute lesson. (And that’s why I was only willing to do it every other week!) So I paid a little extra (we had education stipend money for 1 year) to have the teacher come to our house. That way babies stayed asleep, I worked on dinner while she was here, kids played in the backyard. No gas, no carseats, no stress on my part at all. Definite win!

Make them all on the same day

Have one day a week be for lessons, activities, grocery shopping, library, etc. I used to plan this day to be Thursday. We’d work really hard on school Monday through Wednesday and then took most of Thursday off going to town. We hung out at the library for about 1.5 hours attending toddler and preschool storytimes, playing with blocks, and checking out books. Then we did any other errands like the bank or dropping stuff at Goodwill. Then grocery store and home. The 2 years we did lessons I would drop 1 child at flute and 2 at violin and then go walking with the others or to the grocery store.

If friends ever wanted to get together I would say I was available on Thursday. They could meet up with me at the library for story time or we’d all go to the park. That way I wasn’t interrupting another day of naps and schoolwork. Thursday was a good day to get out because we were itching to go somewhere anyway. Then we were home Friday and Saturday. Sunday we went to church, which is a great activity for the kids. They loved their classes, learning to sing, memorize scriptures, seeing their friends, etc.

Keep a few days off limits for sure

When you have a big family or children with activities that are multiple times a week, keep a few days or nights completely free. Right now with us living in the country I let play rehearsals dictate our schedule. They are 2-3 nights a week, so those are the only nights we go to town. We will run errands or get the car fixed before rehearsal. When things come up on other nights we frequently say no. If it’s special like a trunk-or-treat or birthday party we will go. If it’s an event we don’t care as much about we will skip it. If it’s friends wanting to hang out we’ll tell them we can the days we’re in town. We can’t afford extra trips to town and I need a few nights with everyone home. Family time is sacred. And we all love a couple nights home reading by the fire.

Multiple age participation

Having many children go to the same activity is a huge win in my book. Church activities fall under this category so for many years that’s all we participated in. Community theater is also available to all ages, at least at ours. There are 5 plays a year and they alternate between a kid show (like Frozen Jr ages 5-18), adult show (like Little Women ages 12-99) and everybody show (like Mary Poppins ages 5-99.) My children choose several shows a year they want to be in and this works for us as our only extracurricular. Sometimes there are homeschool or rec center classes that have broad ages like 3-8 or 5-12 so siblings can go together. That might be something to look into.

Pros of multiple age participation

It further bonds the siblings to be all involved in something together. My kids love to talk about their parts and their costumes. They love to practice their scenes in the living room. When they get home they all love to tell me about the mishaps with scene changes during the dress rehearsal.

It’s great for the family schedule. Since everyone is going, everyone is watching the clock and getting out the door on time. Rehearsals start at 6pm so we play outside until 4:30 and then come in for dinner. Everyone helps with dinner, eats together, helps clean up, gets ready together and rides to the same place. It’s only a couple nights a week so the other nights we are free to play outside longer, then come in and have a reading party, or just relax together.

More efficient use of time and gas. No running around town all evening dropping kids off and picking them up. If I am driving, I drop them all off at the theater then work at the library across the street until they’re done. This year I have a driver so he drives and participates and I stay home.

No other conflicts. If they’re all in the same activity together (or no activity if some chose not to be in this play) then there won’t be conflicts of someone needing to be here when someone else needs to be there. Or do I watch this child’s recital or that child’s game? No conflicts. Kids not in the play love to go and support those who are in it.

Other options for activities for the family

Sometimes there are other one-time activities such as “children’s golf day” where children ages 3-12 can all go learn golf fundamentals for 3 hours. Or maybe a children’s nature day at the state park, a child’s fun run at the greenway, puppet show or play at the library for all ages, free zoo or museum day, and lots more. If you don’t want to do regularly scheduled activities, these one-time activities can be really beneficial. With regularly scheduled activities like soccer practice 3 times a week you don’t have time or energy to attend other events. So I like to take a break from the scheduled activities so I can be available to attend these one-time educational and often memorable events.

A Few Last Tips for Making Extracurricular Activities Work For You

  • Don’t let kids on the sidelines play on electronics. Let them get “free” lessons by bringing their own ball and pretending to play. They need the exercise too and pretending to be in lessons is fun.
  • Check rec centers for shorter, more relaxed, cheaper classes. And don’t feel embarrassed about it! I have a few children who would make great gymnasts, but I know how rigorous that can be. Instead they do gymnastics at home. But once I let 2 of my girls take a class at a rec center. It was only 8 weeks long and $30 so it fit my time commitment and budget. It was a great class with other kids just wanting to learn some tricks and play on the equipment, not be competitive. The teacher was playful and encouraging. My girls loved it (and my boys on the sidelines did too!) It’s ok that they don’t go to the best gym in town. It’s ok that they don’t go 3 times a week.
  • Wait until they can drive themselves and let them do their activity of choice. That way it doesn’t interfere with other siblings’ naps and schedules. Also, it is 100% them. They choose it, remember the schedule, get themselves there on time, etc. No pushing from you. This has been a huge self confidence booster for my teens. It’s also made them more responsible and mature. They talk to the coach or director about things. They take responsibility for being late or forgetting their track shoes.

And last but not least, you can wait until college.

  • You can also wait until college. Gasp! Really? Won’t that be too late? Won’t they be scarred? Too late for what? The Olympics? Yes. It will be too late. And it will be too late for college scholarships and NBA chances. So if you’re going for the Olympics or college, this won’t apply. But it’s never too late to learn a new skill. If your child is simply interested in a sport, activity, or hobby and wants to take classes for it, it’s ok to wait until college. My girls have always wanted to play the harp. When they got to college they signed up right away and took off learning it, surpassing others. They love to practice and nobody pushes them to do it. They’ve also taken photography, ballet, ballroom dance, art, voice lessons, Portuguese and more. All included with tuition (they have full scholarships) and all on campus so no driving required. None have grudges that I didn’t sign them up for classes when they were kids. They had a wonderful childhood with plenty of free time to play creatively and be a kid. Now they are loving pursing more formal interests.
I hope this helps you figure out all the ways you can make extracurricular activities work for you and not you work for them. They can be a great asset to your child’s life if not used in abundance and with some rules. Check out all my other extracurricular activities posts. I am very passionate about this topic as you can see.

A Few Pictures

Here’s Alexis taking the year of oboe lessons we got with education money. This teacher was sooo nice to come to our house! Andy sat right at her feet for every lesson, learning all he could. 🙂

Six kids in A Christmas Carol. (Posing with Daniel Roebuck, Mr. Scrooge)

A Christmas Carol characters

Six kids in Shrek Jr. They love being in plays together and I love having just one activity the family is involved in. It bonds all of us and it’s way easier too.

When Kaitlyn and Makenna took a cheap gymnastics class at the rec center, I enjoyed watching Samuel and Anderson follow along on the sidelines. They are the little boys in red trying to do the stretches the class was doing. We brought books, paper, and crayons for things to do, or they could just watch the class. Never electronics.

Here’s the link to Kylie playing the harp at her second recital in college. She picked it up soo fast! Yes, she could have been amazing by now if she’d taken lessons when she was a child, but she probably wouldn’t have done it professionally, so it’s ok that she waited. I did what I could which includes getting a piano, violins, and a flute. (Much easier to fit in our 3 bedroom home with 9 kids when she was growing up!) Plus she sang solos in church and was involved in musicals. So I tried to give her as much other musical opportunities as I could. As a result she is pursuing a music minor in college (along with 2 other minors!) Anyway, here’s her harp video. She has had many more but this is the only one I attended because I live across the country. Kylie’s Christmas recital.

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