Brownies every other Monday. Piano every Wednesday. Environmental Club every other Thursday. In the fall, Tuesdays were for an arts-and-crafts class. This spring, Saturdays afternoons will be drawing workshop for one, musical theater workshop for the other. Last summer, they did a six-week tennis clinic, and yes, I forced them to do it. I even bribed them with their favorite ice-cream shop if they finished the classes (ironic, I know), which they did–and after the first class, both girls thoroughly enjoyed it and were sad when the class was over.
Alice at Finslippy recently wrote a post about her 7-year-old’s lack of interest in extra-curricular activities and her conflicted feelings over whether or not to push into anything. Apparently, a lot of people had opinions (on the Internet? No!). This spring is our first regular Saturday commitment, which feels like a new threshold in child activities, so it’s been on my mind too.
When my girls were still babies, I remember reading a lot of fuss about hyper-parenting and over-scheduled children, but I didn’t take it very seriously. Of course, I was more worried at that point about when my babies would eat solid food, but also I believed (and still do) that it’s such a middle/upper-middle class problem to have. I also remember reading an excellent personal essay in Brain, Child maybe around the same time about violin lessons. The author had grown up with a mother who was alcoholic or abusive or both, and as she watched her daughter mope and moan about violin lessons, she felt so glad that these were the biggest villains in her child’s life. “I’ll be a happy mother” she wrote, “if the worst thing she can say about me when she grows up is that I forced her to take these violin lessons.” I still think that is a great perspective on the situation, having had my own share of less-than-ideal conditions in my childhood. I feel lucky to have the money and time to worry about whether my kids are doing too much.
So why do my second-graders do so much? Well, the new Saturday workshops were both chosen at the behest of our girls, who have demonstrated a strong interest in art and theater. This year especially, I’ve benefited from the after-school childcare that these activities provide for us–Brownies and Enviro club both meet at their school, so no transportation worries there. They enjoy hanging out with their friends and making new ones, and I enjoy not having to schedule tons of playdates.
But also, the kinds of activities we sign them up for and encourage are a way that we transmit and reinforce our own values. We are not church-going people, so we have to build community in other ways. Laura at 11d wants to raise active kids, and we do too, as well as creative, compassionate kids, and while we do a lot as a family to transmit these values, it’s great for our kids to be surrounded by adults and kids who believe in the same ideas and practices. If we did go to church, I expect we would have a similar experience there, but for now, it’ll be Brownies, and piano, and drawing, and music, as well as summers at the pool and walks to the duck pond.