“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.”
• “Beyond Academics” by Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
• “Toddlers to Tweens: Extracurricular Activities: How Do I Choose?” by Vicki Bentley
Extracurricular possibilities include:
By Vicki Bentley
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
As the new school year approaches, “extra” opportunities for experiences beyond our typical homeschooling abound. According to Rachel Gathercole, homeschool mom of three and author of The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling,
“Homeschoolers on the whole are out in the real world, learning from their communities, socializing with other families and homeschool groups; they play in parks with friends; they go to each other’s houses; they have sleepovers; they organize classes together. One study revealed that homeschoolers engage in an average of at least five outside activities per week. …[H]omeschoolers do the same kinds of social things that school-going children do like Scouts, 4-H, church groups, dance classes in the community, martial arts, playing with neighbors. Most homeschoolers say that they actually have fuller social lives and more time with friends than they ever did when they were in school.”
The options can be overwhelming—how is a parent to choose?
The Early Learner: Preschool through Primary Grades
What does your child enjoy doing? An art or music or creative movement class might be a great outlet and inspiration.
How much of a time commitment is it? Start with a short-term activity such as library craft day or the monthly kid’s project day at the home improvement store—activities your child can enjoy if it’s a good day, but if today hasn’t been such a great day, you can skip it and just go next time.
What is the focus of the class? At this age, you’re looking for low-pressure activities to let kids explore their options, get out some energy, learn some new basic skills, and develop godly character.
Don’t over-commit or over-stimulate your early learner. Keep your family’s schedule in mind. Is that class at a convenient time, or is it going to disrupt nap routine or mealtime or bedtime? Not all kids are ready for this level of outside commitment, so just use your judgment and don’t feel pressured. Waiting a few years generally won’t stunt her progress if she is truly gifted in, say, music or dance. But if your child is ready to step out, then with the right focus, a well chosen, low-pressure extracurricular activity can complement her cognitive learning.
Upper Elementary through Junior High
By about fourth grade, your child may have developed more specific interests. Children of this age often enjoy clubs, co-ops, and organized sports (team or individual); check with your local and state support networks for opportunities such as debate teams, quiz teams, scouting, sports, music lessons and enrichment classes, 4-H, and more.
Besides the standard extracurricular activities, volunteering can help your child develop vocational skills, character, compassion, and maturity. Billie Jo Youmans suggests that with some planning, your student’s volunteer work can become service learning.
“An interest in teaching could be fed by serving as a tutor or a childcare worker. An animal lover might seek to serve at a shelter or a zoo. A budding cook would do well to explore opportunities at a soup kitchen or senior center. A gardener could bless some seniors with a container gardening project.”
This can also be a fun, low-pressure time to explore entrepreneurial ventures. Linda Raasch of bizkidz.com encouraged her four children to open lemonade stands before they even reached 10 years of age, and their interests (and income!) blossomed from there.
Keep in mind the same questions that you asked in the early years. While the case can be made for older students learning to stick with something through the semester, they can also learn to evaluate the time commitment and purpose of activities, prioritize, and find the value in building some margin into their schedules.
Consider the Impact on the Family
Keep the family’s schedule in mind. Some families allow each child to choose one activity each semester or season; in a larger family, you might seek an activity in which all the family can participate at the same time, even if at different levels. For example, we attended softball practice two afternoons each spring week as a family: Several girls played on the various homeschool teams, mom served as a team mom, and the non-softball ballerina daughter babysat coaches’ children at the playground during practice and games.
Can an activity be accomplished in the afternoon, thereby minimizing the effect on family dinnertime? If you end up with a “run-around” day, you might plan light suppers for that day and let all the family cooperate in food prep.
Know the Leadership
We may delegate our authority to another adult to lead our child, but the responsibility remains ours to safeguard our children’s hearts, minds, and physical well-being. (Many a homeschool parent has been “inspired” to lead or assist in a troop, co-op class, or club so she knows her child is in a safe, healthy group environment.)
Consider the Purpose of Each Activity
In Luke 2:52, we read, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (NIV, emphasis added) What progress would you like your child to make in those four areas this year?
This is a good opportunity to evaluate outside activities and decide how the family’s time will be most wisely spent. Are those outside activities helping to meet your goals? Could some of those activities be saved for another time, or dropped altogether? Is this the season of life for a particular activity?
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.&rdqduo; (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Ask God for wisdom in choosing activities that build in your child the skills and characteristics He wants to develop.
Note: This article was adapted from an HSLDA newsletter first published in August 2010.