The last couple of years we have lived in a blissful bubble of no demands. Sure we did the random mommy and me music class and tried out Gymboree, but for the most part, Hailey (will be 4 years old in September) hasn’t had any real commitment to “lessons.” We are now at the age where that seems to be changing. More and more of her friends are enrolled in scheduled activities, from ballet to karate to swim and soccer.
I’ve been contemplating recently which path is right for our family. I can certainly see the enticing side of lessons. As a parent you really do what your kids to have the world and it’s tempting to feel the sooner you expose them to ALL THE THINGS, the more they will learn and the better off they will be.
However, I’ve read plenty on the other side of things about the downside of over-scheduling that I agree with. Plus, I’ve noticed the tendency sports have now to force kids to over-commit to a single sport (practices every day, games all weekend, intense try outs and travel for a single sport? all before the age of 10?) early on.
Quite frankly it seems to be a large debate where no one can agree on where the line should be drawn between free time and scheduled activities.
So, like most things with parenting, it seems best to make a decision based on what fits your particular family structure. For us, putting Hailey in regular swim lessons (that we started a few months back) has been invaluable in many ways, most importantly for the safety aspect in that we are often near water.
My little girl who cried every time bath water splashed in her eyes has gotten more skilled at wiping her eyes with her hands, holding her breath and learning to turn and grab the wall if she falls. More than that, she loves it. She’s made such great progress that it’s tempting to what to sign her up for everything from piano to ice skating.
However, I don’t want lessons to rob her of the joy of any of these things she loves, so I’ll be trying to space them out somewhat. For this fall, swim lessons (1x/week) will remain. We are also adding in soccer (which she is super excited about) that will be 1x/week as well. As far as lessons go, I think that fills our plate at this age/stage.
However, I want to keep exposing her, through play, to more. I took enough dance in my life to teach her some ballet basics (she already loves dancing around the house). She talks about wanting to go ice skating this winter, so I’m marking it on our to-do list. She also has had an uptick of interest in musical instruments (admittedly NOT my strong suit), so Mema is getting her color coordinated piano stickers so she can start to learn more and play.
I’m hoping that by keeping scheduled activities to a minimum that we strike that right balance for our family in which she has some scheduled enriching activities, but still plenty of time of just regular old PLAY. Play around the house with her sister, play around in the yard, play by herself and play in the pool with mom just for fun.
This parenting thing is tricky and I know there will be endless debates and opinions still to come. Figuring out the right balance of activities is just another chapter.
What activities are your kids signed up for?
What age did you start?
Have you found them beneficial or do they feel overly demanding?
John J. says
“Balance”, the word you used and the plan you are implementing. Way to go! In my practice I’ve seen many a mistake with parents not finding that balance place for their kids and their family. Kudos to you!
So random you post this bc I woke up in the middle of the nite ( on freaking vacation???) thinking about the fact that I have GOT to get on my game and get Avery signed up for her soccer. Well maybe that and a well child check ( oops, bad part of being a doctors kid…) I’m definitely going to try to find that balance as well, ESP w working in the office two days a week. I don’t want to over commit and miss our us time at home, with friends, the parks, etc. it’s definitely tricky, but ultimately we will know what feels right w our family. I am sure it’s going to be trial and error at first, but our kids are going to awesome adults bc of their family home life more than 5,000 activities, at least that my opinion…. 🙂 ( so yeah, I agree 100%, that’s why we are friends…:)
Brittany Dixon says
I like our home/parks/play date time too! Sign A up for the same soccer H is in! It’d be so much fun!! Now step away from the computer and enjoy HHI 🙂
i think this is the ongoing struggle with parenting. I’m going through something similar with my eleven month old and socializing. Balance, knowing your kid and trusting your guy are my go-to check ins.
we need activities or we all go bonkers! My 3.5 year old has done swim and gymnastics all summer and will continue in fall as well as tball. He also goes to school 5 days from 9-3. We like structure and busy-ness!
Jennifer U says
This is a great question, as to when to start and how much to do. I am right in the middle of all this! My son just turned 3 this summer and we tried swimming – disaster. I do not think he is mature enough to start activities. We were planning on doing soccer this fall with him, but we have decided to wait until spring or next fall when he is 4.
My husband has a daughter who is 8. He likes the idea of having activities every day of the week. This summer we did just that (despite my concern) – softball twice a week and basketball twice a week (and our sons swim lesson on Mondays). In addition, he was coaching both the softball and the basketball teams. Then, we had a huge all weekend long tournament for softball. Plus we both work full time and I was 8 months pregnant. Let’s just say overload!! We kept up but It was too much.
This fall we will stick to just softball which he will coach, and is a 3 day a week commitment. With a toddler and a new born at my side, I think that will be plenty. Knowing how much is too much is something you will need to learn per family. I heard families talk about their busy schedules all season long. Sports are great and def bring the family together, but you need to keep your sanity too. 🙂
We signed our son up for swim lessons at 7 months old. It really wasn’t a lesson but just 8 Sundays of 1/2 hour play in a pool. It was nice because it got us all (my husband, myself and Bryce) out of the house. That has since ended. During the winter we may sign up for My Gym but Bryce (now 9 months) is in daycare 4 days a week so he’s constantly with babies and doing activities with his teachers. When he is old enough we will try soccer (I feel like that is the “gateway” sport, haha) and go from there.
Heather H says
Our oldest will be 4 in September too and we have the same activities – piano with stickers (she will probably start lessons next year), swimming once a week and soccer one night a week this summer. Our evenings are too hectic to do much else and she needs the downtime in the evenings with us. I agree with you about introducing other activities in a less structure environment – just doing them with you once or twice a month. Great post. I always love your parenting insight since your two girls are very close in age to my own 😉
Brittany Dixon says
I feel the same way about evenings! I wonder how some parents do it because honestly I feel like H is exhausted by 6pm and needs some down time. But of course, every child is different 🙂
We signed my daughter up for her first round of swimming ‘lessons’ when she was 8 months old. I just see swimming, and being completely comfortable in the water, as an essential life skill. She’s now nearly 2 and we do a round of lessons every few months. All it does at this point is ensure we get her in a pool for 30 minutes once a week. I think it’s worked well because she’s never minded water in her face at bath time, and we can dunk her in the pool no problem. We’re also considering signing her up for a Little Gym by us this winter – only because we live in Canada and it’s hard for her to be inside all weekend when it is ridiculously cold out. Otherwise, I think I’ll let her lead the way as she gets older. I totally agree that kids are over scheduled and that many seem to discount the importance of play.
Brittany Dixon says
Love that your daughter was in swim lessons at 8 months! Kaitlyn is on the wait list and I hope she gets in soon. She has no sense of fear so the sooner I can get her into lessons, the better!
I just found your blog and recently moved to mooresville myself!! Where is this what your daughter is taking swim lessons as earning ribbons etc?
Brittany Dixon says
Hi Kelli and welcome to Mooresville! Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’d love to tell you the details. Thanks! 🙂
We signed up my son for soccer this past spring. He’s 2 years old but the soccer classes were at his daycare so it didn’t really affect us. We’re contemplating signing him up for swim lessons to get him more exposed to swimming & water, but not sure when we’ll do it.
First off, I’m new and this is my first time commenting but I love seeing your posts! I have a four 1/2 year old boy in Taekwondo, about 3 months now and a 16 month old daughter. I work and my son is in prek so I am stingy with my too little time with him. My husband works all week plus Saturdays so our Sundays are precious. My son wants to try EVERYTHING and we want to expose him to things but our together time is so precious. So like you said we have to find a balance that works for us. I really want to add swimming though! For both my kids. Great post, timely too!
Brittany Dixon says
I love first time commenters so thanks for joining in the convo! 🙂
I feel the same way (stingy with my time with them) Even though I am home with them, a lot of it is taking care of things, so when things cut into our “playtime” I get a little bummed!
We decided one activity per kid….but there are so many to try! So we play in the backyard. 🙂
So, I have been the other side of this–I was swimming 2-3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week and traveling for competitions by age 10. I was doing 2x day workouts 5 days a week by 13. I never experienced this burnout or competition fatigue that so many warn about–and swimming paid for college at one of the best programs in the country.
That said, my husband and I both work very demanding jobs and the idea of a billion lessons and practices sounds completely exhausting! I am cherishing the time we have now where we can just come home from work and play instead of rushing off to this or that—I know there will be plenty of that in the future!
That said—we did an 8 week gymnastics course this past spring (after my oldest turned 3) and swim lessons this summer. Our plan is only *one* activity at a time—none of this rushing off to a thousand different things. Let them be little!! We can do the intense, all-in, competitive stuff later
There does seem to be a fine line to try to walk. I definitely understand the impulse to expose them to MANY different things, but I don’t want to go overboard. Let us know how it goes!
We aren’t quite at that age yet, but I am thinking of getting both kids into swimming lessons. My 3.5 year old won’t let water near his face (makes bath time so much fun), but has started to really enjoy playing in water, so I think he’d eventually really like it. It’s also a matter of safety… we live in the land of 10,000 lakes after all. Beyond that… growing up my siblings I were never involved in any sports or activities – it wasn’t in our family’s budget or fit our lifestyle. We ran around outside, read books and went to school. It’s hard for me to say whether or not we’ll sign our son up for any sports or other activities. I’m going to leave it completely up to him for now and see if there is anything he really wants to do, and if not – that’s okay. We’ll do our best to expose both kids to as many experiences as possible and if they decide they want to take lessons or otherwise we’ll be supportive. 🙂
I am a pretty high level gymnastics coach and my girls come to practice 4 days a week for 5 hours, during the school year I see them way more than their parents do. I am cherishing this time with my 3 year old where he only has gym 2 days a week and swimming 1 with limited amounts of time because I know once he starts competitive gymnastics the time commitment is intense but I feel that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I think it just depends on what is right for the entire family, I really value what gymnastics (and other sports teach) as far as tenacity, determination, hard work, ability to budget time, focus on detail, respect for adults and others. Plus for me I get the benefit of actually seeing my kids if they are in the gym with me since most of our practice is after school.
“I feel that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I think it just depends on what is right for the entire family, I really value what gymnastics (and other sports teach) as far as tenacity, determination, hard work, ability to budget time, focus on detail, respect for adults and others”
YES! This! I totally could not agree more! I think any sport at a high level offers these things and it is hard to replicate those lessons elsewhere.
Emily @ Perfection Isn't Happy says
I started taking tap when I was 3, but dance class is really the only thing I did (along with summer sessions of swim lessons, and vacation bible school for a week in the summer) until I was in 2nd grade, and that’s when I started Girl Scouts. At that age, that was enough for me! I think I’ll take the same approach with my kids!
Laura @FitMamaLove says
I don’t think there’s a “right” age, I just follow my kids’ lead.
I sign my kids up for things they have expressed a strong interest in and my goal is to keep it to one activity at a time. So my son expressed an interest in baseball at 3 and seemed like he wanted to be on the once-a-week baseball “team” through the YMCA. Turns out, it wasn’t his thing. He likes baseball, but he likes playing it in the backyard with dad. At 4, he expressed interest again, so I was going to sign him up, but right before I paid (thank goodness!) he made it clear he wasn’t ready yet. As cute as I think little baseball players are, I’m totally fine with that because of how scheduled the teams are even at this young age.
Karate, on the other hand, he has expressed interest in for awhile and loves going every week, so we keep him in that. Swim lessons, he also loves, and are pretty much ongoing, so I sign him up for a few sessions of that a year. That takes away from the one-at-a-time goal, but since swim lessons are necessary, I’m ok with it, especially since it’s not all the time.
When my 2.5-year-old expressed an interest in ballet and then kept with it for awhile, I signed her up for once-a-week lessons through our community center and she freaking LOVES it. I’ll keep her in for as long as she loves it and it’s sooo stinking cute! If she picks up another interest as well, I’d take a break with ballet while she tries out the other thing.
Well, that was an epic comment. 🙂
Brittany Dixon says
Love the epic comment 🙂 I’m always interested in hearing what other parents are choosing to do!
As an experience piano teacher, if Hailey is interested in music lessons, I’d recommend waiting until she’s at least 6 before starting her on the piano. The kids that are the most interested and do the best in music lessons, from my experience, are the ones that enjoy structure and learning, and don’t mind spending time by themselves figuring things out. Giving her a keyboard to play around with for a few years could definitely be beneficial to sparking future interest.
With all that being said, when I was growing up I was in a lot of groups (lessons, youth ensembles, etc) and it paid off since now I’m a professional musician! So you never know when your kids’ extracurricular activities are actually preparing them for their future profession!
Brittany Dixon says
Thank you so much for the input Danielle! I have ZERO music ability (probably because I never played anything early on), so I want Hailey and Kaitlyn to be exposed and have opportunity to learn instruments Would you recommend the color coded stickers at 4 then lessons at 6? We have a piano that she likes to bang on. Thanks!
My daughter was about Hailey’s age when I started getting her into lessons, sports, dance, etc. Like you, I started her out w/ swim lessons for the same reason (safety in the water). I really tried to keep her activities to 1 thing at a time so we weren’t constantly running somewhere & so she wasn’t overwhelmed w/ too much. Dance pretty much goes all year though (w/ summers off), & it was only 1 night a week so I would also sign her up for another activity that she was interested in. Some of her firsts were soccer, softball & basketball (all separately during their individual seasons). It was all about having fun, making friends. learning to be part of a team & getting some exercise. When she was no longer interested in a particular sport (dance, softball) or wanted to try something different (volleyball), we let that one go. She also took different music lessons over the years (voice, piano, drums) as her interests developed. Basically I tried to expose her to things she was interested in & really tried not to overschedule her (definitely easier said than done sometimes, especially as she got older).
I have been reading your blog for quiet sometime and I have to say I respect your writing because even though sometimes I may not agree with something you write, but I feel you try hard not to be disrespectful to anyone. keep that up!
I think the right ammount of extracircular activities are largely dependent on the kid and the family. If the kid geniunely enjoys an activity and the parents don’t have to force the kid to go to the class 80 percent of the time then there is no harm in scheduling more. I think the problem comes when exhaustion and frustration override interest and fun.
That said we have our 3yr old in Swimming and Ballet and feel it works well for now. may be , may be one more activity in the future but more than that it will get too much for us.
Brittany Dixon says
Hi Mira, I really appreciate your comment! I certainly understand and expect that people will not always agree with me (which is good- how boring would that be?!) and love when a productive and thoughtful discussion can come form it. Thanks for contributing!
Erin @ Her Heartland Soul says
I think it sounds like you’re doing what’s right for your family which is all any of us can do!
We did several sessions of swim with out 2yo starting around 6 months. It wasn’t really lessons though, just playing in the pool with a bit of direction. He said “kick-kick” at 7 months, so that was worth the ordeal of getting us to a 30 min 9:30am class on a Saturday.
For the last few months we have been doing Lil kickers soccer instead. It’s similar as it is all parent involved games revolved around soccer-ish skills. My son loves it and it has been great for his listening skills.
We will probably continue to stick with one activity at a time since that seems to work best for our family.
My husband was involved in numerous sports and activities as a kid and he says it really kept him out of trouble and he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did without being so scheduled. So, that’s another point of view too. It depends on the situation.
Josephine Sharpe says
I too feel protective over my time with my daughter, as another reader has said. Listening to my sister with her primary school aged children, it seems you get to a point where music and sporting activities overtake the weekend so my opinion is to enjoy a lot of unstructured time together whilst you can. I have however enrolled my daughter in various classes since she was born, although only 1 per week and swap them out every so often for something new. We did a baby yoga and a baby sensory class when she was a few months old which we then swapped for a “music” class where the kids get to bang percussion instruments along with the teacher singing and playing a guitar. We then swapped that out for Ballet at 2 years, however after a while we withdrew as she wasn’t up to following instructions and just ran around the room or didn’t join in (in hindsight probably too young). We started attending regular play group twice a week around 2 years because she was so keen to be out and daily trips to the park. We then signed up for a soccer class where she was very hesitant and I had to hold her hand to do every activity for about a year but now is now grinning from ear to ear and loving it listening and joining in with confidence. This also coincided with her starting nursery two afternoons and getting used to being without Mummy and socialising more. Arianna will be starting nursery in a private school,setting where she will attend primary school three days as of the week after next. . That means I will have her only two days per week. They do swimming During school hours and she keeps asking to do ballet so I am considering signing her up for that. Oops really long post!
This is totally on my mind right now too! We were very consciously trying to keep our weekends free of scheduled activities and family time (weekdays, she’s at preschool/daycare with plenty of activities!). A few months ago, we also started swim lessons mostly for safety reasons like you did for H. My daughter just turned 4. I’m considered signing her up for dance this Fall and switching out for soccer in the Spring. My hope is to eventually drop swim lessons when she learns to swim on her own (our main goal…not to get her ahead for swim team or anything). It’s hard because I want to expose her to so many things and at a young age so she can decide what she likes but not sure how best to do that without overscheduling her. Add to your list of considerations, language immersion class (which I have read multiple times is worth it at this age!) and I have no idea how to handle it all!
Perfect timing for this post. My son is 3.5 and we’re pretty much the same. He hasn’t been in any organized activities, but I’m starting to wonder if he should be (though he hasn’t expressed interest in any). We’re also contemplating how school will work and are considering the homeschool route as well (I saw you commented on that a few times). I’ll be very interested to keep in touch with what you guys do.
When my 11 yo. daughter was younger, I tried to keep the activities to one at a time (plus Girl Scouts). She started swim/soccer/dance at 4 yo too. I tried to rotate in other sports later (softball) but she loved soccer and now plays nine months out of the year (city and school teams). But the club/competitive soccer is too much commitment and money for our family. I was just happy that she made the middle-school team–I think its a good experience for kids to play sports in school.
But because I worked f/t as a single parent when she was younger, I loved, loved, loved when the activities were offered after school. She took drawing classes, keyboarding, drama club, and tennis after school in elementary school.
And I just put my 17 mo. toddler in parent/toddler Saturday swim classes and thought to myself, let the activities for him begin!
I had a friend once tell me that she and her husband told their kids no after-school activities because they wanted their evenings (both worked so understandable), but I think I gasped inside. And I do get overwhelmed at times driving my older child to her activities after work and on weekends (and think about my friend enjoying her evenings), but when my dh was younger, she played with my friends’ kids so it was also mommy friend time. Win. And honestly, I enjoy watching her play sports, sing in choir, and see her school plays.
Wow, these comments make me feel like an underachiever! Ha! My 3.5 year old is just starting preschool 4 afternoons a week, and he goes to Sunday school. That’s it. We read everyday (a lot) and play (a lot). We explore our city together and talk, talk, talk. We go to garage sales, swim for fun, and garden together. He’s happy; I’m happy.
Brittany! The more I learn about you, the more alike I realize we are. Hailey is a year older than Liv and we are dealing with this already!! I feel the exact same, I am NOT into over scheduling and burning out. Liv will go to school 3 mornings a week and she’s doing a sports class. That’s all we’re going to do now, but a lot of her friends are doing school plus 2-3 activities. That’s fine for them, but it just doesn’t work for us. I worry about when she gets older and how it’s going to play out, but we’ll deal with it year by year. Like you, I don’t want to hold the girls back, but Danny and I feel strongly about not over scheduling.
I think it really depends on the family. I’m a sahm with an 8 year old and almost 5 year old. We’ve always preferred to stay fairly active. First, it was just for the social appeal of getting out of the house and making new friends at activities. My son tends to be on the shy side and it’s been great for him to be involved with things. We’ve always done swimming plus one other activity per season. Right now it’s hockey and dance with swimming. Hockey is a bigger commitment with 2 practices plus a game. But we knew that if he didn’t start young skating, he’d never be able to play (too competitive). We like him learning teamwork and boosting his confidence in other areas. He’s not a star athlete by any means but it’s been s good fit for him. Spring is baseball which we love. It’s lower key and he is put on team with his classmates and practices are at his elementary school. It’s a great way to get to know other families in our area. My daughter loves dance and the commitment isn’t too big with just once class a week. Recitals are bigger commitment but the joy on her face after performing was worth it all.
Just gotta find what works for you guys. If kids aren’t happy or it’s causing more stress, time to re evaluate the schedule.
Around the time my oldest son turned one we enrolled him in swim classes (we were going on a family trip to the beach shortly after). He was way too young to really enjoy them at that age. The summer he turned 2 we started weekly soccer “practice” for an hour every Sunday with a bunch of our friends at a local park. It was basically a weekly time for all the friends to get together and kick the ball around or run off onto the playground. We did gymboree for one session and then he outgrew it and we brought baby boy #2 into the world. For awhile now we just go with the flow daily making sure every day includes at least some form of physical fun (my boys are usurper energetic & I want to encourage active fun as much as possible). We mix zoo outings, play dates with friends, trips to museums (we live just outside of dc), gymnastics open gym times (which we did at least twice a week in the winter) and pump it up, etc. it works really well for us. We also go to weekly pint classes at whole foods for an hour every Wednesday where he engages in a classroom structure of arts, crafts and fun. My oldest will start preschool next month 3 days a week and I feel like that will add a good amount of structure to his schedule. He just turned 3 yesterday and our schedules are always changing with appointments, moods, wake up times and naps that having a lot of structure (even in the form of scheduled play dates) doesn’t work well for us. I hope to take my youngest to gymnastics at least weekly and perhaps get him into something along the lines of gymboree or something during the mornings big brother is in school. But we also have baby boy #3 coming in January so in this season of life, survival is our basic goal 😉
Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl says
I don’t have kids yet but I remember being one quite well, and I think the thing to remember is that in some activities like ballet or gymnastics, starting young is the only way to get into it seriously if you decide you really love it and want to pursue it as I did. Then again, since I didn’t want to go all the way, I ended up stopping and struggling to find a new identity outside of them. I bet it’s tough to decide which side of the balance is more important as a parent, since choosing not to schedule or to let your kid follow a passion can determine what happens!
Title of article what is the right age to start kids activities. Actual article doesn’t even mention the age of child being talked about, or anything even remotely related to how to figure out what age might be right for you child or how to figure that out. I understand that we’re all individuals but I for sure at least thought some ages would be mentioned as ballparks and abilities average abilities of said ages age groups.