With six children, many factors come into play when we look for extracurricular activities. The children’s individual interests and aptitudes are of course most important, but cost in time and money are also big factors. Also, the age spread among my children, from teens to toddlers, can make finding activities interesting: keeping a non-participating sibling happy during an activity can be difficult. In our family, the oldest two were the trailblazers, the guinea pigs if you will, trying things out and showing the way for their younger siblings.
I always try to make an opportunity to observe a class to see if it will work for us before my child tries it out. Multiple children can give a built-in opportunity for observation, as younger siblings often must be around their older siblings’ classes. Once they are old enough for that particular activity, they are eager to join in the fun. Sometimes they observe and decide that an activity is not right for them. Or sometimes we observe and I realize it won’t suit them at all. Some of the activities we have continued with all the children, while others we have done for a time then moved on.
Though I try to find activities that each child enjoys, the more they can do together (think combined classes or even the same activity at different times for sibling discounts!), the more we’re able to fit in. Many activities offer discounts for multiple children, which makes it more attractive to have all my children at the same place. Some activities have a place for the others to be during a sibling’s class, such as a lobby with observation windows or a nearby playground, but others remain more difficult to bring the whole gang along. Sometimes we have to pass up on an otherwise attractive opportunity because it just can’t accommodate all my children (as observers, if not participants). In addition to keeping track of the non-participating children, I need to continuously evaluate whether the activities are still working for the participating child, or if it is time to move on.
My oldest was very slow to warm to new activities and easily overwhelmed by noisy, active places. We tried a gymnastics class for him when he was about six, but he was so distressed by the huge warehouse full of equipment and gymnasts that he wouldn’t even take off his shoes to join his friend for a trial class. About a year later, The Little Gym opened near our house and with the small class sizes, relaxed, non-competitive environment, and wonderful instructors at that location, we found a happy home for gymnastics. Each of my children has taken classes at The Little Gym, several beginning with parent-child classes as toddlers and the older ones now having “graduated” from TLG to another gym. We found the non-competitive policy of TLG a perfect fit for our children, as they could proceed at their own pace and have fun without the pressure of perfection that comes with a competitive track.
Once they outgrew The Little Gym (which goes to age 12), my older girls started at a new gym, but found the recreational classes boring. So, they moved on to competitive gymnastics. They found the Xcel program a good fit, allowing them to learn fun new skills and compete, but without the time commitment of those training in the Junior Olympics track of competitive gymnastics. They have enjoyed their first year of competition and done quite well.
Gymnastics is an individual endeavor, so we also looked around for a team sport our family might enjoy. We considered basketball or baseball, but these did not appeal to my children. We finally settled on soccer, finding a small, friendly, recreational league that all the children (who were old enough to play) enjoyed. We did this for several years, even coaching for a couple seasons, until the league decided to grow and added competitive teams. This changed the whole character of the league. The children stopped playing and my older children moved into refereeing soccer instead. This has presented its own challenges, as parents and coaches can be very intense, even for young players, in competitive soccer.
Music and dance have also been important extracurricular activities in our household. Our musical adventures began in a homeschool choir with a director whom we loved. We also began a church choir with another homeschool group. When our schedule changed so we could no longer sing with the original homeschool choir, my daughters started private voice and piano lessons with the choir director, with my older daughter also learning to play organ. As both our and our teacher’s schedules became busier, we had to find new music teachers. We interviewed and tried out a couple different teachers before finding a good fit. Some were wonderful people, but the teaching style just didn’t work for us. My children would leave lessons in tears, not because the teacher was horrible, but because it just wasn’t working for them. Occasionally, a teacher just didn’t know what to do with us, as was the case with one highly recommended voice teacher we tried out: both her ideas about materials to work on and how to approach my children didn’t mesh with their needs and personalities.
As the younger ones grow up and follow in their older siblings footsteps, I have to watch for when what we’re doing no longer works for them or when they want to try new things. For example, we went to a play that their friends were in, and they expressed interest in theater. But since that meant dropping something else, like dance, they chose not to pursue it at this time. Perhaps in the future they may choose to leave behind the things their older siblings enjoyed to forge new paths. But right now, we’re staying with the activities we’ve found that work for us. But I always keep in mind that needs change and a good fit right now may no longer be a good fit in a year or two down the road. And while I’ll mourn for the end of one good thing, I’ll look forward to the next adventure in our lives!
Note: I’m just a happy customer of The Little Gym, and had no other affiliation with the company for the first decade my children took classes, until my daughter got a job there a year ago as a party helper.
Eleen Kamas earned a doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from Carnegie-Mellon University, where she studied learning and memory. After teaching at the college level, her focus shifted to the education of her own children. She has been a part of GHF since its beginning, as a supporter, as staff, and, most recently, as a Board Member. She sees herself as more of a catalyst, bringing together people and working behind the scenes to make things happen. She wrote this article for the GHF blog hop: Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Gifted Children with Overexcitabilities in Mind.