Whether you have one child or many, it’s easy in our over-scheduled world to feel like your child must do all the things.
Kids in school bring home stacks of flyers each week, urging them to Join the Scouts! Sign up for Soccer! Sing in the Choir! Add an Art Class! Play the Piano! Dream About Dance! And many, many more.
This desire is often compounded by speakers from the organization stopping by the classroom to pump the kids up over the ideas — or even the kids themselves “deciding” that they just have to do this new activity with all their friends.
Even if you homeschool, you can’t escape these pulls on your time.
No, despite the (mistaken) generalization about unsocialized homeschoolers, our school-at-home kiddoes interact with just as many (if not more) different time-sucking enticements as the brick-and-mortar set.
Since homeschoolers are lacking the “Where do you go to school?” question when they meet, they often go with, “what activities are you involved in?” instead. This creates a false expectation to “do” something and provide an answer.
Yes, homeschoolers are just as guilty (if not more) of listing off their busy, busy, over-scheduled daily lives.
Homeschooling moms are often the guiltiest parties of all – especially first-time homeschooling moms, who perhaps are feeling a little tentative about their abilities to DIY this school thing themselves and over-commit in order to make themselves feel more confident.
There’s that little devil sitting over your shoulder, moms and dads, the one that is constantly convincing you that your child might miss out on a critical element of childhood if you don’t do all the things.
Ideas for containing commitments
The solution to this dilemma? Sample, don’t sign up.
That’s right. Instead of over-committing your family to ensure that little Janie or Johnnie won’t miss out on all the wonderful options out there, embrace the mindset to spend these early years exposing your children to as many different experiences you can, in a limited way.
Have them take lessons at home (online or through a DVD)
You can google just about anything with “free lessons” and come up with options, or find YouTube videos to get you started, or check out a plethora of instructional DVDs for free from the library on any topic you could possibly dream of! Be sure to check out this post to learn all the amazing things your library has to offer!)
My Gv loves these free piano and we are happy to subscribe to the monthly program someday if she continues to show interest in playing the instrument, but for now the free option is the perfect way for her to spend time exploring the piano on her own, without being bogged down by grueling practice. We’ve also enjoyed some of the fun lessons from this website as well as several ballet-class videos from the library.
Seek out opportunities in your community
I am very much against committing to co-ops for our family. Why? Because we have found such a long list of high-quality, free opportunities in our neighborhood that it would be a full-time job just to attend them all.
There are at least five different weekly activities at our library (ranging from story time to book-and-craft time to Lego clubs and more) that we could attend (with the bonus of going next door to the park and playing at the playground with all the other attendees each week, too), plus our favorite wildlife preserve not only has a weekly story-and-craft time (that we can follow up with a hike with friends), but a monthly science class that tops just about anything that a co-op could provide. And these are all free.
Let them try out instruments (our local symphony orchestra has musical “petting zoos” where kids can go and explore all the instruments – even tooting the horns and banging the drums!) and those free Home Depot build-it days can’t be beat for hands-on fun without the commitment.
Your local gym will likely offer weekly “open gym” hours that provide plenty of active fun without committing to a session of classes.
Even places like ice skating rinks often allow kids to try the sport out without getting stuck in a sign-up situation. I’ll just bet that whatever your child mentions an interest in, you can seek out a way to provide him with the chance to try it out without adding one more thing to your busy schedule.
Be open to outside-the-box experiences
Keep your eyes open for these try-it-out opportunities, wherever you are. You might be visiting friends and tag along with their kids to their lessons – sometimes a facility will let your child join as a one-time guest, often even for free!
We have had great success with doing this on our epic summer trips. This year, we happened upon a weekly science class at a state park.
Because we were visiting, they allowed us to join for just that day and Gv was able to dissect an owl pellet with the other members of the class.
Another day, my husband G noticed a small blurb in the Medora town newspaper (just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park) that mentioned a performance class for kids every week. It was run by one of the stars of the big nightly-musical production that the town is known for and sounded like something Gv would love.
It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for her! Not only was it loads of fun, but she got to sing and dance and wear costumes and act and learn choreography and do it all up on a big outdoor stage, too! It was a wonderful way for her to sample a little bit of the Broadway experience without investing our time in a year’s worth of expensive classes.
Those are just a few ideas to get you started, but just remember that a preschooler’s most important job is to play and that can’t happen if their lives are over-scheduled. Let them have fun and sample all sorts of things — that way, they’ll be more likely to stick with whatever activity they choose later on to seriously pursue.
And if you or your child has great, big dreams of becoming the next big star? Stick with this plan.
Can you contain commitments and follow your dreams?
Do talented people sometimes start out in their field as 3-yr-olds? Yes. Is it necessary? No.
I can say that with complete confidence, too, as a professional figure skating coach for over twenty years. Yes, there are some skaters who begin skating with an intense drive and passion as a preschooler (we have one at the rink right now), but there are so many more who get too involved too soon and what could have been a life-long love for the sport ends badly.
A child of 9 or 10 who wants nothing more than to go to the Olympics can still go to the Olympics, if they have the drive and talent. They have not missed the boat and in fact, often train better and love it more because of their “advanced age.”
Also, I know many you have a whole houseful of kids, rather than being in my only-child situation or even encountering these issues for the first time with your oldest. It’s quite likely that your preschooler is the youngest of the bunch and gets dragged around to all her siblings’ many activities.
But just because your preschooler “has” to go to all these appointments with the rest of the family doesn’t mean that it has to add a burden onto her schedule.
Help her look for opportunities to play and be a kid while waiting for sissy’s class to end. This could include bringing toys, playing in the lobby with other waiting siblings (woo-hoo, a pre-made “playdate!”), having the opportunity for special screen time (if little Joe can only use the iPad while his brother’s at soccer, then it becomes a fun time he looks forward to and special play each week, rather than overburdened by a hectic schedule), or even special lap time with mom to read books aloud during the wait.
Even though Gv doesn’t have to worry about being dragged to sibling activities, she does get hauled to the rink during the week when I have to work. What could be a negative experience for her has turned into something she looks forward to each week.
She knows that while she is there, she can skate around on her own (exposure to the sport without signing up) or sit in a hockey box and read or color or play in the lobby with some of the wonderful friends she has made there (free playdate – yay!)
Don’t fall into the over-scheduling trap for your preschooler. Look for creative ways to allow them to play and try lots of different things without the commitment that will be required as they get older!
Have you felt guilted into signing up your preschooler for all the things? I’d love to hear! Either leave a comment below or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.