Recently a homeschooling mother from Idaho called to ask my advice about
how many extracurricular activities are enough. She told me that with
clog dancing lessons, music lessons, art instruction, and sports
activities she is driving her three children somewhere every day of the
week. Frequently, the extracurricular activities extend into the evening
hours making it impossible for the family to have a regular dinner hour.
Because of the children’s schedule, she is able to spend very little
time with her husband, who is becoming resentful because his wife
devotes so much of her time to the children’s social life. Yet, she is
actually considering adding to the list!
Although this family’s case is extreme, they are not alone in their
search for balance in their children’s extracurricular activities. Most
homeschoolers struggle with the question of how many extracurricular
activities are too many.
For my family the question was resolved rather easily. When our oldest
child had her sixth birthday, we thought that she should become involved
in some activity outside the home. Consequently, we enrolled her in a
ballet class that met twice a week. The teacher was a lovely,
highly-committed Christian, and Alexandra enjoyed the experience. A year
later, however, we moved forty miles away. I tried to locate a Christian
ballet teacher near our new home, but was able to come up with only one
class in the proper age group. It was run by a woman who considered her
former membership in Hitler’s youth corps to be among her finest
accomplishments. At that point, we decided that Alexandra was going to
have to forego a career as a ballerina.
On July 4, 1978, the day we moved into our new home, I was only thirteen
days away from the delivery of our sixth child, and our oldest was only
seven. Because our house is in a rural area, I faced at least a
thirty-minute drive to take the children to El Paso where they could
participate in the activities of their choice. After a few days, I
decided that my children were going to have to find areas of interest in
which they could involve themselves at home.
Since our school was highly structured and accelerated, I felt that the
children needed to spend their leisure time in an unstructured setting.
Of course, I enforced rules of conduct, but I never became part of their
play. In fact, on one of the few occasions when I broke my own rule and
interfered, I found that the adult mind is hemmed in by perimeters of
logic that have no part in the world of a child’s imagination. In our
attempts to “help” our children play properly, we often rob them of
One day the children came in hot and sweaty for a drink of water.
“What are you playing?” I inquired.
“Football,” Christopher answered.
“You don’t have a football,” I responded.
“I know,” Christopher answered. “We play with a thin-air football, and
nobody can tell who has the ball. That’s why we have so many arguments.”
By inquiring further, I discovered that “thin-air football” had been a
favorite game for months. I felt an enormous sense of guilt to realize
that my children were playing football with an invisible ball because I
had not taken the time to find out that they needed a football. The next
day I went to the store and bought them a football. Delighted, I
presented them with my gift, and they thanked me politely. However, they
never again played football until the boys were teenagers. By
introducing the football into their game, I had spoiled their fun.
Suddenly, everyone knew who had the ball. The challenge of convincing
one another that they were the one with the ball no longer existed. What
had been not only a physical activity but a forum for debate in which
the best talker could convince the most people that he was the one with
the ball, had, due to my interference, become an ordinary game of
From this experience, I learned not to try to “improve” on the way my
children were spending their leisure time. As a result of my hands-off
approach, my children developed a number of enormously satisfying
Because Israel always loved to draw, I kept a large supply of crayons,
colored pencils, and paper and allowed him to create whatever he liked.
When he was nine, he found a national Crayola coloring contest
advertised in the Sunday paper and asked me if he could enter. The rules
stated only that entrants must be between the ages of 6 and 13 and must
make a picture of their “wish” using only paper and Crayola crayons. No
doubt, hundreds of thousands of children would enter the contest, and
many of them would have had formal art instruction. I almost said “no”
in order to keep Israel from experiencing the disappointment of failure,
but I caught myself and told him to make a picture and we would send it
in. The finished picture was of three brightly colored ducks swimming on
a pond. They actually looked rather authentic, but I realized at once
that they did not fulfill the criteria of expressing Israel’s wish.
Israel was however, delighted with his work. I told him that it was
wonderful, and we put it in the mail. Weeks passed, and then we received
a letter of congratulations. Israel had won first place! Enclosed was
his prize—a gift certificate for him to spend on a “shopping spree” at
his favorite store.
My children also loved to put on plays that they found in their books.
They always rehearsed alone and did not allow John or me to have a sneak
preview. They did their own costuming, sets, and casting. I was
frequently amazed at the ingenuity they demonstrated in preparing these
When they staged their production of “Cinderella,” Victoria was only two
years old. I knew that they had included her in the cast, but I could
not imagine what part she could play. When the ballroom scene was set,
however, there in the corner stood Victoria staring straight ahead with
her arms stiffly at her sides. She was silent until Cinderella exclaimed
that it was twelve o’clock. Then, right on cue, she spoke her single
line: “Bong, bong, bong . . .” The two-year-old whom I would have
probably left out of the production was a central character—the clock!
My four youngest boys once worked on a skit for weeks. Finally, they
told us that they were ready to perform. They had taken a tape of “The
Flight of the Bumblebee” and choreographed a situation in which Jack
London is walking down an alley when suddenly he is accosted by three
hoodlums and uses martial arts to subdue them. Their actions fit the
frantic music perfectly.
Another interest of Israel’s evolved into his bachelor’s thesis.
Christmas of 1991 my daughter Francesca gave the family a 25-gallon
aquarium with all of the paraphernalia required to set it up. The entire
family enjoyed the gift, but Israel was fascinated. He spent months
reading about and studying aquarium fish. He became so knowledgeable
that he was able to tell us which fish were pregnant and could even tell
when they were ready to deliver. Time after time, he would announce that
one was “ready” and isolate her in a breeding net only hours before she
gave birth. When it was time for him to select a subject for his
bachelor’s thesis, “Aquarium Fish in Their Natural Environment” was a
topic which he had been researching for two years.
One of the most ambitious extracurricular activities in which we as a
family ever became involved came about because of Alexandra’s interest
in writing. When she received her master’s degree in April of 1987 she
was only sixteen years old and, therefore, too young to go immediately
into the work force. To give her something to do, I suggested that she
write about her experiences as a homeschooled child and teenager. The
result was No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master’s Degree at
Age Sixteen which was published in the fall of 1989.
How can homeschooling parents effectively balance extracurricular
activities? Unfortunately, there is no pat answer. The number of
activities outside the home which a family can handle will depend, in
part, on the number and ages of the children, their interests, and the
availability of suitable activities in a particular area. It should be
remembered, however, that extracurricular means “outside the
curriculum,” not “outside the home.” Children can enjoy a multitude of
extracurricular activities simply by using their imaginations and
developing their own areas of special interest without ever leaving home.