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Practical Homeschooling® :

Extracurricular Extravaganza

By Joyce Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #9, 1995.

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Joyce Swann

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 their creativity.

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 football.

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 interests.

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 productions.

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.

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