What is the real reason parents sign their children up for after school activities?

Do your children do after school activities? Do you feel you are a taxi driver as you race to class and collections? Why do you bother?

I am over twenty years parenting, and in that time my children have attended  many after school activities. Ballet, art, music, football, camogie, swimming, gymnastics, Taekwan-Do, and Scouts to name but a few. All took time and money, effort and energy. While I was ferrying my children to and from these classes I filled the car with the other children. These classes took time out of their playtime, and home time out of my day.

Looking back I ask myself ‘Was it worth it?’. Did any of them become Irish or Olympic champions? Did they discover a love of music, martial arts or sport? Would I do it all again?

Thinking it through I believe that yes, if I had my time over again, I would once again sign my children up to those activities, even the ones that were disasters. Take the art class I enrolled my then seven year old daughter in. She had shown a flair for art in school, or so I thought. Looking back maybe she was just better able to control a pencil than others. Anyway one day the after school art teacher called me in to show me one of my daughters creations. It was a bowl of fruit. I was briefly surprised, that my daughter could in fact draw something I’d recognise, as I, who was many years older, had still not managed to ever draw anything that looked remotely like the picture in my imagination. As I listened to the teacher speak,  she told me that this painting showed wonderful perspective for a child so young. I smiled, looking at a bowl of childlishly drawn fruit, and nodded in agreement, while inwardly laughing at all I obviously didn’t know. I went home small_5841210855delighted to know I had a talented young daughter. Two weeks later my daughter looked at me and said, ‘I hate art’. Ten years later she has not changed her mind. Even now when I tell her she had a talent for it, she just laughs.

Then there was Scouts. My son was not interested in sports of any sort, and especially disliked ball sports. So we thought Scouts would be perfect for him. He enrolled in beavers and proudly wore his uniform. He went to the group every week, and even went camping. We were delighted. Until the day we discovered that the drills and inspection and rules were terrifying him. That he was taking everything too much to heart and was unable to relax and enjoy it. Another year of activities put to bed.

Then there were the sporting activities. These meant not only did we have to attend lessons, we also had to spend weekends involved in competitions. Whole days of our lives we will never get back, watching children compete in gymnastics. We even travelled 200km to Belfast for our daughters to compete in a National Trampolining competition. This involved twelve bounces. Can you imagine driving that distance and staying overnight, for a total of 48 bounces on a trampoline! Such is the madness of a parent whose children are involved in any type of after school activity. I was not there for the glory of winning, but because my children loved it, qualified and wanted to go. I don’t believe I was the only one.

However the greatest madness of all, in my opinion, are the parents of children involved in competitive swimming. I feel I am perfectly qualified to speak about these parents being one myself. I am also the coach to these swimmers so I am able to look at both sides of this particular coin. These parents get up at 5am. They bring children to the pool for a ninety minute swim session, and drive them home to breakfast or for some straight to school. The vast majority of these swimmers will never make the national team, nor indeed make division one. It is commitment of the highest order. These young swimmers, in the majority, swim because they enjoy it, and are challenged by it, and parents bring them to the pool knowing that.

Last Sunday morning at 6.30am,  my fellow coaches and I boarded a bus for a town two hours away, with forty swimmers on board. Others chose to travel by car. It is at these events that I begin to clearly see what swimming gives to these young swimmers. Last Sunday I watched a few of our young swimmers overwhelmed by nerves, cry . After a few gentle words I watched those same young swimmers line up for their races, biting fingernails, and fidgeting as they did so. I then smiled as these same swimmers dived in and swam their hearts out. I celebrated with the other coaches when we watched them finish and saw the huge smiles of achievement on their faces. This was a lesson in life they could not learn in school. Other lessons were also learned that day. Such as the swimmers whose goggles fell off on the dive, yet they swam on at full pace regardless, showing a strength of character some parents did not know their child possessed. Towards the end of photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/yarashus/982391062/">C-Serpents</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>the day we had a lot of weary swimmers. The 5.30am rise was showing. Yet, when their moment came, they raced as if they were fresh. Once again demonstrating their ability to dig deep and tap into courage and strength of mind they may never before have used.

As we drove home that night I remember thinking that in years to come these same young swimmers will probably forget most of what the day brought. However, I think they will remember the friends they spent the day with, and the many lessons swimming that day taught them.

This, to my mind, is what parents are looking for when they sign up a child for after school activities. It begins with the hope that their child may be talented at this activity, but for the majority it becomes an activity their child enjoys, and hopefully one which will enhance their lives in so many ways, without necessarily bringing them glory.

As I say goodbye to my early morning young swimmers in the mornings, I am always conscious of how much they have already achieved before most of their classmates are even awake. Lessons they will not learn in the classroom. Lessons that their outside school activity gives them in spades every day. Lessons that will remain with them throughout their lives. Definitely well worth the time, effort, and money the parents invested.

photo credit: C-Serpents via photopin cc
photo credit: Blue Square Thing via photopin cc

18 thoughts on “What is the real reason parents sign their children up for after school activities?

    1. I bet it was the photo made you fear that! I think many not in my position as a coach, may believe the world is full of pushy parents, however I have found the vast majority put in huge efforts for the good of their children.
      In my own family two of my children have become qualified teachers in their sport and two are lifeguards. Lifelong lessons learned. Well worth all the time and effort.
      It’s all ahead of you.

  1. I was intrigued to see your perspective on it when I saw the title. Two years ago, I was out 4 evenings a week with the kids doing activities. As I live ten miles from town, it often meant me hanging around as there’s only so many evenings you can do your grocery shopping! I enjoyed spending time with daughter one evening when son did his activity and vice versa on another evening.
    Last year, we cut down on them – down to one a week and it was bliss. They had enjoyed beavers but weren’t settling into cubs so we stopped it at Xmas. They enjoyed having more veg time and so did I.
    We’ve never done Saturday activities, I love lazy Saturdays but this year, Saturday morning are our only activities. I’ve a feeling it will kill me as they are both at different times so it will involve me spending 3 hours in town most Saturdays. Having said that, I have friends who are out every evening of the week with their kids as well at weekends and i honestly don’t know how they have time for it. One friend says they do it to stop the kids fighting so I can see how it might be easier!

    1. In my own family growing up, I was the only one who did any real activity, and mine was very extreme. For me it was not scary or unusual to have members of the family not involved in sport, or anything outside school, however it would appear for many parents that is not something they are comfortable with.
      Before writing this post I had very fixed ideas about what I thought of parents who put their children into many activities. However as I thought it through I found myself doing an about turn, which has really surprised me.
      I think as our children get older they make up their own minds, which can free us up at last!

  2. I signed my son up for hockey this year. He has practices 3 x’s a week and I have theatre practice twice a week. I also take the youngest to play group twice a week. And that’s all I have time for. We enjoyed having our days at home where nobody is running everywhere. I believe the camaraderie that usually occurs with organized sports, is what I want my son to experience as his Dad and I did. As for both my son they just want to play and make friends. 😊

    1. It sounds like you have a very healthy attitude to your sons hockey.
      It does take a big effort from parents to facilitate their children’s choices but hopefully it will be worth it.

      1. Yes that’s what I’m hoping to. And thank you I sure am trying to keep him balanced that bombarded. I told him he can choose one sport each season. We’ve done the crazy running around thing because I wanted him to make friends in the new town we lived in. Now I leave it up to him what he wants to participate in. And as soon as he wants to stop I’ll let him. My parents were very relaxed with me so I’ll pass that along to my sons. 😊

  3. Some great points… I try to keep it to a moderation, so some afternoons we are not running and racing (and secretly I am thankful that no one has taken to swimming with a possion 😉 )

    1. Thanks Naomi. Oh yes imagine the lovely easy life I’d have had if my daughter had actually liked art!
      Yes there are many many days I curse the swimming talent! There is a lot to be said for moderation, which is the rant I imagined this post would be, before it turned into something very different.

  4. My two youngest participated in competitive cheerleading for several years. Although it cost thousands of dollars and an uncounted amount of mileage to my poor Jeep, I know that it impacted their lives positively. I ended up coaching the team for the last few years, and I feel that despite the long hours and inevitable teenage girl drama that came with it they are both much more confident outgoing people because of the experience. My middle daughter even wrote her college essay about her first National Championship and how it changed her life. (they placed 18th out of 20!) I will always fondly remember the time that we spent together in the car, traveling to and from practice and competitions.
    Now….about the horse camp I sent one of my daughters to, only to find out several years later that she HATED horses. Who knew? 🙂

    1. Great comment. I can imagine how much effort you had to put in to facilitating your daughters sport. It is great they got so much out of it.
      As for the horse camp…. we all make mistakes. 🙂

  5. So far I’ve only one activity age going kid so its just one day a week thank god. Oh and she has tin whistle but she does that in her school straight after school so I actually get another 45 mins before I have to collect her which is great lol! I’d like to have her in maybe one other thing but just don’t have the extra cash. Dunno what I’ll do when the other two start after school activities lol, Ill be run ragged by the sounds of it and broke haha! I’ll find a way though because I think it’s important for kids to have fun activities other than school and homework and helps them meet and interact with other kids 😀

    1. Yes Yaz the expense is a big factor. Where we live the majority take part in GAA because it is so inexpensive.
      I bet you love those days when you have the extra time after school. 🙂

  6. Great post Tric and worth to think about. I think it is healthy for kids to have something of interests outside the school, but I do also think it can be too much outgoing for all in the family.

  7. Over the years I have driven children to dance classes, scouts, karate and art lessons. I don’t regret ever doing that because the kids all gained something from it. And anyway, all those dance costumes that I kept from the First Born and the Tween are now great dress ups for the grandkids! See, there is a pay off. 😉

    1. Ha ha. We do sign up our kids to a lot, but as you say it is not all a waste of time. Hopefully the appreciated it, or will do when it’s their turn.

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