Kids' Sports and Activities: Enough is Enough

Here's another installment in my occasional series of answering Caitlin's questions!

It's our goal to allow our kids, even though there are a lot of them, to have enough access to extra-curricular activities to experience the fun and exercise and enrichment and camaraderie and accomplishment that sports and other activities can provide, but to do so without compromising our family culture. And that can be a challenge. We want them to have enough, but we're not interested in it taking over our lives. For us, enough is enough. We don't want any more than that.

It seems like some families spend a lot of time and money and energy to make sure their kids have access to all the BEST possible classes and clubs and teams. These activities can take over their family life entirely, and they end up with lots of organized opportunities and experiences but little downtime for family togetherness or individual exploration.
This is not the case for most of the big families I know. They seem to mostly fall into two camps: very specialized or very unspecialized. The specialized families are ones that have a great talent and/or great love for one particular activity, be it ballet, or piano, or soccer, or whatever. They have the best coaches or teachers they can find, and all the kids just do that and odds are they'll love it and be pretty good at it since everyone else in the family does/is.
Since they're focusing their efforts on one thing, it doesn't take over their whole lives. Or even if it does, ALL the kids are doing it, so it ends up being family time.
I know families who are very devoted to soccer or ballet or Irish dance or violin, and it's just what they do, and it works for their families.

The husband and I, however, are not particularly devoted to any particular activity, so neither are our kids. We fall into the very unspecialized camp. We provide our kids access to activities that they express an interest in AND that we can accomplish without creating a hardship for our family. Activities that take away from our family time or create a hardship get cut.
What has worked for us, is to focus our kids' activities at our house, parkday, and the neighborhood park less than a mile away from our house. As I sit here thinking about all the stuff my kids do, it actually adds up to quite a few things, but we're able to accomplish them all each week without too much trouble.
At our house:
As I've discussed before, for me personally, it's less stressful to host things at my house than to be running my kids around town. I have to keep the house a little tidier than maybe I would otherwise, but that's a plus in my book. And this way my kids get to see their friends and have enriching experiences and I don't have to wake up sleeping babies or lose school-time driving around. So, every Monday we host something here. Twice a month we have Little Flowers for the girls, which I lead, but with help on snacks and crafts and music and book club from the other moms. The boys run around and play outside, while the girls sit quietly doing crafts and learning about virtues while wearing matching shirts. Everyone wins.

We also have one science and one art class per month, each led by a professional instructor. This has been a great addition to our homeschool curriculum, since, for us, art and science are the first things to get skipped on a busy day. This way I know we'll get some in each month. And the kids really look forward to the classes.
The best thing is that we're able to do these things during the day, rather than evenings or weekends so that they don't get in the way of our family time.

We used to do piano lessons at our house for all the school-aged kids, but this summer we decided to face the fact that none of our kids seems to have a love of or talent for music. I would love it if they did. But they don't. Lessons were expensive (in time and money) and getting them to practice was a burden. So we quit. If any of the younger ones express an interest, we'll pick lessons back up. But I'm okay with them not playing an instrument. I don't.
My boys also do Boy Scouts (yes, still), which is a variable time commitment, and does take some evenings and weekends, but it's something the husband does with them, and it has been worth it.

At parkday:
Our homeschool parkday is a huge opportunity for my kids. Different moms have organized many different and worthwhile activities that take place there weekly or monthly. We just plan on spending our Fridays there. I get to visit with like minded moms (which has made a huge difference in my ability to live my vocation) and my kids get the chance to do a book club, take a history class, do a school play, sing in a choir, take a PE class, and take fencing lessons. Also play in the dirt with their friends. And again, all without sacrificing time we could be with dad.

At the neighborhood park:
As for sports teams, our solution has been to participate in a lower level of team that works better for our schedule and has provided a less stressful environment for our family. We currently have kids on two different flag football teams and three different soccer teams. That could easily bury us in practices and games. But it works for us because the park is close enough that big kids can ride their bikes over there, or I can easily drop a kid or two off at a practice and run back home. It does require me to plan ahead and have dinner ready early, and on some evenings we are not able to eat dinner all together, which is not ideal, of course, but most days we are still able to have a family dinner or most-of-a-family dinner.

In the interest of full-disclosure I should mention the day last week on which I was feeling pretty proud of myself for getting our school day done AND taking all the kids to the library, the grocery store, and Costco all before dinner and with the husband out of town. Then, in the checkout line at Costco, my oldest son asked me what time the little kids' practices were that day. Oops. They were twenty minutes before and an hour and twenty minutes before. So we missed them both.
It's far from a foolproof system. But it usually works.
The kids all have games on Saturday morning at the same park, so we just plan to spend the morning as a family at the park. I pack a picnic lunch and we just all hang out there. Sometimes games overlap, so the husband and I will split time or just wander back and forth between games. But that's part of the thing we like about it. It's not like the super-competitive club-level teams. The coaches and other parents are, as a rule, calm and pleasant. That helps our kids understand where their sports rank on our list of priorities. They know that we'll see as much of their games as we can, but that their sports are not the most important thing in our week.

So that's what has worked for us so far. We focus on spending time and money on things the kids want to do, and we don't force them to do activities they don't show an interest in. I do enough of that during school time. But we also don't allow the extra stuff to get in the way of what's really important to us, which is spending time together as a family.


Happy Sunday again!

Here's what I wore to Mass:

Dress: Custom ordered (to be long enough to cover my knees - even pregnant! - and have cap sleeves to cover my shoulders for Mass) non-maternity but still fits, from eShakti. LOVE them. They actually sent me a really lovely dress for free since I keep blabbering on about them on the blog. But you'll have to wait a bit to see that one, since it won't fit until after baby comes.

Shoes: Zappos

Accessories: Anthropologie (that purse is my favorite thing about it being technically "fall" -- even though it's 90 degrees today, I still get to bust it out)

Bump: 32 weeks!


AAAAANNNNNDDDD . . . Liturgically speaking,

Tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady the Rosary!

This is a great one to celebrate with kids.

You can make a Rosary out of just about anything! I've made them out of cupcakes, mini-muffins, bread dough, and vegetables but the one that's easiest but still very popular with the kids is this one:

I (or the big kids) can put these together pretty easily, one for each person, then we sit around the table and say the Rosary. We let the kids eat each "bead" as we go along (which is why we don't make it out of chewy or hard candy, it needs to be gone fast). But if you prefer, you can give them each a bowl to put the candies in as you pray, then they can eat them at the end. You could also try building the Rosary as you pray, but that ended up being very distracting for my little kids.
Here's what we've done to make the Rosary a part of our family life:

Thanks to my friend Christy from Fountains of Home for hosting What I Wore Sunday at Fine Linen and Purple this week. Head on over to check out what everyone else wore to Mass today! And check out her blog too, if you haven't. She's a mom of five littles in rural Canada. If you like faith and fashion and literature and a positive spin on the craziness of five kids under seven, check her out!