Ex-Extracurriculars

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Parenting Lesson #5,426:  Just because your kids are the right age to participate in extracurriculars doesn’t mean they are ready to participate.

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This was a big year for our family.  Bean turned three, which meant that he was now able to play any and every sport offered at our local YMCA.  Chris and I were pumped.  We had our sideline chairs polished up and read to go.  This was also the year that both kids were enrolled in Safe Start infant survival swimming lessons.  I was totally ready for this one, too.  Nothing scared me more than having a home with a pool and two kids who can’t swim.

Swimming lessons for Bean ended up being awesome.  Truly one of the greatest experiences we’ve had with kids.  He learned how to flip himself over in the pool if he were to fall in and float until he could swim to the side and hold on until help came.  I can’t tell you how proud I was of him.  By the end, he could jump in the pool in full winter attire (long sleeve shirt, winter coat, pants, socks, and shoes), and swim/float all the way to the side.

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His teacher could even flip him head over feet in the water and he could still get himself to the surface and float/swim over to the side. It was pretty spectacular.

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It took Bean six weeks to complete the course. Gracie took twelve weeks. Every day for twelve weeks, I hauled that little redheaded spitfire up to the YMCA so that she could learn how to save herself. And every day Gracie screamed and pitched a fit through the lesson and refused to swim. It got to the point where they had additional instructors from Safe Start come out and try to help Gracie. At one lesson one afternoon there were THREE instructors in the water with her. And still, nothing.

Finally, I told her very sweet (and highly experienced) teacher that I just could not keep coming every day. So last week was our last week with Gracie at the pool. By the end, she could TECHNICALLY float. Kind of. Sort of.

When she got out of the pool on the last day of lessons, her teacher tried to make me feel better by saying, “I’m PRETTY sure that if Gracie fell in the pool, she could PROBABLY float…”

Who was she kidding? We both knew Gracie would sink like a rock. But I appreciated her effort. Truly. In fact, we decided that in six months when Gracie is a little older, we would bring Gracie back to that same teacher for real swimming lessons, not just Safe Start classes. We all agreed that Gracie, though technically the age that was required for the program, was just not ready.

Which brings us to soccer.

Bean started soccer in September. He had practices on Thursdays and games on Saturdays. Bean loved the idea of soccer. He loved all the equipment, like the shin guards and soccer balls. But he just never got into the actual game. He stood out on the soccer field and watched everyone else run around. Chris and I spent more time running around during practices and games trying to get him to play than he did.

On game days, he got really excited to GO to the games, but when we got there, he would say, “Can I sit in the shade with Gracie?” or “Let’s go home and see the doggies.” Still, Chris and I wanted him to learn about commitment to his team and all that other sportsman stuff, so we cheered loudly and dragged him out on the soccer fields during games and practices.

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But last weekend, when it came time to get ready for the soccer game, Bean started crying because he didn’t to go. And at the game he cried because he wanted to go home. And on Thursday, he cried when he had to go to practice. Finally, we realized what was completely obvious. Bean was just not ready for a team sport yet. No matter how much we tried to talk to him about sticking with things and not quitting, he was just too young to understand that concept yet. All he knew was that he HAD to go do something that he didn’t want to do at all, and everyone kept telling him how much fun it was supposed to be.

This week I emailed his coach and told him that Bean wasn’t going to finish out the season. He wasn’t surprised, really. Bean was the youngest on the team and was the only three-year-old to make it this long into the season. Two others had already quit after the first two weeks.

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So, we learned a parenting lesson this fall. Just because your kids are the right age, doesn’t mean they are ready for things. We also learned that just because Chris and I are excited about something doesn’t mean that our kids will be, too. We are dialing it back a couple notches and settling down a bit. I mean, they’re only 18-months and three-years-old for Pete’s sake! Mommy and Daddy need to take a chill pill.

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21 thoughts on “Ex-Extracurriculars

  1. I just took a test in pediatric nursing on this…not that everything the experts say applies to every kid. At 3 most preschoolers can kick a ball and run but most don’t really understand complex directions. However, by taking him out of a sport that he is not ready for you are helping him to be successful in Erikson’s stage of initiative versus guilt.

  2. I totally feel you on being over-excited to try things with your kids. I am the same way 🙂 Also, I would love to get Ellen swim lessons. It seems like it would be an obvious thing to save yourself when you fall in water, but it’s just not. I also am loving those pictures of Bean in his winter gear. Did you blog about that? That had to be a hilarious experience! Finally, I am dying over that last picture. I love the girl in the bottom left corner wearing a skirt and picking her nose on the field! That about sums up kids’ soccer!

  3. kk

    i just took my son to a parent and tot swimming class and he cried most of it…maybe he is too early..he’s only 6 months!

  4. I am just learning this lesson myself! I’ve been so excited about all the things my 2.5yo can do, that it just didn’t occur to me that he may not want to. Seriously, didn’t even cross my mind. But, yes, we are “music school dropouts” over here!

  5. suburbanmom2

    I absolutely applaud the decision you and Chris were wise enough to make for your children. As the mom of two teens I cannot tell you how many parents we’ve watched over the years pushing their very young children to play sports they were not ready for. My husband used to bemoan the fact that all of his coworkers very young kids played sports,took dance,etc. and ours did not. When my youngest was in 1st grade he wanted to play t-ball so i signed him up and he loved it. My 4th grade daughter announced she wanted to suddenly start playing softball, she had refused to until then, even though many of her friends played. They both went on to play ball right into HS, where they both are pitchers for the school team. Now we complain about all the games, practices, tournament weekends, etc. and driving them around we have to do!

  6. HeatherM

    I think that once kids are older extracurriculars can be very useful to get kids to try things they wouldn’t have otherwise tried- to open up their minds to new and different things. But when they are this young, I think the purpose is to help channel and expand the interests and talents and passions that they already have. So if Bean LOVES swimming, do you think he might enjoy more swimming lessons? I know you mentioned that before.

  7. Love this post, and I’m totally cracking up and that wild Gracie girl! We skipped swim lessons for Hayes this year because he loathes the pool, even though Hudson started lessons at Hayes’s age and did fine. Hudson stays after school one day per week for a music and movement class– I imagine them doing Jazzercise for preschoolers, but I think they just sing songs and dance around . He is also doing karate for 45 minutes each week. I saw a little bit of this, and I think the best thing I can say about “karate” is that they learn to obey adults and do things quickly when they hear the command.

    I think it’s great that y’all took Bean out of soccer if he wasn’t loving it. We wanted to sign Hudson up for soccer so badly this year, but some friends of ours with older kids told us not to do it because it just consumes your Saturdays and we have a whole life ahead of us for sports. But they’re just so cute in those uniforms!!! Maybe Bean can be a soccer player for Halloween? 🙂

    And I’m SO impressed with his swimming skills!!

  8. Bravo! To you, to Bean and to Gracie! But especially to you for recognizing what was best for the kids and acting on it. My twin sister and I were involved in extracurriculars when we were little, and my parents were always excellent at listening to us and figuring out which ones worked for us (in my case, piano lessons and Girl Guides) and which ones didn’t (e.g. ballet, t-ball). I feel like they were good at getting us to try new things, but also at protecting themselves and us from getting too busy and overscheduled (I have four sisters, so it was a bit nuts, even with fairly few extracurriculars). MOST importantly, I felt like my opinions were respected, and that I mattered in shaping my own life. I think that is priceless.

  9. PK

    Good for you and Chris for recognizing what your children are and are not ready for and then for not pushing them to continue on when they clearly weren’t ready. Sometimes children just need (unstructured) play and that makes them happy.
    I’m a Minnesotan and laughed when I saw your description of “full winter gear”. Our full winter gears adds snow pants, boots, hat, mittens, and scarf to your list. But our winters tend to be a little cooler up here… 🙂

  10. Meghan

    We had a weekend recently that was a good reminder of why team sports are not a priority for my family at this point. NASA’s Langley Research Center (about 45 minutes from our home) advertised an Open House. Emmett is fascinated by space, so we made a point to go. We got to tour the world’s largest wind tunnel, see research labs, stand in the chamber where they tested shuttle tiles, meet an astronaut and hear her describe the Space Station from her own experience, etc. It was incredible, and it turned out it was a “once every 5 years” event (the next time they do it will be in 2017, when we will almost definitely not be living here).

    I mentioned it to a friend whose son is also very interested in space, but she remarked they couldn’t go because of soccer. I thought about that all morning while we were at NASA, because we did soccer last spring and, had the Open House happened then, we couldn’t have gone either. And I was SO incredibly glad we went…….and very mindful of the fact that these kind of experiences can inspire and shape kids in ways we don’t always realize at the time.

    There will come a time in my kids’ lives when they don’t want to spend a Saturday morning with me and their Dad playing Legos in our living room, they don’t want to go to a NASA Open House, etc., and they’ll probably be fully ensconced in a team sport or activity that takes over our weekends. But, at 6 and 3, they’re not at that point yet, and I’ve realized I am fully OK with not rushing that phase of our life. There is tremendous pressure on parents to sign kids up for activities at very young ages (most of my 6 year olds friends have been playing team sports for 2-3 years now), but I am even more resolved to resist this pressure after the amazing weekend we had at NASA…..that wouldn’t have been possible had we been committed to a weekend activity that my son was not really into to begin with (he spent most of his soccer time in the spring talking to the little girls on the team and dancing around the soccer field!)

  11. Ana

    I think the problem about soccer is that soccer is not truly appreciated in the US. I mean, do you (you and Chris) watch soccer games at home? That way Bean can never be excited about it because he doesn’t feel excitement from you. In my country (Portugal) kids start playing soccer as long as they stand up and can kick a ball. But here we are devoted to soccer, so it’s a cultural thing!

  12. kat

    Ok so Peanut I think is about 3-4 months older than Gracie and we JUST started a toddler swim class and I can tell you that there is just NO way that the kid could learn how to float. Props to Gracie for even the “probably” thing. And Bean man? WOW!
    I think if P fell in the pool she would just sink without a sound or even a fight. I’m not sure she understands even wanting to float at this point – plus there is this whole thing where she HATES when water touches her eyes. I’m hoping that she at least enjoys the pool by the end of our session. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll think of enrolling her in a cool class like yours (I don’t know if our YMCA even offers anything that cool….and definitely won’t let them go in in winter gear – L O L).

  13. Kelly H.

    I think 3 is too young for team sports for most kids. We waited until 5 for flag football (and only because he really, really wanted to play) and 6 for everything else. I took the advice of my dad, who has been coaching various youth sports for 43 years – and he was totally right. They were more than ready at that age and understood the commitment.

  14. Agreed, and good call. I went through this 20 years ago. What I have observed is a tendency for kids to become “burnt out” by the time they hit middle school, which is about the same age as they used to be able to start playing for “real”.
    It’s sad. It seems like no one wants to spend time at home anymore and kids don’t know what to do with “free time”. Sit outside and let them climb trees and learn how to play with their imaginations. Life is full of schedules and what we “have” to do soon enough.

  15. I love that the little girl in the last picture looks like she’s picking her nose.

  16. My husband is chomping at the bit to get Sully in sports and he’s not even 2. He thinks that just because he’s tall for his age, he’ll be ready before everyone else. He also thinks he’s going to be a 6’4″ left handed pitcher for the Cardinals. I don’t know how to let him down gently…

    Bean will get into it when he’s ready. Most of my neighbor kids didn’t really start loving sports until they were 5/6.

  17. We had to give up soccer too because I got tired of chasing Nate around the field. He thought the goals were fun (the literal goal area – not making them) but *really liked* running free in the field. Our town doesn’t have kids start playing actual soccer games until age 8. They just do drills for skills and team building exercises until then, likely for the reasons you’re citing. So exciting to see Bean floating in a winter coat though! (As if he needs that in Florida… 😉

  18. Dessi

    This post makes me happy and sad all at the same time. Our family lives, breaths, eats, sleeps (you get the picture) baseball! We have never dealt with the thought of our son (who is only 7 months at the moment) not sharing our love of the game. We can’t make him like it, so I guess I will hole for the best!

  19. Rebekah G.

    my son played soccer when he was (newly) 4 and he HATED it! seriously, he didn’t “run” around until i started bribing him with toys! now, at (almost) 5 we have put him in “happy feet” soccer. its a private program offered through his daycare. he gets to play with his friends & i don’t have to run around at night for soccer practice, nor do i have to wake up early on my saturdays!!! maybe we will try organized soccer in another few (or 5) years!

  20. Hilary

    I totally hear you on this. My daughter played soccer at her babysitter’s house as soon as she could walk. So when we got a coupon for a free soccer class at this indoor soccer training center, we were psyched! Five minutes into the lesson, all the kids were sitting in a circle, watching the instructor and following the directions. My daughter, however, was running up and down the turf, my husband chasing after her, begging her to sit down like the other kids. Finally we took her home, frustrated with her lack of cooperation and concerned about her inattentiveness. Our babysitter was great about explaining that she was a normal 3 year old. Six months later, we tried gymnastics and she has been going strong ever since! We recently started dance too and she was just so ready – and did awesome! I think four is a great age for those activities. Don’t get discouraged!

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