@_Leila: Do you have any thoughts on what age is appropriate to start sports for kids? We know people starting 4 year olds. (1/1)
@_Leila: It seems very disruptive to the family (dinner, baths, bed) etc to do practices and games for a dubious benefit at that age. (2/2)
~@SedLibera on Twitter (not my preferred way to dispense my pearls but hey, probably good discipline for me!).
Dear Auntie Leila,
I was wondering if you could comment on how to prioritize activities for homeschool kids. Along those lines, could you comment how to AFFORD activities, when you live on one income–especially for larger families. I have 5 boys who spend their days vibrating in frustration at the limited types of exertion are available to them. My two oldest are nearly 9 and 10 years old. During the summer it’s not too hard, as there is garden work, grass to mow and rake etc. but as we approach winter, I’d like to find something for them to do that is more than just tell them to “run around” outside.
I am a bit daunted at the idea of paying for lessons for tumbling, martial arts, or whatever. We are NOT a family that would be running like crazy from activity to activity, but would like to pick one thing for them to try, to help burn off all that energy through the long winter days–something a bit more disciplined and with more purpose than just free play.
I feel that they are wanting to stretch towards manhood, and begin leaving mama’s apron strings, but don’t know where or what to release them to. Being homeschooled and staying home with mama and the babies from day to day seems to be too limited of a scope for them at this point and I’d like to expand their horizons before they begin to chafe and resent the limitations of our life (of budget, of transportation etc). Also, I think finding some way to provide instruction from an outside person would be beneficial for them. Can you provide any input? Help!
Well, of course, you’re never too old to run around outside!
Having said that, Auntie Leila does have some things to throw out there about sports specifically, with the usual reminders that she is not an expert (um, especially about sports), every family is different, and circumstances are different. As you ponder these thoughts, think also on what kind of community you live in (sports-mad or less so) and what level of energy your family really has.
The suburban thing of signing your four-year-old up for sports is something you do because you yourself desperately need to get out. Your leaves are raked, your supper is in the crockpot, and if you don’t meet some other parents your brain might explode on your tile floor.
You kind of want to get going on this parenthood gig, and secretly you are interested if your child is
a.) developmentally extraordinary, able to catch a spiral from 50 feet and destined for the NFL and/or this generation’s Tiger Woods
There is no other way to do this than to head out for some activity.
Being on a team or going for lessons gets you out of the house, so there’s that.
That’s fine. Everyone does what they have to do.
I myself didn’t do this with our kids because sports aren’t something I grew up with — I’m a soccer mom transplant. Dear Chief did grow up with sand-lot baseball and was fairly athletic — only he’s just of that age that they certainly didn’t have organized soccer in his day. It never occurred to us.
As they got older, our kids played soccer, more soccer, indoor soccer, some baseball, and a smattering of other things. Our girls also did Irish step dancing. We lived in a very sports-oriented place, so although I’d say we did a lot (considering the sheer number of people to be carted around), we didn’t do as much as many.
It’s fine, though, because the truth is, other than that it makes you happy, there is no point in signing a small child up for sports unless you enjoy watching the antics of little monkeys who have no idea what they are aiming at.It is of questionable advantage to the little tots, although it does make for good mental images when you need cheering up:
- The forwards on the teams of six-year-old girls are suddenly fixing each others’ braids mid-field, mid-game — completely, but completely! oblivious to the screaming parents on the sidelines.
- The boys can’t figure out how to line up to shake hands — they just can’t wrap their little minds around the process of coming at each other so that right hands meet, and their coaches-aka-parents are herding cats trying to get them there. Finally everyone just… leaves.
- A wee goalie has woven her hands through the netting up to her armpits, and consequently can’t extricate in time to defend.
Usually practices for six-year-olds end pretty early, and by mid-fall it’s too dark to practice anyway.
But as to serious, two-practices-a-week-of-two-hours-each, travel-or-club-teams, I’d say that you definitely have to think it all through, particularly the effect it will have on dinner together and bedtimes.
I once met a woman whose just-turned-eight-year-old daughter was doing step dancing, private step dancing lessons so she could make Novice, and club soccer (with games in another state). This mom was wondering why the child wasn’t reading well, and why she was doing her homework after 10 pm.
Don’t be that woman. (But you wouldn’t.)
Make priorities and have goals — and discuss with each other, husband and wife!
If your goal, and it’s a worthy one, is to get your over 6-year-old boys to play sports of some kind, because you think they could use the exercise and because playing organized sports does have benefits, then budget it in. If it’s to get the girls a skill they’ve been clamoring for, then go for it.
When you homeschool, you need to realize that you are saving a lot of money. Going to “free” public school isn’t free! There are sports fees and a lot of other expenses. When you understand that there is a certain CODB (“Cost of Doing Business” as the Chief calls it), you just make room for it. This is family life.
Get savvy with used equipment from resale shops and eBay, and always voice your needs, because most people have stuff in their garage that they’d be happy to give you (viz, that picture above!). When a child is old enough to have a job (mowing lawns, shoveling snow, taking care of a neighbor’s dogs), he can chip in for things he really wants to continue doing.
If you truly can’t afford it, then it’s not necessary to the well being of your family.
Getting the kids into sports outside of home is worth it if it meets these criteria:
1. The child really longs to play. This is what got us going — our Nick really wanted to play soccer, and begged and begged to join a team. To us, it wasn’t important. To him, it was. Boys especially do love and benefit from team sports. Even when the coaches are just volunteer dads, it is important for boys to relate to other men. Women will probably just never understand what it means to a boy to be in the team environment — even if that boy isn’t particularly athletic. Once our first played, the others followed along for the most part, with varying degrees of interest in various activities.
(Of course, it’s also good for a child to stick to something for the time period agreed upon — soccer season, lesson semester. He may find things difficult at first, and realizing he’s made a commitment is part of what he learns by participating.)
Some children are really gifted at a sport (or activity like karate) and you should encourage that, just as you encourage all their talents to the best of your ability, and taking everything into account. Some are peculiarly unfit, and while it’s fine to expose them occasionally and probably a good idea at least for a while at some point, don’t think they are missing out if all they do is play catch in the backyard. Some are just average, and for those, playing a team sport or doing an outside activity will be a fine experience, kept in its proper perspective.
For most of us, our children are not going to the Olympics, so we should be sure to cultivate other interests!
(By the way, major league baseball players agree that playing catch and pickle are better preparation for real baseball than T-ball and young Little League play.)
2. It won’t interfere with most supper times. Sometimes there are seasons (especially baseball, which just takes longer to play) where supper gets short shrift. If your family culture is strong, the benefit can outweigh the risk — but only for a time. Don’t make it the default way of doing things. Supper together four times a week is the goal as your family enters the stage where most of the kids are old enough to sit up and converse for real. Let that slip for more than six weeks or so and you are in trouble. There is nothing wrong with letting coach know that your child will miss a practice or two.
Also, consider helping out with the team as you get used to how it goes. Often, the coach is a dad who is getting out of work as early as he can in order to make the practice. If you can be there a bit earlier, check the kids off the roster, start them on their runs, and set up the drills, he can probably set the time up earlier (and thus end earlier). And you will have helped him get home to his family as well. Never underestimate the power of an offer to help to put an important idea in someone’s head — “Oh, yes, maybe I too should be having supper with my kids!” This is how we help each other.
3. Sports will have their place in family culture, but not drive out other important activities. Besides dinner together, those would be reading, sleeping, just being together, and getting work done. Of course, there are times (like tournaments) where yardwork takes the backseat, but they are the exception and you, Laura, are not there yet! You build up to it slowly (hopefully!).
4. Each child also has a balanced schedule, with music lessons and other cultural activities given their due. A lot depends on what is offered and what the child is interested in, but it’s good to try to provide different sorts of instruction, not limiting yourself necessarily to conventional resources, but taking advantage of the talented teen who can teach beginning piano or the enterprising homeschooler who will start an Irish step dancing class for the little ones.
5. The activities enable you to connect with others in your community. Over the years I’ve found it a real blessing to get to know other families I wouldn’t have any other way; and they got to know us (whether that blessed them or not!). When you stand out there on the sidelines for hours at a time, you can’t help talking to people! This is a good thing, especially for homeschoolers who are otherwise at risk of being too isolated and public-school-goers whose prejudices melt when their kids are on teams with your kids. It’s not worth sacrificing family life for (see above), but if it can be put in good balance with your other goals, then do it.
Which brings me to another point. If your community is sports-minded to the extent that family life will clearly be impossible — Sunday morning hockey games, practices exclusively at supper time, competition way out of proportion to the healthy development of the children, the vast majority of whom will never have a chance at even high school varsity-level play — then consider starting “family-friendly” sports and activities through your homeschooling group or St. Gregory Pocket. You only need about 10 families to get something going, and before you know it, you will have many more.
Sometimes that takes a few years to figure out, but you start with those 7-year-olds and gradually collect enough interested families to do one practice a week and games on Saturday mornings. That way, sports has a place but not a usurping one.
I have to say that there is value to school-yard games (kick-ball, tag football, pickup basketball) that sports organized by parents and leagues will never attain. So sad to see this particular way of doing things disappear! At this point, neither school children nor homeschoolers are benefitting and it’s in danger of being forgotten entirely. Maybe this is another area that homeschooling parents can recover, along with other freedoms for their children, in this highly structured age of ours.