Every year, you as parents and teachers, are faced with an ever increasing number of options for your students. Curriculum, Friday classes, soccer, CYT, Youth Theatre, baseball etc. How do you decide?
First, recognize that you can’t do it all. Each of us has time limitations, money considerations, and other work, family, and church commitments to fit in. Be realistic. The addition of outside learning can be a fantastic addition to your homeschool day bringing you a break, both during the time of the class and in terms of preparing that subject…but too many outside commitments can compromise what you are trying to accomplish.
Second, evaluate your goals for your child. What are trying to accomplish? Will this activity aid you in that journey? How old is your child? My suggestion would be the younger they are the more carefully you consider the number of outside activities you involve them in. A seven year old should not have a schedule that rivals an overworked middle-aged executive. They should have hours of free play time to build cities in the mud and curl up with books. Children need time, time to be loved, time to explore, time to play. A hectic schedule robs them of some of these most precious years. There will be plenty of time later on to involve them in outside activities, they don’t need to ‘do it all’ in kindergarten.
Every family is going to look different, you all have different commitments and different needs. For us the boys were always heavily involved in family, not just our immediate family, but we have a large extended family that we spent a lot of time with. They were always involved with church, in Sunday School, mid week activities, and special events. To us, these were the center, other things would have to fit around these two. As they got older we added some sports, then music lessons. They still had plenty of free time during the day.
By high school things had changed. High school students are beginning to become independent, they want to try things outside of home, spend time with friends. My boys love having a packed schedule and knowing that they will be jumping from one activity to the next. (You still need to keep from going overboard…but things change.) Time with family and at church remained constant, but they were eager to expand their horizons. I found it healthy for them to develop varied interests and to keep their minds and bodies productively occupied.
I had a couple of criteria I would look at before deciding if we should participate in an activity. I’ve listed them in no particular order.
Criteria One: Is this something my child will miss out on by not being in school. There are things that happen at school that you cannot duplicate at home with just you and your children…like competitive sports. My boys wanted to play sports so we found ways to add those into our school year. Figure out what things YOUR child might miss by not being in school, evaluate if that is a good thing or not, and then look for other ways to provide that experience.
Criteria Two: Is this something I’m not qualified to teach? I am not musical, all my children are…so I paid for music lessons. It was worth it. We try in our Friday classes to provide those subjects that parents might not want to do on their own, like Latin, Art History or Biology. For me, it was worth it to have someone else help out with those subjects I was tentative about. (Please note that I truly believe that with all of the curriculum choices available to homeschool parents now, if you are willing to put in the time and effort you can teach any subject you want on your own. You need to evaluate whether or not the trade off in having someone else do it is worth it.)
Criteria Three: Is this a subject that is better learned in a group setting? Over the years I’ve been doing the Friday classes I’ve discovered several things. First, some classes like Shakespeare, are just more fun to do in a group where you can act out the plays. Second, I’ve found that in classes like Chemistry or Latin that are especially challenging, students benefit from having others to commiserate (grumble) with. It seems to make the struggle more bearable.
Criteria Four: Will participation in this class/activity provide my children with healthy socialization, a chance to make friends and create positive feelings about homeschooling? While I believe that the non-homeschooling world is far too concerned about the socialization of homeschooled students, (research has shown repeatedly that homeschool children have enhanced social skills) we still want our children to have places to interact with age-mates and make friends. In particular, children who are transferring from a traditional school setting to homeschool are concerned about when they will be able to see friends. Knowing that each week they will be in classes, sports, and activities where they will see other children makes them less resistant to the change, and provides times each week to look forward too. (Conveniently, it also provides an answer to those relatives who are concerned about your child’s lack of ‘socialization’.)
Criteria Five: Does this activity move me toward my goals for my child, or way from them? Does this activity reinforce what we are trying to accomplish? I had written intentional goals for each of my sons and when it came to choosing between activities we always tried to choose those activities that reinforced what we were teaching them ourselves. With such a variety of good choices in front of us you need a way to weed through all the good and find the best. The ‘best’ for your child and your family will probably not be what is ‘best’ for someone else.
To sum it up, we found that adding outside activities was a crucial and fun part of our homeschooling experience adding a depth and breadth to our years that we would have missed without them. We also found that saying ‘yes’ to everything quickly led to frustration and stress. So while we wish to present you with many choices for the coming school year, and we hope you participate in many of those choices so that you have a rich, productive year…keep in mind that each day only has 24 hours and you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) fill each and every one of them.