Monday, March 26, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is...How Many Extra-Curricular Activities Does Your Family Do?

Home is Where the Heart Is...and where their start is.

When I had just one homeschooler and a toddler (we started homeschooling when Bubba was just out of third grade and Tex was about two), things were a lot different than they are today. First of all, I was younger. Don't laugh. It really does make a difference in some cases! Also, carting two kids hither and yon (only one of whom is in a car seat) is a lot different than lugging around four who are in car seats, and only one who is not. Organizing the learning for five (since Bubba has graduated and is running his own business away from home now) is a LOT different than planning for just one. Also, Hubby was out to sea a lot (meaning 8 months, 6 months, 10 months, and 11 months four years in a row on a submarine), so filling the time with many activities during those early years of homeschooling seemed very important. 

Oh, yes, and we were both "recovering" from the public school system at that point so our learning philosophy and educational needs were different. I had certain ideas from my years being an 8th grade teacher to overcome, and Bubba needed to heal after being in a 3rd grade classroom with a teacher who read only one book with the class in a year, made the kids miss recess every day to practice for the SOLs, and humiliated him publicly for missing one problem out of a hundred math facts problems on a regular basis (yes, I did deal with these issues at the school, but was ignored...God used it as part of His plan to convince my stubborn self that we were to homeschool).

Here's what we used to do...After a day filled with A Beka curriculum books and workbooks (the whole shebang, Teacher's Manuals and all), we'd set out for one or a combination of the following (toddler in tow): Boy Scouts, Awana, Upward Basketball and Softball, Rec Center Soccer, Swimming Lessons, Co-op meetings and classes, Homeschool Support Group meetings, Navy Wife Support Group (I was in charge of this), Wednesday Kids Church (choir, I think, for Bubba...classes for me), random field trips (we used to take Fridays off for field trips which were affordable with only one child to pay for), play dates with friends, library visits, Horticulture Club, 4-H, volunteering with the Master Gardeners at Colonial Williamsburg (in costume), and more...I just can't remember it all. It is a blur. My life was a fast-forward, get it done in a hurry (because there is more to do afterwards) blur. It filled the hours Hubby was gone and worked for Bubba because he really valued "activities," but it would not work now.

Bubba became a farrier after several apprenticeships
and completing farrier school...

These days we have slowed it waaaaay down. I will admit that some of it is due to my increased difficulties with my health (hypothyroid, migraines, etc.), but I have been doing better this last six months and have still have NO desire to go back to my hyper-scheduled ways of the past. Our philosophy of homeschooling has changed since we started home educating over thirteen years ago. We have learned a lot about what we feel is important when educating our children and surprisingly (wink), it has nothing to do with SOL testing (or any other kind of testing, for that matter) or socialization. We find that what we feel we most need to develop in our children is a heart for God, for their families, for others, and for what God wants them to do with their lives. We also find that (especially in the earlier years), we can accomplish the learning of all of those things here in our home...perhaps more effectively than if we spend a lot of time running around a lot pursuing every random interest one of the kids might have. 

Useful and family-oriented activities are extra-curricular...
picking strawberries for jam. Yum!!

I am not trying to knock anyone else's choices to indulge in a lot of sports or other outside activities. For some families and children, that works. For some, it is almost vital. We have friends whose daughter is very gifted musically and loves to sing and act, and she'd languish if she got stuck at home instead of being able to participate in her beloved acting classes, voice and piano lessons, worship team and choir rehearsals, and plays. In fact, we helped her homeschool for a few months last year when her school was damaged by a tornado and the new school schedule made it impossible for her to continue her lessons (she was scheduled for school from 12 pm to 7 pm every night), and that helped her peace of mind (and her mom's) quite a bit (and Tex and I thought it was great fun because she is delightful!). 

Local and free field trips are FUN! Searching for fossils on a beach...

However, I am not a person who believes that EVERY child needs to participate in (choose a few): ballet, gymnastics, swimming, horseback riding, art, piano, band, football, baseball, basketball, debate, student government, 4-H, scouting, musical productions, choir, yearbook, newspaper, FFA, or whatever other myriad of clubs and activities your local community supports.

Girls love playing princess and ballerina...

Yes, I agree. Many little girls love to dance. That is why we put on Tchaikovsky and the little girls dress up in their tutus and dance to the Nutcracker Suite, with their brothers joining in to save the day. We watch a version of the ballet on dvd and then the kids understand what a ballet is and the girls are inspired to do our Ballet with Rochelle dvds for a few weeks before moving on to their next "favorite" thing.

Could I enroll the girls in ballet and let them experiment that way? I suppose I could, but then I'd be asking Tex to babysit every week for those nights for several months, or dragging him, Cowboy, and Boo with me to sit and watch little girls dance for an hour or more every week (and can you imagine keeping the two year old octo-arm tornado boy occupied???!). It would cost us money for fees, outfits, and gas that I don't really need to spend because I can tell you by watching my girls that they are going to love dancing with their husband's at their weddings, but neither one of them is a budding Prima Ballerina...ballet is not where their gifts lie. That is not a way of saying that they can't dance. They both do a very nice job and could probably do well in a ballet class production, but if you watch your kids for long enough (and pay attention to them), you can see what really sparks their interest and makes them light up from inside, like God hooked up that part of them to a lightbulb and you can visibly see the glow around them when they talk about the topic they have set on their hearts.

One of these young men is a future minister, I think...

I have another friend who has four sons. Three of them participate in sports (the other is autistic). There is one who was playing football with the kids after church about three years ago and I remarked to my husband, "That boy is good. He has a talent for sports. I think they will need to develop that at some point." It seems I was right. Apparently, of the three boys, he is the "one." He's the star player on the team, does well in every position, and is humble about it to top that off. I truly believe that pursuing sports for that child is a good idea...I think he can at the very least get a scholarship to college out of it, and perhaps will wind up being a "light" on some college team, be a Recreation Specialist at a YMCA and influence many boys and girls, or maybe head up Upward Football in ten states.

The other boys play well, but it is pretty clear that their giftings lie in other areas. One is a budding pastor or missionary of some sort and needs to be out apprenticing with a pastor, going with him on calls to help people. The other one I am not certain about, but he may follow in his dad's footsteps as a Trooper or something. Does pursuing sports make their chances of doing any of those things harder? Not really, but then again, it's not helping either. Their mom is exhausted with running to many different practices (all different age groups), their Saturdays are spent completely at games, and their autistic brother and little sister spend their time sitting on the sidelines not developing anything (other than patience...and learning to be choosy about their companions, as some of the other participants do not hold the same values as their family). In my opinion, the other sons could better use their energy and time pursuing things other than sports (and it would lift a burden from my tired friend).

Fun and inexpensive field trips together.

I think that homeschooling is wonderful for so many reasons and one of the best is the fact that we can use our time wisely and tailor our children's experiences to suit their personalities and needs in a way many other families cannot. We have uninterrupted time to spend with them (during the day before everyone is exhausted) teaching them the things of the Lord, making sure that they learn to live out their walk every day, not just on Sundays. We are able to be their strongest influence, as well as their biggest and loudest cheerleaders! I can look at Tex and tell you that he is very good with people and loves to be social. We definitely need to find ways to get him out there so he can hone his skills with all types of folks (not just his age peers). That is why my husband spent this last weekend as a chaperone on a trip with the youth group and got to know the youth pastor and the kids better, while Tex got better acquainted with the kids of the several groups (who do things together frequently) and his dad gave him a few pointers on the side for his benefit. In our minds, it is ideal when parents can participate in activities with their kids or serve together doing missions work. Then you are building the family relationship as well as developing the social ones.

Doing missions together by putting together Christmas Child boxes.

We have learned that Tex is very good with computers and technology, so we are seeking experiences to develop that gift. He already cares for all of our home computers. He is going to volunteer at the library this Spring, hopefully with the IT guy. Tex has expressed an interest in both library science and editing, so we will look around our community at the newspaper, Christian radio station, and booksellers to see what opportunities might be available in areas he might enjoy exploring. He participates in a weekly Chess Club that allows him to socialize and develops his critical thinking and logic skills, and we do a homeschool 4-H club which has covered public speaking, air turbines, recycling, and more. He'd like to do the Robotics Club in the future, and has hopes of playing on the homeschool football team one year, but we will see. We can't do it all, and in the meantime, he develops his physical prowess by doing P90X, pull ups and push ups, barn chores, riding his horse (who just had a baby, so no riding for a while!), bowling with his Poppy, and riding his bike around our five mile circle. He has a guitar and a set of dvds to teach him how to play, and if he progresses with that, we will see if he can work with someone on the worship team to go farther. If not, then maybe he might be more interested in running the sound board...we will have to see.

Our Computer Expert...what will he do with his skills?

The Amigos play with each other at home all of the time. They are their own club...but they are not exclusive. Anyone who comes over anytime will be included on the spot! They are outside right now doing a nature hunt (I made a scavenger hunt sheet of about twenty things last week and they are finishing it up today) and "building" a "treehouse" under one of our bus-sized bushes. They are loving doing Awana, which I think is a huge blessing as it helps them master those skills of working in a group, as well as the focus on Bible memorization (boy, does it motivate them!). They are all singing in a small musical on Palm Sunday, and Ladybug attends 4-H with Tex, while I take the others outside to play. It's not a lot, but it seems to be enough. They do not feel they are missing out at all, and neither do I. 
I am giving them riding lessons when we have the opportunity, and my mom is helping me give them piano lessons. If any of them start showing a true gift for music or riding or anything else, we will trust that God will provide us the way (and the energy) to support them in developing their gifts, in the same way he provided a farrier/horse trainer/barn manager mentor for Bubba in Florida when he was interested in doing something with horses. 

How cool is two baby ponies in six-months...
who needs lots of extra-curricular activities?

So, I hope through all of that you were able to see that what we believe about extracurricular activities is that if being very busy with them works for you...then great! If you are happy and your kids are happy, then perhaps that is what you are supposed to do in this season of your life. It was that way for us for a while, and it may be that way again. But for now, we are content to keep our activities minimal, but carefully chosen and prayed over, with the goal of always seeking to do things that develop our children's ability to serve God according to the giftings He has given them, and to develop their hearts...most often (for now) at home.

Another inexpensive local field trip...FREE!!

Yes, sometimes when I hear moms telling of the five amazing things their kids did that week I feel a twinge of guilt over whether I am denying my children a chance to try it all and excel at everything...then I remind myself that my kids DO try an awful lot...they take care of chickens and dogs and horses and a bunny and a cat. They've had two baby ponies born this year in their barn and helped to care for them. They ride their bikes and we go on occasional field trips and we love to do nature walks. We're learning about the constellations and practicing singing "Be Thou My Vision" as a family. The girls are sewing aprons and the boys are making a bird feeder and everyone is helping work on the barn and gardens. We all love to cook and read lots of books. The Bookmobile comes by our house twice a month just to keep our book supply coming! Just because we aren't going outside the home to do most of our "extracurricular" stuff doesn't make what we do less just makes it cheaper and easier to get to!!

We love our Bookmobile. Thank you, Mr. Mike!!

I pray you have a blessed week in all your endeavors.


Read more thoughts on ExtraCurricular Activities
by checking out Tuesday's TOS Homeschool Crew Blog Cruise

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