Extramural or extra ridiculous?

I’m sitting at my desk surrounded by piles of paper. Rachel came home today with forms for soccer, forms for music, forms for “a culinary program” and forms for drama. Did I mention that she’s three and a half? These are all extra-mural activities that children can do, on top of the already full program they have at school. For a fee obviously.

Now while I really like Rachel’s new pre-primary school and appreciate that it’s only trying to offer kids a wide variety of activities (and that schools compete with each other in this sphere), I just think that this is getting beyond the ridiculous. The drama class even promised us it could teach her how to mime. Do I really want a three-year-old mime running around the house, pretending she’s stuck inside a box? The answer is No.

But the real question is: since when did we start trying to turn kids into mini adults? While sport and music are all wonderful and necessary, shouldn’t we just let kids be kids and mess around in the back garden – while they can? There’s more than enough time for a full extramural calendar once they reach big school. So why are we trying to rush them out of childhood into the grown up world, with all its responsibilities, pressure and criticism?

I’m probably taking this all a bit seriously. It’s just that I’m concerned that these activities will have the opposite effect they’re intending to – by providing too much structure for our children, surely this can stifle creativity?

I’m not sure about you but I barely had any “formal play” before I went to school age six. We lived on a farm, so I went in twice a week to town and I remember playing with dolls in this converted church and having a crush on a boy called Michael. That’s about it. For the rest of the time I was riding around on my bike, skinning my knees, sucking on stones (I used to get dirty stones and suck them clean – weird I know), having tea parties in my treehouse and helping my Mom bake cakes (read: licking the bowl).

While I do think it’s important to foster any passions or talents children have, we also run the risk of making them jacks of all trades and masters of none. In this day and age we want them to be good at EVERYTHING, which is completely unrealistic if you look at most well functioning adults around you. We are all good at some things and pretty crap at others.

I understand that the world is getting ever more competitive. You need good marks to get into good schools, to get into university, to get a job. And the pressure on kids these days is ridiculous. And so us parents take on this pressure too and we don’t want them to miss out or be at a disadvantage, so we sign them up to every available activity and we pack their little days full and the whole family just ends up exhausted.

And all of this in a country where the majority of kids are struggling to even learn to read and write. Where many of them go to school hungry and sometimes don’t even have any textbooks to read from. And we’re worried about whether three-year-old Arabella should be taking ballet or horse-riding. Maybe instead of extramurals, we should be teaching our children compassion? Empathy? Altruism?

I don’t have the answers (obviously). I suppose, as with everything, the key lies in moderation. If your child is really into her music and dances at every opportunity then focus on that. If she loves kicking a ball, then focus on that. And once they get a bit older, then we can start taking these extramural forms a bit more seriously. But in the mean time, I’m off to teach Rachel how to play in the mud. And suck on stones.

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15 thoughts on “Extramural or extra ridiculous?

  1. It gets a bit crazy, that’s for sure! N gets to pick ONE extra mural for the year and that’s that. And she doesn’t get to change it halfway through either.

  2. I completely agree with you!! Its crazy how much they’re offering our preschool kids! Lil Mister is 3 and I’m getting Mommy quilt because I’m scared he sees the friends doing it and he’s not! But then I need to smack myself because since when do I teach my kids to do things just because their friends do it! I agree our country has much greater concerns than these activities at such a young age!

  3. Agreed! I had a nice chat with another mom a while back discussing schools and she warned me against doing too many activities with Paige. She did and so did a lot of her friends, and not only did it cause a lot of stress for her daughter, it also puts financial pressure on parents and the kids haven’t even gotten to big school yet. She decided to skip it all with her son and he is a much happier child for it. I taught Grade 8 maths and it made me sad to see how stressed kids were. Some of my learner were only getting 5 hours sleep a night, every night, trying to keep up with school work, sports and extra murals. They are burning themselves out when it should be their best years. Be young as long as you can I say, and you will be better off for it.

  4. I am going to differ. When my son got to ‘big school’ I was incredibly grateful that he had been exposed to soccer, cricket and karate in one form or another. He always wanted to do the extra murals and then ended up not loving them and bailing after a term (I made him complete the term at least) but being thrown into big school PE having experienced none of this would have been a disaster for him. And by Grade 3 they are forced to choose two extra murals. My daughter loves her ballet and most of the girls in big school are doing it – a really nice way for them to socialise too with kids outside their own classes. Plus I think these structured play time activities do a lot more than keep these kids busy. Dance mouse for instance works core muscles, karate has a whole host of benefits – soccer works hand/eye co-ordination, crossing the midline etc which all helps with school work ultimately and cuts down on the need for OT when you do get to big school. Now many will shout me down and say all of that is unnecessary and very ‘private school’ obsession but I am fairly passionate about giving my kids exposure to all sorts of things (okay not miming – that is hilarious) – and their extra half an hour at junior school for their two activities (maximum – never more than and if they want to do nothing that is also fine!) is hardly taking away from the next two or three hours they spend in the garden (or slouched in front of the TV) at home. I even let my son try pottery and turns out he adores it and is really good at it and it’s helping his pencil grip. Win win see?

  5. Thanks Jenny – good to hear from someone on the other side of the fence! My daughter does already do ballet because she loves all think dance-related and after talking to a few people I’m probably going to sign her up for 1 more. You’re right, 2 activities that only take up an extra 45 min each are hardly going to take away from their “play time”. So I suppose as with everything – moderation is key.

  6. Speaking as an ex teacher who saw all these extra murals coming and going, I would agree that you should go for what your child is interested in. I would recommend the Tots and Pots (the cooking one) because they learn how to cook something and get the recipe (I would always get the kids to give me the recipe) and also swimming is worthwhile. The rich parents would sign their kids up for everything which would make it difficult as a teacher to either catch them up afterwards or schedule teaching around the extras.
    Oh, and I’m all for free play. My son loves that!

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