Edited by KelliHope - 3/14/14 at 1:39pm
We do a lot of sports. I didn't intend on it being that way. DD1 is naturally gifted with sports. She was 3 years old when she saw a neighbor girl coming home in her dance clothes and shoes. It was love at first sight for her! So she did start dance at 3. Neither my DH or I did sports or activities as a child so it just felt like a foreign idea to us. Neither one of us cares about sports either, it was more like DD1 dragging us along as she bounced from sport to sport. When she was younger, we tried practically every sport out there it seemed. And yes, I would plan ahead, softball in the summer, soccer in the spring, dance during the school year, etc... Check out to see if any local cities/towns have a parks and rec dept. We do locally and that is where we tried so many sports for low costs.
As DD1 got older, we narrowed down which sports/activities fit our family best and which ones she preferred. Since she is naturally gifted, we've been on more competitive teams then I can count. She is 11 now and she is down to "just" gymnastics and snowboarding. I say just because she trains 13 hours a week in the gym year around for gymnastics and competes on a national level in snowboarding which has a separate rigorous training schedule.
The siblings do complicate things. My other kids started sports younger and younger because they wanted to be like their sister or brother and would beg to take classes too. Because we have tried so many things, I know which sports I loathe, soccer for example, and a particular child of mine would have to put up a very good reason to make me ever sign up another kid for soccer ever again! All the kids have their own separate interests so I find myself still branching into unfamiliar interests, karate or figure skating, that a previous sibling (s), never got into. I have four kids though!
We are in a similar situation, at least in that my 4 y/o really wants to get involved in something "extracurricular" and while I'd like her to, we don't have a lot of room in the budget. I do feel like she is missing out in some ways, mostly in terms of additional social interaction. Most of the dance/gymnastics classes in our area are $15-20/week, which is a lot for us to spend. One thing I've found (which we can't afford right now either but makes more sense) is the local YMCA. Ours has a $70/month fee for a family membership, but then offers all kinds of enrichment classes like dance, kids basketball, swim, etc. included in the membership or for a small additional fee. If you could swing it, then both your kids could take advantage and maybe the adults too.
Another idea, last summer we did a swim class at the Boys & Girls Club which was pretty affordable, I think it worked out to be about $10 a week.
The PP mentioned your local parks & rec, that could be a good option for your older child- most of what I have seen is for 4 or 5 years and up, but we have very affordable options for youth basketball/softball/soccer. My DD was about a week too young for the age cut-off but we may play next year. That would be a good reason to tell your 3.5 year old that he has to wait too.
Right now we plan based on budget because so many of the activities are expensive. If that weren't as much of a consideration, I'd probably have her try a variety of things that interest her throughout the year. Maybe dance in the winter and soccer in the spring, etc.... remembering that they need lots of time for free play as well!
My experience as a parent: Because I work full-time, my son's activities have always been tied to my work schedule. We felt that his preschool offered a great variety of activities and he didn't have time for any other classes. The summer before kindergarten, my partner was under-employed and what work he was doing was from home, so our son got a summer vacation between schools and took half-day kids' classes at the museum. He really likes the museum classes (art and natural history, different ones offered each week) and they are full-day for age 6+, so each summer since then he has gone to the museum most weeks and spent a few weeks at home with Dad, but that's been his only extracurricular until this spring: He is joining the school garden club and will be staying after school once a week to work in the organic garden. There's no charge for that. His school has many more clubs for the older grades, so I expect he'll get involved in some. He is not into sports. His dad has taught him a bit of piano, and he likes it but has not expressed interest in taking lessons. He's very interested in acting and stagecraft, but for young kids in our area the only available theater groups require a serious Saturday commitment, which we're not willing to do--so he'll have to wait until he's old enough for school plays.
My experience as a child: I took scads of low-cost classes offered through the YWCA and gifted&talented organization. These were usually just a few weeks long, and my parents were pretty tolerant about driving me there or arranging carpools. I was interested in dance, but my parents would not commit to lessons until I could get myself to and from them, in 3rd grade, by walking or riding my bike to the dance studio a few blocks away; then I took dance twice a week through high school; my parents made it clear that they would pay for it only if I attended diligently, so I did. I joined Girl Scouts in 2nd grade; it was low-cost and the meetings were at my school, so I could walk home. In 5th grade I wanted to play in the school orchestra because my best friend did, and this is the activity my parents probably should have said no to--I'm not musically talented, the viola was expensive, and then my mom's friend who taught private lessons talked her into having me take Suzuki method lessons, for which my mom was supposed to be present the whole time and then coach me at home, and we both hated it yet kept it up for 2 years. Also, that meant I had activities 4 days a week every week all school year, which was a bit much.
I think in your situation, I would investigate the low-cost activities that are convenient for you to get to, and have your daughter choose ONE to start with. See how it goes: Does she like it, is she dedicated to going every week, does it seem to be improving her skills? I think it's fine to tell your son this is something you can do when you're 5--let him build anticipation!
If it's feasible, I would go with swimming lessons before any other sport because being able to swim can save your life. My son gets swimming lessons in school, and I'm very grateful--it's unusual for an elementary school to have a pool!
My perspective on extras - it doesn't have to be even. Children get what they need, and siblings have different needs.
My ds started with one semester of soccer during his K year. This was a commitment of 1 night a week for practice and 1 game on the weekend. He didn't love it and we decided that he would not play again the next semester. He tried again in 1st grade and didn't care for it. What I mean is that he liked when he was actively playing but he didn't like all the other stuff, the getting ready, the practice after a long school day, etc. And I didn't like having to drag him places. He hasn't had an extra since then - he is now in 2nd semester of 2nd grade. He does do clubs at school but I consider those an extension of the day rather than an extra. He is limited to one club at a time and that meets for up to 1.5 hours one day a week. Just last week he asked us to check out some local places for karate or similar for him.
My dd started soccer at 4. She loved it an immediately excelled. She has played at every opportunity since then. Just as I was getting ready to sign her up for spring she said she wanted to try something different so she is now in a tumbling class. My dd could easily handle doing 3 extras a week and games on the weekend. DD is in K now and almost 6. I do hope she will give soccer another try in the future.
Family time also plays in to the equation. I'm not willing to be going separate ways several nights a week. My husband and I also have activities we enjoy and we are part of a church small group. Those take up time and energy. I enjoy spending time with my kids - I don't want them to go from school to XYZ 3 nights a week only to have them go home and go to bed.
It can be difficult to balance the different needs as well as schedules, family time, school, etc. But I would encourage families to say no to extras more often. Kids need time to be kids and just play as well as being part of organized extras.
Look through your local parks and rec or community classes. Many times there are activities there they can try for lower cost. My daughter has tried out dance classes, art classes, swimming through our local parks and rec. The YMCA, if you're a member, also has programs at a reduced cost for members. My kids played baseball through the Little League and they play lacrosse now. DD1 played soccer for years. My son tried football for a while. All our area programs had financial aid available. Always look to see if the program offers help. My husband coached for a while because it meant our kids could do the sport for free! That worked, too. I know you were talking about sports specifically, but I look at all programs for lower cost things until they decide they want to stick with it. For my youngest, her girl scout troop has been great. Not sports, but she gets to go camping, do great things AND they have camps that are really inexpensive and I have heard good things about them (I have not tried the summer camps yet). If you find a good troop, girl scouts can be a great positive experience.
I do limit activities to an extent. DD1 does horseback riding (we found lessons far away but within budget!), DD2 does lacrosse and son does lacrosse. These are their more expensive activities and I make sure we can afford these (saving work bonuses, budgeting monthly, etc).
I didn't try to be fair in the younger ages. I actually didn't really think about it. If DD1 did dance and DD2 was much younger and didn't want to do anything, I didn't try to make it even. And if DD2 did want to do something, I would say they had to wait until they were a certain age. DD2 had to wait for a lot of things- wait to go to preschool, wait to go to school, wait to play Tball... she wanted to do all these things before she was old enough too! Now she is waiting until she is old enough to run an obstacle course race with us and to watch PG13 movies. I think she loves and hates being the littlest!
As many people have mentioned, I recommend looking for Parks and Rec and/or YMCA classes in your area. They are normally the lowest cost activities available. Don't assume you can't afford a class until you ask if there is financial support available. The YMCA in particular usually offers a lot of financial assistance if you qualify.
If you find some classes/sports you can afford, let your 5 year old pick just one and feel free to tell your 3 year old that he's not old enough. One of the good things about being a parent is that you get to decide the rules for your family.
I've found that a great way to try out activities is through week long summer camps. If there's a general sports camp available your 5 year old could try out a variety of sports in such a program and then possibly pick a favorite one to try out in the fall.
It sounds like she already knows how to swim, but, if she enjoys swimming, swim lessons could be a fun way to meet other kids and learn new strokes.
With my DS (almost 9) the first activity we did was swim lessons at 3.5. We also tried some short term classes through the YMCA including a preschool multisport class, a tball class, and a gymnastics class. He mostly enjoyed the classes but wasn't super interested in any of the sports. At 4.5 he asked to take ballet classes, and that's the activity he has stuck with. The commitment has now stretched to two nights a week, three hours total. It will go up every year if he sticks with it, but I'm willing to do it if he continues to love dance. He's also a cub scout, and we've set a firm limit of no more regular activities. He loves theater, too, and usually takes a week long theater camp in the summer, but we've told him he can't pick up the school year theater classes unless he drops ballet or scouts.
DD (just turned 3) hasn't started swimming lessons yet because we go to the pool with her a lot and she can already keep herself afloat for short periods. We may try to get her into the intermediate preschool swim class in the fall, but she's very willing to be taught by us in the pool (DS wasn't) so she may not ever have formal classes. She's been dragged along to her brother's dance classes since she was a couple weeks old and has wanted to join in since she could walk. I started her in a parent child dance class at that studio as soon as she was eligible last year (when she turned 2) and this semester she moved up to the 3 year old class and goes to class on her own. I think she'll want to stay in dance as long as her brother does, but it remains to be seen if she'll stick with it without that model. Because we're currently committed to being a "dance family" other sports haven't come up. I might consider on additional activity if she asks about it, but definitely not more than to. If she joins girl scouts in elementary school and stays in dance, that will be it.
At 4.5 yo and earlier I also thought I could not afford classes. I'd hear other moms enrolling their under 4 yo in classes like yoga etc... It was worrying because I though maybe dd is missing out on all these wonderful things. But once dd started full time school it would have been impossible to do any class anyways because she found it really hard to adjust to full time school. And I don't think they are really ready for anything structured before 4.5. In the next year of full time school - at 6 years - I found out from a mom whose daughter was attending a local dance class that she was paying under $100/p.m. for it. Dd finally started dance lessons there. It is $20 for a week and different genres are taught in the 1 class. I am able to afford $20 a week and it works in terms of time as well. I can do once a week without going crazy. I wasn't sure of the quality of teaching though but I thought it was a start so it was alright. However, they have hired a teacher who is a dance graduate and I think on the whole it worked out well.
The town also does soccer for the whole of spring and fall which is 3 months - at a reasonable rate. We do that too which is one weekday evening and one weekend morning. It's just an hr so again doesn't drive me up the wall.
What is your budget? For up to $80/month you could find some activity, I think.
Swim lessons are not affordable at all at least for us. In our town took place last summer and it was only basic. It was priced okay but nothing has happened since and dd is eager to continue learning but if we go for pvt. lessons it's either $30/1/2 hr or $30/hr not sure. I had checked the YMCA too. It was like $285 for 10 lessons plus it was too far.
Doing sports or music or other extracurricular is not just about the specific activity. It's about learning to practice, learning time management, keeping them out of trouble, giving them nonacademic ways to socialize or to socialize with other kids, etc. I think that for young children we shouldn't worry about overscheduling, but older children should focus on one or two activities. Young children need to try lots of things to see what fits best.
My 4-year-old does yoga, hip hop, swimming, and soccer. We plan to try out t-ball, martial arts, and piano eventually too. As far as the costs go, there are many ways to keep costs down (like checking the Y or city's recreation dept.) but it's also just worth budgeting for.
My son will be 4 in May and about 10 weeks before his fourth birthday, we are starting swim lessons. That will be his first course. He is in preschool from 9-2 five days a week so I feel that is more than enough social and other activities (they do lots of art and music and since it's Waldorf they do Eurythmy which is a form of dance) and until now I've purposely kept him out of other classes, just to avoid over-filling his time with activities. I am a firm believer that kids need lots and lots of unscheduled time for free play. I also have no interest in running around all the time and enjoy our time in the afternoons to just hang out, play, be creative, go outside, etc. We decided on swimming because he loves going to the pool and more than that, I want him to learn to swim ASAP for safety reasons. Where we live (in Europe) they generally don't teach kids proper swimming until age four, so the first course we're doing will be the prep for learning to swim and then in the summer or fall he'll learn proper swimming. Other than that, we don't plan on doing any other classes for awhile but if he asks to I would sign him up for other stuff. I think for most kids age 3-6 no more than maybe two afternoons a week in classes (I mean besides being in preschool or kindergarten) is enough.