When Should We Start Extra-Curricular Activities?

When I was in school, I was the queen of extra-curricular activities. It started at a very young age. By third grade, I was part of a show choir, a travelling drama group, band, peer mediators, soccer team, swim team and an extensive list of dance classes. I absolutely loved it. I was completely insatiable. It didn’t calm down through high school. I still danced, at school and at a studio. I was President of my class, French club, Future Problem Solvers and a wide variety of random other activities. In fact, a friend and I created our own group, we were just so darned determined to be involved and active. (It was called DAFFODIL – Diverse Academic Females For Outstanding Development In Leadership. What can I say, we were in high school.)

I never thought of all these activities as too much pressure. I thrived on it. But even knowing how much I loved being involved in extra activities, I still had hesitation about when to sign my daughter up for dance lessons. Maybe I was permanently traumatized by the New York Times article that talked about parents trying to turn their toddlers into future pro-athletes. I really don’t want to push my daughter! I saw Black Swan and I do not want her to feel the need to be perfect. I just want her to have an outlet to learn about something in which she seems extremely interested. But I’ve hesitated, because I worry that the mere act of signing her up for lessons, any lessons, puts more pressure on her than I want to.

When my daughter was an infant, I signed us up for a music lesson. Tons of people scoffed at the idea of lessons for babies. What those people didn’t realize was that none of us were actually trying to teach our children music. I can’t imagine that anyone in that class was expecting their child to start composing symphonies anytime soon. Most of us just wanted a time to bond with our children through music and maybe meet some other new mommies. There were no expectations about our children’s ability.

Toddler lessons are completely different. Once children start walking, we start gaging how well their doing. So signing my daughter up for ballet lessons feels nothing like signing her up for Mommy & Me music. In ballet, she’ll have to get ready for a performance. She’ll be worried about whether she gets to stand in the front row. She’ll be determined to do the splits once someone else in class has managed it. I’m sure that she’ll have fun and enjoy herself, because I know that she loves to dance. But there will be an inherent pressure to perform that I’ve never put on my daughter before. Is a three year-old ready for that?

In the end, I believe she is. I’m signing her up for dance lessons this fall. But I hope that I can help her understand that these lessons are for her enjoyment. Later in life I’ll teach her about dedication and working hard. As a toddler, I want to help her grow and learn through activities that she enjoys. Right now, dancing is one of them. So I’m hoping that lessons provide a motivation for that joy without any expectations. If she isn’t happy, I guess we can wait til school starts to throw all those levels of achievement at her.

(Photo: Flickr)

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