My Checklist for Signing the Kids Up for Classes

by ChristinaPilkington on August 8, 2012 · 9 comments

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I’ve become inundated with catalogs -catalogs from the YMCA and surrounding towns. My e-mail is piling high with private classes offerings – circus classes, theater classes, co-op classes, and science and art classes.


I have tons of newsletters from museums, nature centers, churches, libraries, arboretums, children’s museums that are all screaming at me to SIGN UP FOR OUR CLASSES!!!!!

I have to admit; I get a little giddy as I flip through those pages or scan through those e-mails. Everything looks like so- much- fun!

But, when I get that little bit of insanity out of my system, I start to look at my already full calendar for the next month. Most if it’s not stuff we have to do or have made any commitments about, but it’s all fun stuff, too.

Can there really be such a thing as too much fun stuff?

I’m starting to think so.

Because while I like having weeks where we go to a lot of new places and do a lot of things, I hate making a lot of commitments that span several months time. When it seems like most of my time is planned out for me for the next three to six months, even if they were choices made entirely by me, I get a little panicky.

We need some room in our family just to lie around in pajamas for a few days if we need to. We need time just to hang out and take days off with absolutely no to do list of anything already planned before we wake up in the morning. Those days give me just as much of a high as the days when we hiking up a mountain or walk into a new-to-us museum.

So how am I trying to curb my excitement over classes and workshops that sound like so much fun and that my kids would really enjoy doing?

I sat down and made this little checklist for myself to use when I’m thinking about making a commitment for myself or the kids that will last more than a month:

1. Is this something my kids have already expressed an interest in?

I like to introduce my kids to new things, but before they go to an outside class, I like to make sure they’ve had some type of exposure or experience with what they are going to do first. I can read off a description of the class or sport to them and they might say they’d like to do it, but if they don’t have some experience with it already, they tend to not really care that much about it once we get there.

2. Will this class provide them with a way to learn a new skill or knowledge that I cannot provide for them myself at home?

This is just a personal opinion, but I would not pay for my two or three year old to go to art or music classes. I wouldn’t pay for them to go to a general science class at a recreation center. I just don’t want to pay for something or commit to going somewhere for a long period of time when we can do the same exact thing at home.

My  daughter Alexa did take ballet at age 3 because she asked to go to class about it for six months before we signed her up, and it was the only way she could dance in a recital with other kids. My kids do take swimming lessons because that’s the only way they can swim in the winter time, and I’m not that great of a swimmer to teach them myself.

They both really want to take gymnastics this fall. I’m really torn, though.  They’ve been asking for awhile now. They want to learn to use the gymnastic equipment and learn how to do flips, something I can’t provide for them at home. But it’s so expensive! We have decided to try out a local gymnastic school because you can sign up for six weeks at a time. But they also want to continue with swimming, so the costs are starting to add up.

3. Will the benefits of the classes outweigh the monetary cost involved?

If the class is going to cost money, than I want to make sure that I feel the kids are really getting something valuable for their time. If my kids wanted to play an instrument and were getting quite good at it, than the cost of private lessons would be worth it for me. Or if I had an 8 or 9 year old who had loved art for years and was getting pretty good at it, than private or semi-private professional lessons would be worth it to me, too.

4. Will the benefits of the classes outweigh the time cost involved?

One or two class with a long time commitment for each child can work out ok, although if you have four or more kids, I can see even that playing havoc on your family time. But when it gets beyond that, I think it’s important to do some real soul searching about adding more to your schedule.

The more our schedule fills up with things we’re absolutely committed to do, the less spontaneous free time we have and time just to hang out with each other. And then, at least in my family, everyone starts getting stressed out and short with each other.

We’re in a situation like that right now. We’ve said yes to the swim and gymnastic lessons. But I only have two kids and they can both take those classes at the same time, so I’m thinking that will be ok. Our church is also starting an AWANAs club. It’s sort of like Girl or Boy scouts, but it is affiliated with a church and is Bible based. The kids said they would really like to go this fall, and it would be every Wednesday evening. So now we’ll have three time commitments each week.

5. Is the class something the whole family can be involved in?

The one thing I like about AWANA’s, though, is that I can be a helper in the kids’ class. Every other Wednesday evening my husband Steve practices guitar for the worship team, so we can’t be all together as a family most Wednesday evenings anyway. And the nights Steve is off, he can come to the club, too. It’s something we can all have fun with.

6. Is this something I mostly think will be fun, or do the kids really want to do it, too?

I have to be really careful with this one. I tend to do a really good job of getting the kids excited about something. Maybe I’m a natural salesperson, but I can make most things I really enjoy sound pretty fun to the kids. But sometimes I can tell that they are just going along with something because they like to see me get excited about it. I want them to really want to do the activity, too, not just to please me.

7. Is this the best way for my kids to learn this skill or knowledge?

You might not agree with me, but I think that in most cases, classes aren’t the best way to learn things. I loved taking a lot of classes when I was younger, but I’ve now discovered that I liked them because they were pretty predictable. In other words, they were easy and I didn’t have to expend that much effort or thought on my own.

The teacher handed out assignments and I did them. I was a great memorizer, so it always looked like I learned really well. But I felt fake inside, because a few weeks after the class ended, I pretty much forgot a lot of it, or at least I never really came away with a true knowledge of the subject.

So, I want to make sure that the classes the kids take are as personalized as they can be. For us, swim class works good for teaching my kids swimming because the classes have only 4-5 kids in each section, and each child is working on their own individual skill set ; they don’t have to wait for any other child to keep up with them before moving on to learning the next skill. And they don’t have to worry about being behind anyone either.

8. Will this class help my kids reach a personal goal?

Both my kids want to go snorkeling and scuba diving someday. Becoming better swimmers will help them reach that goal. Both kids also want to learn to use the gymnastic equipment because they’d like to be able to do certain tricks and routines for their own pleasure. Someday they might want to take a class at a community college that will help them obtain a certificate for work they might want to do. Or they might want to take a class because it’s taught by a very well-known teacher they might want to have a more personal relationship with.

When you have a very clear, well-thought out reason for wanting to take a class, I think that makes all the difference.

Photo Credit: PNASH

How do you keep yourself in check when you start thinking about signing your kids up for activities?

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  • tereza crump

    This is a timely topic.

    Last summer I enrolled all 3 of my kids (#4 was just 1.5 y.o.) to take a 8 week tumbling class. They loved it and it resulted in the girls taking ballet in the fall. My DS7 took soccer in the fall for about 10 weeks. The girls wanted to play soccer too but I just couldn’t see myself driving 3 kids to 3 different practices and games!! Crazy!! So I told them to wait until this fall when they should play in the same age bracket.

    Well February came along and the 2 oldest took on karate 2 x a week. We decided to take tumbling again during this summer just because they wanted to keep on learning the tricks and I thought it was a great class to improve on their flexibility and strength. It was a success, but boy am I tired!

    This week will be sign up time for soccer. All 3 will be playing it this fall! I am already exhausted just thinking of all the running around. I am planning crock pot meals and decided to put the dancing on hold until the soccer season is over!

    I am looking forward to Winter when we will be hanging around the house and indoors more! While I enjoy all the learning that happens when the kids take these classes, the expenses add up as well as the time commitment. The kids know that gift money from Grandparents go to pay for these classes. They also learn to save any money they get from us to pay for these extra activities and shoes/ special gear etc.

    Like you I pray a lot and discuss things with my husband over and over to decide what to do. Last year, he put his foot down against us doing a co-op 2x a month 40 minutes away from our house. I am so glad he was wise to do that and I obliged because it was just going to be too much!

    I told the kids that once soccer is over we will be rethinking everything because 3 activities a week is already too much for me. Time at home is really important for regrouping and processing the information we are learning.

    I don’t know what we would do if the kids decided they wanted to do music again. :( It’s so hard to have to drop something they enjoy for another.

    I guess I mainly sign up my kids for physical activities and sports because it’s their opportunity to interact with other kids and compete. They have a strong competitiveness streak in them. My kids are very active physically even if they are not in organized sports/ class.

    Anyway, re-thinking everything and looking forward to winter down time. :)

    PS we just returned from the beach and we did so much, I need a vacation! :)

    • christinapilkington

      I’m hearing what you’re saying about needing a vacation after you travel! We often need a week of down time after traveling since we are doing so much during that time.

      It’s hard when kids have so many interests. I hate saying that they can’t take a certain class or do a certain activity. But I know we’re all so much less stressed when we work together to find a happy limit. And the more kids you have, the harder this is to do. Even with four kids, if they each do one thing but it’s at four separate times, that can have you running around a lot!

      I was just on a date last night with Steve and we were talking about how we see other family members with older children who allow their children to let thier friends and their activities take a huge role in their lives to the detriment of family time. This is one thing that I’m not willing to let happen in my family. When kids spend an extreem amount of time with their friends, that’s when you start seeing less respect for parents and the sense that the whole world revolves around them. I see those kids becoming so inward and not wanting to give to other people. I know it will be tough as my kids get older, but that’s where my heart is right now.

      • tereza crump

        hey Christina, I know exactly what you mean about the friends thing! My kids are so social and talk easily to anybody. They find it so strange when kids won’t reply or talk to them when they approach them in public places. I often tell them that the kids are shy or that they go to public school where they are taught they aren’t supposed to talk.

        Family time is important to us too. But I noticed that it’s important for my children to develop an individual interest so they can set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, if you know what I mean! I have a kid that loves art, it’s her thing. My son loves sports and he is really good at it if my oldest is not around competing with him. I have a daughter who loves dancing. and the little one likes to copy everybody else. Oh, life!! fun with kids and busy!!

        Talk to you soon!

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    This is an excellent checklist Chris. I know where you live there is so much more than where we are but still I get overwhelmed at times. I was going to mention a couple that I really identified with but then I realize it is ALL of them. I have a friend who signs up her child for every.single.thing. I need my ‘home’ time. My lets do things chilling on the couch times. Although we do love the classes and festivals and such we also crave our ‘just us’ time.

    It seems, around here at least, that September and October is just chocked full of things to do! We try to pick and choose wisely. I will use your checklist now! We are doing Co-op for the first time and I am stressing about that. Somewhere to be every single Monday…no matter what…eek!

    • christinapilkington

      I’m so with you on having hanging around home time. It’s like we go out and do a bunch of new things and have lots of fun, and then I need time to process and do something with all that new creative energy that I just gathered up. Talking about things and re-experiencing them together is so important to us.

      I hear you on the co-op, too. We have one that meets every Monday, but I really, really like the group because almost everyone there is like me. If we find something more excting to do, or if we just feel like hanging around the house, we just don’t go and noone makes a big deal about it at all. It’s a very, very low-key group, so I don’t feel like we have to be there every week. They also started a community service type club on Fridays which I was thinking we might like. At first I was worried about commiting to something else, but the other women said we could come and go whenever we like and not to worry about going every week. So far, we’re committing for sure to three things during the week and then we have a handful of other things that can can pick and choose from each week, depending on our mood.

      We’ll see how it goes. If it gets to be too much, we only sign up for things in eight week sessions, so we can always drop something at the end of two months which is nice. Also, exploring new places is a high priority for us, so at least once a week we get out and go somewhere new, too.

  • Julie P.

    This is a very well thought out plan and I have begun to really think hard about classes and outside activities with groups. Other than swimming, I have always felt that classes for small children are a waste of time and money and learned this the hard way with my oldest child.

    However, the last two years, I felt pressured by friends and my child to allow my oldest daughter to participate in a group learning environment that I really did not feel was best. It was a literature group that included discussion and assignments. Her friends were in it and they were all clamoring for her to be in it, too. Against my better judgement, I allowed it and her self-esteem suffered because she struggled with the assignments. There were several other bad effects, which I will not go into, but I tell this story as a caution about group learning and classes even for older kids. Trust your instincts. Sometimes homeschool groups can work against you and not with you.

    I have four children and none of them learn well in a classroom environment, even though two of them occasionally feel they need to prove that they can (and fail and then feel dumb). I like everything you said, Chris. Do as much as possible yourself. Use YouTube. Use kits. Learn alongside your child. When they are older, take the class with them if possible, if that is the only way they can learn it. (My oldest daughter and I are taking an aromatherapy course together this year and we are both excited about it!)

    Thanks for your very concise article about this important issue. We homeschool our children because we want to be responsible for their learning and be WITH our children. Sending them to all sorts of outside classes defeats the point.

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks, Julie!

      I really don’t understand families that sign their kids up for what amounts to be even more classes than they would take if they were attending a school. I guess you can have more control over the classes and a wider range of choices if your child just attends one school, but I agree that I choose not to send my kids to school because I didn’t want to replicate that type of learning model in our home.

      I really think the skills that kids will need to be sucessful, the qualities and values that will be important for them in the future will come through more self-directed and self-initiated projects and goals. Following assignments given by others may have a little value at some point, but for the most part I think competing against others for grades instead of pushing yourself to complete your own goals for your own reasons is pretty harmful.

      And I really want to talk more about the class you’re taking with your daughter. That sounds soooo exciting! I would love to do something like that with Alexa or Jared someday. I love doing lots of little kid stuff with my kids right now. I know they won’t want to do the same types of things in another five years or so, but I also think we’ll have some exciting times ahead in the future as they get older.

  • Tina

    This was really helpful and mirrors what I am thinking and deciding this week. I really like the part about helping them achieve a goal in their life. My kids are 10 and 12 and we have chosen SCUBA certification and monthly diving, sailing (son, 12) and horse-riding (daughter, 10). we will also join a cycling club as a family. These works for us – despite being a struggle financially because they fit in with our lifestyle (we live on a boat in the Bahamas and plan to buy land with horses in Canada for summers) These are our family goals so we are really excited about the kids learning skills that will help them in our life :)

    • christinapilkington

      Living on a boat in the Bahamas and having a horse ranch in Canada? How awesome of a life it that! Wow! I love the goals your kids choose. It really is all about picking those things that lead us closer to our own particular dreams and not just signing up for things because we think our kids should be on a tee-ball team because their cousins are doing it, too, or signing them up for music lessons because we think it will be good for them even though they really don’t want to do it.

      My kids would both love to take SCUBA lessons one day. We love to go to the ocean, so it would be a natural goal for them to have. They’re so excited to take the lessons now, but I need to remind them that they first have to work on becoming stronger swimmers first. They’re only six years old, but they want to be scuba diving to the bottom of the ocean now!

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