Taking the Challenge Out of Choosing Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities, especially sports, have evolved since many of us were children. What used to be a fun, after-school experience where kids could interact with their friends, learn something new, and discover a bit more about themselves, has become somewhat corrupted by society’s ever-increasing obsession with competition.

It’s something my husband and I have struggled with when deciding what extracurricular activities to enroll our children in. Gone are the days when a child could try almost everything in grade school and not worry about having to make a commitment until middle school–or sometimes even high school. The memo seems to be that if you want your aspiring star to have any play time (be it in sports, on stage, you name it) when they’re older, you need to pick one activity now and go all in.

So, how do you help guide your child to find what extracurricular activities they’re passionate about while navigating a world that says they can only have one or, at most, two? It takes some pushing back on the status quo. And, a bit of confidence that you’re helping them more than you’re (potentially) hindering them.

Trust Your Gut

There is no manual for parenting–including a chapter on picking extracurricular activities for your child. We have no way of knowing whether their childhood love of soccer could turn into an athletic college scholarship. Or, if they’ll regret skipping art lessons for sports practice. The best we can do is trust our parenting intuition.

If you think your child shows skill in one extracurricular, then you might want to gently but firmly encourage them to pursue that activity. Alternatively, there’s nothing wrong with telling your child to take the season off to pursue other opportunities to further their interests and skills in various areas.

It can be challenging to feel like you are going against the status quo when other families have their little ones enrolled in piano lessons or sports camps every day of the week for months on end, but the freedom of childhood is too precious. Now is the time to let them (or encourage them to) explore every extracurricular at their disposal before committing to just one or two.


While we want our kids to be well-rounded, choosing extracurricular activities that align with their interests is also important. The best way to figure out their passions is by observing them. You can expose them to various activities, such as seeing a concert or sporting event, and then gauge their interest in trying it for themselves.

If your library or community center has a single class or a free event, this can be an even better way for your child to get their feet wet. They may not know immediately whether or not a particular activity is for them. So, give your little one time to reflect and compare.

Put the Power in Their Hands

Sometimes, giving your kids a role in decision-making can help them think more critically about what activities they may be interested in. You don’t need to agree to every single one of their suggestions, but putting the power in their hands can make them more likely to choose and commit to an extracurricular instead of a parent simply telling them which activity they will do.

Nurture Relationships

Extracurricular activities can be challenging if your child is less outgoing and more introverted. Despite this, social relationships are an important part of both after-school activities and your kids’ development. Encouraging friendships with like-minded peers can help extracurricular activities feel less intimidating and increase the likelihood of them being enjoyable experiences. Nurturing relationships with individuals who share similar passions can motivate your child, improving the odds they’ll want to attend and keep their commitment.

Set the Expectation

There is a difference between setting the expectation and pushing your child. Forcing them into an extracurricular they don’t want to do generally can have adverse effects, such as causing resentment. However, something must be said for gently encouraging your child to pursue an activity outside of school, especially if they commit to a season. If your child is apprehensive, you might want to try presenting a list of possible opportunities with the expectation that they must choose one, but which one is up to them.

Additionally, if your kiddo suddenly doesn’t want to participate in an activity they once were interested in, take the time to figure out what may be causing these feelings. Take baby steps, and don’t be afraid to back up and try again if they dig their feet in. It’s important to set the expectation that they can’t bail on their teammates when they’ve agreed to complete a session or season while acknowledging any obstacles they feel they have–and always leave the door open to reevaluation when the season ends.

Show Yourself (and Your Kids) Grace

Whether you couldn’t fit an extracurricular activity into your already hectic schedule or you were unable to sign up for a prized spot in the community center’s offerings, don’t be too hard on yourself. While after-school activities are a great way to nurture your little ones’ passions, skipping one session or season certainly isn’t the end of the world. Plus, maintaining your sanity and keeping a healthy and happy schedule for your entire family is just as important.

The same goes for your kids. If they feel stressed out and need to take a break, show them some grace, too. There are plenty of ways to include the physical activity or mental stimulation they would usually get from extracurricular activities into your daily routine, such as going on a nature walk, visiting a museum, or checking out drop-in activities at your local library. The best part is these things don’t require a commitment, so they’re often stress-free!

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