Are you worried about your child not willing to “practice” their extra-curricular activities during the break?
This comes up during the year as well, but now that the activities they’ve been religiously attending every week during the school year are on summer break.
While a lot of parents felt that the weekly sessions were practice enough during the year, they’re concerned that all that effort (and let’s not lie- the money invested) will go to waste if our kids don’t keep practicing on their own during the summer.
Practice for young kids in general, and as it applies to breaks.
What is the purpose of extra-curricular for young kids, 2-6 years old?
We’ve discussed this before in our episode on observation, but I think it’s particularly important that we focus on this for this one too because parents often lose sight of what extra curricular activities are for for young kids.
We get so caught up in exposing them to new things and living vicariously through them that we forget that extra-curricular activities serve 3 purposes for young kids:
Exposure to New Experiences
Expose them to different sports, arts and other pastimes. They are little.
Unless your child is some kind of prodigy, the idea here is variety!
If you can’t bounce around from one interest to another when you’re 2-6, when the hell can you?
Expand Their Friend Group
Most kids see the same kids over and over at daycare, preschool, kindergarten, or maybe a religious gathering or neighbourhood group.
The idea of extra-curriculars is spend time with people who have similar interest as you do, who you wouldn’t usually have crossed paths with.
Habituate Them to Learn from Someone Other Than Their Parents and Learning Group Dynamics
Most young kids spend their time listening to a handful of adults, and they get very used to how each of those adults operate.
Being in an extra-curricular with a coach or teacher you aren’t familiar with helps kids learn universal expectations like standing in line, how to tell when an adult is giving you directions, putting your hand up to speak, looking at your peers and mimicking them, etc.
NOTE: Nowhere in there did I say: to find your future career, for Mom and Dad to live out their childhood dreams, or to become the next Olympic champion.
If any of those things happen, that’s cool but the number of people who find their passion at age 2 and follow it through to an adult career is minuscule…
Grab the scripts for crazy-making behaviour and know exactly what to say next time your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener isn't listening.
It’s a fluke, it’s not the purpose.
If your child has been participating in a sport, an art, or an activity and refuses to practice outside of the program time…should we be forcing it?
If the answer for children under age 16 is unequivocal, no. Why?
The purpose of these activities is not to turn them into an occupation.
They’re to explore different aspects of life and find something that brings you joy and relaxation.
Something that fills your cup.
Something that regulates you.
Something that connects you to a community of people who also find joy and regulation from participating in that activity.
The second reason is that children do not learn through drills, they learn through play.
The same as academics. It doesn’t matter if you give your child a work sheet or you run them through soccer drills, you’re putting adult-centred and adult-led priorities over what their body and brain is prioritizing.
There is so much development happening in early childhood that prioritizing what we as adults consider important.
We will displace the development that should be occurring at that time and most often, that development gets skipped.
It doesn’t just get pushed to a different time frame especially if they are never given the space and opportunity to explore freely at other times.
This can easily happen if they’re doing drills with you for an hour a day, and then want nothing to do with the sport afterwards because they’re burnt out.
Extra-curriculars about the enjoyment of the activity, not the achievement.
Your investment, of financial, effort, and time, are not being invested in your child’s stardom.
If the achievement happens? Awesome!
If your child wants to do drills or wants to practice their instrument all the live-long day? Cool.
It should be a catalyst of internal motivation, not external.
There’s also the fact that we cannot perform at 100% all the time. It’s impossible.
We need rest, both physically and mentally, to integrate the knowledge we’ve acquired to play with the skills we’ve developed.
Within the play, the seemingly meaningless play, we truly master a skill.
I often use the example of my own son, he’s now 8 years old. When he was 2, he was terrified of the water.
He wanted nothing to do with it, which was a problem because we have a pool, my parents have a pool, my husband’s family has a cottage on a very large lake, and we live literally 2kms from the Ottawa River. There’s two large beaches within a 5 minute drive of us.
For his safety, I needed him to be able to swim.
We did swimming lessons, but for that first couple of years he still didn’t want to get in the water outside of lessons. He played at the edge of the water at the beach. He would stick his toes in the water in pools or off the end of the dock.
I didn’t force it.
Sometime around when he was 4, everything clicked and he suddenly could not get enough of the water. He was in it constantly and a cycle emerged, where he would do swim lessons throughout the year, he would stall towards the end of the year.
Then he’d spend all summer playing in the water because we don’t do lessons during the summer and come September he’d have leaped one or two levels.
By time the pandemic hit when he was 6, he was asking to join our local swim team, and when try-outs started after the pandemic, he got on the team no problem.
Once again, his coaches are saying to me- he had explosive growth in his technique at the beginning of the year but he’s starting to stall and I’m not worried at all because I know he’s reached a plateau in instruction.
He’s learned all the formal stuff, now he needs to play with it for a few months and I have no doubt in September I’ll be hearing about how much he’s improved over the summer.
The time where he’s just able to play with his skills and mess around with them- that’s where the true growth happens and it’s the same for all other sports, it’s the same for arts, it’s the same for any kind of skill.
You hit a certain level of mastery, and you plateau. Play is the key to getting off that plateau.
Play allows us to try things out that shouldn’t work but sometimes do.
Play gives us a new perspective. It gives us a freedom to fail. It creates space for exploration and that’s where true growth happens when we’re exploring.
One more story before I leave you today from when I was in early intervention. I was working with a little girl who was unable to jump forward.
Which I know, sounds like a very minor skill that most children pick up almost by osmosis but this little one had some muscle weakness due to a genetic anomaly and while she could jump up straight in the air, she couldn’t jump forward.
This is not a big deal at age 3, but can quickly hinder more advanced motor planning as you age. I worked with her every day on jumping forward, much in the way people would train for a race or a big game.
We did exercises. We practiced. We stretched. We went to physiotherapy.
We probably worked for an hour a day just on jumping one step forward.
At the end of 10 months, she still couldn’t jump forward without holding at least one of my hands. I was devastated this had seemed like the easiest goal we had at the beginning of the year, we were ending the year not achieving.
I felt like I’d failed her, quite frankly.
The program I worked for was only active during the school year, so I bid them goodbye for the summer and in September on my very first day back this little one smiled a giant smile at me and said “Lana, watch!” and immediately jumped forward completely on her own.
After two months of no practice and her Mom said she’d just been playing with it on her own throughout the summer until one day about two weeks before she’d asked if Mom would draw her a hopscotch pad on the driveway, and Mom was floored to see she could do it!
Without that break to just mess around with it, chances are we would have been at it for many more months.
Those are just two examples I have at least a dozen more.
If your little one is resisting practicing piano or doing soccer drills with you in the evenings, chill.
Let them mess around with it. Take the pressure off.
If your child is naturally adept at it, they will want to do more of it. If they aren’t, it might just be a passing phase but forcing it is never going to garner the kind of mastery you’re hoping to achieve at least not in early childhood.
I hope that puts your mind at ease and helps you to back off a bit this summer and trust that your child’s play is functional and productive.
Keep offering opportunities, and when they’re ready and willing, they’ll take them.
If you’re struggling with this- because I know it’s hard to let go like that come and talk about it in the Parenting Posse. We have a group of over 10k parents who all get it and are there to support you through that discomfort.