Keeping Close to Home

One thing you may notice about our family if you ever come to visit is that we are not running around town much. We like to keep close to the old homestead.

When the kids were young I watched my friends rush from one lesson to another, hurriedly dropping son #1 off at soccer while trying to pick up #2 from karate. They would have a fast food, drive-through dinner, go back to the house to throw a load of laundry in, and head off to bed because there were piano lessons first thing in the morning. I thought home schooling meant you were at home!

Once our kids were old enough to participate in these opportunities, we looked at the price tag that goes with many of these activities and were stunned.  No way could we do all of that without building up debt or sacrificing in other areas, like electricity. It was not the life we wanted for our family.

We made a drastic decision. We were not going to enroll our children in any outside activities when they were young. Yes, it was a shocker. There was pressure from all sides to let our kids get some socialization, learn to play a team sport, or an instrument—you name it.

What I found funny was that I had no opinion about the choices my friends made to be gone from home every night, but they all had a strong opinion about our choice to opt out. Apparently we were going to be the ruin of our children. Well, time would tell, right? If they grew up feeling ruined, they could just go get themselves on an adult softball team and figure it out.

As time passed and each of our kids began to exhibit individual talents and interests, we looked for ways to help them explore them. We have occasionally joined groups, and our oldest son was in a scout troop for a few years. That meant the rest of the family sacrificed and picked up the slack for the chores and absence of father and son on scout days. We could not do that for all of the kids at once or we would never see each other, so we chose carefully.

Now we have a houseful of older kids and a plan for managing outside activities. We put family time and the running of the home over lessons and entertainment, but we do have some wiggle room occasionally to do things.

If one of the kids wants to participate in an outside activity, he comes to us with the idea. Then we look at all of the costs: financial, time, family effort, and effect on the character of the child. Is the cost in these areas something our family wants to spend? If so, we parents share the idea with the rest of the family for their input as to how it will affect everyone. Probably more than half the time, by the time we have gone through this whole process we decide not to do it.

When we say “yes,” then the real planning begins. Our older children, for example, attend a Bible study outside the home once a week. To make this work we carefully plan the meal for that night and give them the night off from cleanup. We make sure there is a car available and that the schedule is running on time.

Music lessons are another example. It was always difficult for me to drag the rest of the children along for lessons, so we found a teacher who will come to our house. Currently we have three children taking piano and two taking voice lessons from her. This is financially costly, but for now we are able to work it into the budget. Every year we revisit these lessons and decide if we should continue.

My goal in sharing our ways of managing outside activities is to encourage you to think about these activities as a whole, for the entire family, and not simply do them because everyone else is doing it. It is OK to tell your child “no,” no matter how important an activity feels to him at the time. We have three adult children now. I can say they turned out great and are following their passions despite their lack of extracurricular activities.

Sometimes it is healthier for the family to skip the lessons and spend that time together.