When to Start After School Activities

Updated on November 06, 2013
C.B. asks from Irving, TX
18 answers

I think my 6yr old kindergartner is ready for an after school activity, maybe something 1x/wk. I know my 4 yr old preschooler is not ready for an after school activity. Suggestions for how I might balance both? I have always been very protective of down time for my kids. While many mom friends put their toddlers in soccer/dance/gymnastics/karate at the youngest age they could enroll, I did not. Other than swimming lessons one summer they have not been involved in any organized activities except school. I'm a full time mom so my kids are home with me after school lets out at 2:30pm. We have systematically increased their hours/days in school so they comfortably reach full time for kinder. At this point my 4 yr old is spent after her 3 full days of school each week but my 6 yr old is still rearing to go. I don't want to hold him back until she has gotten a little older and has more stamina but it also isn't fair to drag her along when she isn't up to it (even just to watch). How have other moms balanced differing needs in different children?

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So What Happened?

I am a firm believer in not over scheduling our family. But we don't sit around and do nothing at home...we play with the neighbors, take walks and bike ride, have playdates, we go to the library, we run errands, we go to parks, we swim. But for me the difference is that those are all free activities with little to no commitment. We come and go as we please depending on how everyone is behaving. I absolutely understand that younger and older siblings go along to the other one's activities when necessary and find some way to keep themselves occupied. I think I'll look for an activity for my son on one of the days my daughter doesn't have school...I'm not sure why that option seemed to elude me. After asking the question, I decided I'm just not comfortable having my daughter "deal with it." If she was just being difficult or complaining or bored, that would be one thing, but she is actually tired. And I refuse to give more validation to my son's hypothetical activity than to my daughter's need for rest by taking her along knowing she needs something else. I'm also not sure any kindergartner activity warrants the cost of a babysitter for my younger. There are still many years ahead of us to do activities. If I can't find something that can be scheduled on one of her non-school days then we'll assess again next year, or next semester, or whenever seems appropriate, and see how much "up time" everyone needs and can handle. Thanks! :)

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I think it sounds like you're a home body that doesn't like to go out and do stuff. That's okay, my sister is the same way, so is hubby. I'm a social butterfly kind of person. I enjoy being out doing stuff and being around people.

So I have the kids enrolled in lots of activities. If you don't want to take them to do stuff then don't do it. They'll just not have the same experiences as a lot of their friends. That's okay, just because others do stuff doesn't mean you have to do it too.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from San Francisco on

It all works out. Just do what's best for you. Usually when my son was at baseball (when he was 7 & 8 years old) I'd take the younger ones to the park, and sometimes we'd run an errand or two. If we got back before he was finished they played on the bleachers or climbed the hill for a few minutes. It's not that big of a deal. Most activities at this age are no more than an hour or two, and usually only once or twice a week.
ETA: I was talking about practice. For games the whole family would go, and there were always plenty of siblings for the younger ones to play with. It was casual and fun.

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answers from Boston on

Find an activity for your six-year-old on one of the 4 days a week that your four-year-old doesn't have school. There is nothing unfair about bringing kids to their siblings' activities. My younger boys are 6 & 8 years younger than my two oldest and they went to the older kids' activities from birth, until they were old enough for their own.

Only you know your kids, but I agree with another responder that it sounds like you may be the one who likes to be at home and are projecting your own temperament on your kids. Meaning...go ahead and give it a try. Sign up your 6-year-old for something for 6 or 8 weeks (the normal length of time for sports or activities at this age) and if it doesn't work out, try something different later.

It's trial and error. When my younger boys were 5 & 7, they tagged along to the gym with their older sister after a day of school and then an afternoon of their after-school program. They used to horse around a lot in the waiting area of the gym so my husband enrolled the 5 year old in a class there. After 2 or 3 classes, he was miserable so we unenrolled him. He had the energy to goof off in the waiting area or ride his scooter around the parking lot or play catch while waiting for big sister's workout to end, but doing a formal class was too much after a long day.

Present it as a positive to your younger child. Bring along a quiet activity that you can do together while waiting - read a book, play on an etch-a-sketch (or a phone or tablet), sit and rest in your lap, etc. She might enjoy the time more than you think.

FWIW, my oldest kids started organized activities in Kindergarten (t-ball, Karate, gymnastics) and my youngers started at 3 (skating, hockey, soccer and Karate).

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Your oldest is ready for something. The younger one goes along. That's life. She, at this point, needs to learn to adapt. Unfortunately, life does not always revolve around her and her mood. She goes along or hire a babysitter. My kids used to go to Riding Competitions. We would leave at 5am and get home at 6pm. They coped. It is what it is.

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answers from Dallas on

Hm. I think down time is important, but kids need some up time and well....a life, too!!! I see no reason whatsoever that your younger child couldn't go and just hang out while your older child does something fun! There's 24 hours in a day. If your child sleeps 12 hours a day (including a nap), then there's still LOADS of time to unwind!
When to start activities? My oldest turned 7 this past weekend. He started little activities when he was 3. He did gymnastics for a couple weeks but we decided it was too early, all he wanted to do was jump on the trampolene. We put him in half day mothers day out at a church (home in time for lunch), 2 days/week and he loved it and thrived! Over the years, starting at age 4, he's experimented and explored in mommy & me music play, swim lessons, kung fu, soccer, equestrian lessons, awanas (little club at church), an art camp, a zoo camp, and his current activities: cub scouts and flag football. He asked me to let him do some hip hop dance class after football is over, so he'll know how to do something when they have the sock hops and stuff like that at school. (I only know the jitterbug and taught him that, but that requires a partner that knows it too).
He still maintains great grades, all our meals are together as a family and we have family devotional time, he does his homework, has down time just for him (usually he's playing with the dog, reading, or playing with legos), has play time with his little brother and a couple neighbors or some kids at the park when we walk the dog to the park for a little playtime and then walk back home, he has an activity a couple days a week plus a game on Saturday and church on Sunday, and STILL manages to have plenty of time to read, draw, make a poster for Cub Scouts or whatever. Some weeks are really busy, other weeks are slower. We adjust our Sundays accordingly (lots of rest or go out as a family).
As for the younger sibling question: 4 is old enough for it to be a perfectly reasonable expectation that he/she could hang out while big brother/sister has an enrichment activity. My youngest child is 3. He's always been present at everything but the scout's den meetings (though he does go to the larger pack meetings because it's a whole family event). We cheer for big brother. We watch, clap, and then go home and copy. It actually enables big bro to practice at home, helping little bro learn it too. We cheer for our family and absolutely expect big brother to do the same when little brother starts having events. You probably won't be the only mom with 2+ kids at an event, and kids can play together on sidelines. (Soccer: we made great friends with a family whose children were the same ages as ours, we ended up being really good friends for 3 years and counting! Parties, beach trips, picnics, all kinds of fun...Kung Fu, my younger son was well cared for by some preteens that played with him while waiting for their sibling...football, my son plays on the playground or runs around with another ball with another 3 year old during games).You can pack a little go bag for your younger child: a snack, a couple small toys, a book, a notepad and crayons, whatever would rock his/her world and help entertain for a little bit. But it's also an exercise in behaving and understanding that sometimes, the world doesn't just revolve around him/her. However, at my son's football practices, it's very near a playground and we do let little guy play while big guy practices.
As for what my NEARLY 4 year old does for enrichment: we attend church and he loves it. He is in Awanas (a Bible club at church) on Wednesday evenings and loves winning awards and earning patches on his vest or stickers in his book. In summer he went to mommy & me swim lessons. He goes weekly to small fry club with me where parents are invited to stay involved but a "teacher" reads a story, has a game or song, a project for the kids to do, sometimes a guest (firemen with their truck, a dentist, etc),a different theme each week. And we go to storytime at the library and do arts and crafts. He loves to cook with me. We take little field trips during the week when big brother is in school: zoo, museums, stockyards, a farm, etc. Next spring he'll have a choice of Tball, flag football, soccer, or dance as his first team sport (exception being dance). In summer, they'll all take swim lessons again. In the fall, he can choose an activity (martial arts, theater, flag football, whatever he wants). Let him figure it out on his own. We'll make it work.
As for balancing needs of children: the way we did it was to write down whatever needs we could come up with (spiritual, emotional, mental, social, etc, etc---whatever they are to your family) and then I make sure that we cover those needs for all of us in our weekly routines. We may not hit every one of them every day of the week, but they WILL all be covered every week. It's important to not just decide you don't like doing things, and therefore your child who is raring to go must be held back. Explore. Let them develop new interests, acquire new skills, if they like something that's great and if they don't, you can move on to something else. That's my thoughts on it at least.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We recently enrolled our 5 yr old in a dance class 1x per week for about an hour. What you might want to do is look for an activity for the 6 yr old where you can take that time to do something with the 4 yr old. Could be as simple as going to a park or library during that time. If she is spent, something low key for an hour or so shouldn't be too bad. Or if the activity for the 6 yr old is during the weekend, can you and your DH tag team the kids? One stays home or takes the 4 yr old somewhere while the other supports the 6 yr old and trade weekly?

Sometimes, my DD (being far younger than the older kids) just had to deal with it. Sometimes she napped while we waited or sometimes we went to a playground. I also brought books and crayons if she just wanted to quietly read or color.

You might also try some play dates. Even if you end up hosting, a friend can keep your kid occupied and the 4 yr old can rest or do her own thing.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

Because my boys are three years apart they do not do the same after school activities at the same time (except for swimming lessons, I always manage to get them at the same time). They both started weekly swim lessons at 18 months, soccer at three years, and they have both done various martial arts, and are both very involved in choir and theatre, so we are busy. During soccer season one kid plays Monday and Wednesday, the other Tuesday and Thursday. Sometime it means dropping one kid off at their practice/lesson and then taking the other kid home or to run errands until pick up time. Other times it means preparing a quiet activity for the child who has to wait (a book, a handheld game, a snack). Sometimes it means a kid has to sit, be quiet and pay attention, even if they don't feel like it (choir concert, musical theatre performance). My husband works evenings, so leaving a kid at home with him doesn't work for us. It won't hurt the four year old to have to do this stuff. We all have to do stuff we don't feel like doing.

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answers from Dallas on

We try to do a trade at our house. I take my son to his baseball practices, which were 1.5 hours two times a week ,for a while. On those days hubby came home and watched our youngest, she just turned five. Some days he could sneak out of work early, some days we just arrived to practice a bit late. My daughter does soccer. And while her practice is only for 30 min, my second grader has no desire at all to watch that practice. He stays home with Dad. There ARE days where one has to go to something they aren't interested in. I usually try to bring an activity for the child being "dragged" along...a ball, a book, occasionally a video game. And unless there is a scheduling conflict, they go to each other's games to support their sibling.

I know there were moms who utilized the baby sitting services available at our rec center when we took classes there. The younger siblings were safe doing something they enjoyed and the older siblings could do their classes without distraction.

I would suggest trying out something with a shorter schedule just to see how it goes. It may not be the issue you are anticipating. You four year old may like the change in routine. There are many activities and classes that are only six weeks long. My daughter's soccer season was only 8 weeks. And some of the fun classes we have taken at our local rec center were just a month long.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

My son had to sit through many hours of dance classes and my daughter has sat through hours of sports. We take books and activities for the one who has to wait. Sometimes there are other kids waiting and they can play nearby. It all works out. It was rough when my son was 1 and had to sit through my daughter's dance classes, but we survived. Just bring things for her to do. You can also use the time to read to your youngest.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

Generally when they show an interest in something. If your 6 year old has an activity or sport in mind, go for it.

Don't forget - you do not have to sit there and watch all the time. First class, sure. Special things and competitions, absolutely. But not every single practice/meet. In most cases, you can drop off your and go do something with your 4 year old.

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answers from Dallas on

Life isn't fair. Taking her now gives you ammo in 3 years when your son is complaining about having to attend her events; "Do you know how many hours your sister sat at your basket weaving classes?!"

I agree with all the others that say you're over thinking this. At practices you can go do stuff with her, or even sit in the car while she naps. At games/performances there are always siblings around to play with. My youngest loves going to her brother's games because she has a bunch of friends there and that is the only time she sees them (she's 10 and has been 'dragged' to his stuff since 3). Bottom line - if you have a bad attitude about it your 4 year old will pick up on it and have one too. If you are positive and matter of fact it will be a good experience for her as well.

ETA: We've had the most paranoid helicopter parents on some of our teams, and even they have found something to do with the littles while the bigs practice. So if you aren't comfortable leaving him don't use that as a reason not to sign up.

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answers from San Francisco on

I definitely think a 6 year old is ready for it and can benefit from it. Most sports team practices are later in the day since the parent coaches can't leave work too early. My son usually practices at 5:00 (4:30 now because of the time change), so if he's out of school at 2:30, you still have 2.5 hours before practice. This is plenty of time for a snack, homework, play time, and rest time.

My son is 6 and in first grade. We did start sports young, so he's in his third year of soccer already and will start his fourth season of baseball in the spring. I also have a daughter who just turned three and she does get taken to most practices (fortunately, she enjoys it so it isn't really dragging her - all of my son's teammates have siblings ages 3 and 4). You can't hold the older one back because of the younger one. Work out carpooling so you don't have to go every time, or at least so you don't have to stay, even if you're always in charge of drop off (friend can do pick up).

My son also finishes school at 2:30 and he has practice twice a week at 5:00 (now 4:30). I don't feel rushed with him at all. He has quiet time, homework time, and play time between school and practice. I don't think that signing up for one activity will be too much - just stick to one thing at a time. I don't ever do two sports at once because I like to have a few days unscheduled for play dates or just sitting around at home.



answers from Detroit on

mine are 18 months apart ... so often they are in the same activity at the same time.

this is for my convenience.. right now they are dancing on Tuesday evening.. and will take a 45 min gym clas (fun running around) followed by a 1 hour art class on Saturday am.. the gym and art are only 6 weeks.. we start this week.. and will be done by dec 14..

if you sign up for an activity pick one that is 8 or so week.. usually they are ready to be done by then...

dance is the worst as it is about 35 weeks from sept.. to the recital in june..


answers from Norfolk on

It's going to be different for each child.
Our son was not ready to listen and follow instructions after school tills he was 8 yrs old.
After a long day at school he was worn out with listening and just wanted to unwind.
You can get a sitter to watch your 4 yr old at home while you take your 6 yr old to an activity/class or you can have someone take your 6 yr old to an activity/class while you stay home with your 4 yr old.
Plenty of people drag younger kids around with them and some are miserable while others are just bored - parents just don't seem to recognize that as selfish behavior on their part anymore.



answers from Salinas on

Not fair? It's fun to watch big kids activities. Surely an hour a week isn't too much. There is a pack of little ones at every softball game we attend and most other activities my kids have participated in.

You will run into this again and again, it's part of being a sibling. She may as well learn life isn't "fair" sooner rather then later.

There is also nothing wrong with dropping your son off after he feels comfortable. The "sit around and watch everything" parents are not serving any purpose. You have them in an activity to learn something from another adult, watching every practice is not mandatory.



answers from Tampa on

There's no rule that she has to be in an activity at this age. Kindergarten is still a little young. I know people do it, but it doesn't mean the child is emotionally ready. At 5, we enrolled my oldest in soccer. He stared at the ground and didn't run after the ball. In Kindergarten, my youngest tried karate. He enjoyed it for 3 months than got bored.

If you really want her to be involved in something, then you'll have to bring the tired child along and deal with it or leave her with a sitter or friend.

There's plenty of years to do after school activities. I say save your money and go to the park on days that your youngest is not tired.

I really feel, especially reading some of these comments that children today are very overscheduled and it causes stress. We are down to one activity this season and it's great. I have 3 kids, so only the oldest is doing something. I am no longer driving all over God's creation several nights a week. My other two don't seem to mind not having an activity right now. I tell them that we are taking turns.

Somebody said they keep their kids very busy- soccer, choir, this that! Really?!! Is this what our society has become? What happened to just playing outside?



answers from Detroit on

I drag the little ones (baby, toddler, 2 preschoolers and a 6-year-old) around. Everyone ages 2 and up is in stuff. We have 1 or 2 after school activities each day, after school and preschool. It is a lot. Thursday alone there is karate, swimming and baseball! That is for 4 different kids, all throughout the day.

But being at home...they just go nuts. I'd much rather be out doing things!!
And in the winter it's too cold (well, you are in Florida). :) Downtime for us leads to a lot of bickering and wanting to watch TV...it was pretty bad. So we sign up for everything.



answers from Lancaster on

My daughter has been in baton for three years and this near she decided to challenge herself and is doing baton and hip hop. I was a little iffy at first and thought it might be more then she can handle (she is only 7) but she is really enjoying doing both and keeping active. As far as the sibling issue...have a five month old so I do not stay at her practices. I do however go to every recital and cheer her on! If this is something your child is really interested in doing then I'm sure you'll find a way.

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