Well, Bonnie asked how we go about choosing the kid's activities, and as I always say, ask and you shall receive. I'm probably not the best mom to write about this since all my kid's activities revolve around being active (heehee activities = active) and we don't do music lessons, voice lessons, drama or the like. But, here's how we roll with sports and dance.
There was no question in my mind that my kids would play sports. I grew up playing all kinds, and while never excelling at any in particular, I loved being part of a team and staying healthy. Phil grew up playing sports also and we are both very athletic and competitive in general. I do want to say I also played violin for 5 years and sang in the choir, and I wish I could give my kids music lessons alongside sports, but we just can't afford the money or time to do it all, so we choose sports.
We start with soccer when the kids turn four. Soccer is such a great team sport, you don't have to be amazing individually to play on a soccer team, and it involves lots of running and very little equipment (cleats and shinguards). The reason we start them as young as possible is because kids are going to stink their first year at any sport. They're just learning and it's super cute to watch a four year old miss a kick, but not as endearing when it's your ten year old playing soccer for the first time against other kids who have been playing for 6 years. Start them young and let them learn the game and build confidence before they "care" about how they look. Plus, little kids just make the team, but older kids have to try out. If your kids are already older and want to start a new sport, I would suggest finding a clinic that would teach them the basics before they go play.
We live near the ocean, and having our kids know how to swim is very important to us. For that reason, we start swimming lessons when they are around four also. I did do those Mommy/Baby swim lessons with some of the older boys, but they were dumb. As long as your child doesn't have a fear of getting in the water, you don't need to start lessons until they are willing to swim without floaties on. We have been lucky to find swimming lessons at our local college that allows us to take all of the kids aged 5 and up at the same one hour time period. So swimming is the easiest activity for us to schedule. I don't think it will be any of their high school sports, but I am glad they will be safe around the water.
Basketball, we're in the midst of this season now. Basketball, unlike soccer, is a much more individual sport. There's less players on the court and more opportunities to score or miss. In my town, basketball doesn't start until age 6, so that's when we sign them up. Then they play CYO through the parish school once they hit 4th grade. Since my kids go to a Catholic elementary school, there are not many sports offered, but we take advantage of CYO basketball and track in the fall and spring. Track starts in 3rd grade and consists of one or two practices a week plus a big track meet in May. All you need is sneakers. Easy peasy. Because they run track for two seasons, in the off seasons, we make them run to keep in shape. They don't actually love heading out for a run, but they are always happier when they get home and love seeing improvements in their time. Kids have the mindset that they can just go out and win a race or score all the goals, but it's our job to instill the virtues of hard work, discipline, and practice.
We've been lucky that our kids want to play all.the.sports. Last year, Andrew, Eamon and Maggie wanted to try lacrosse, and so we did. Andrew ended up not loving it (I think it was because he was ten and playing for the first time), Eamon loved it, and Maggie liked it. We shall see if any of them want to continue with that. This year, JP decided to stop playing basketball because he just wasn't quite as good as the other guys on the team, and didn't love playing anymore. That was fine with us, he knew himself and wasn't feeling the love of the sport and we aren't going to push him. However, Alexander decided he hated soccer in the middle of the soccer season, and we made him stick through until the end. He still hated it at the end, but now that the months have passed, he talks about playing again when he turns five. If they commit to a sport (and we pay for it) we make them finish the season, but if they don't want to sign up for the next season, we allow that too. It's supposed to be enjoyable for them.
We only let each kid play on one team per season. You can not even believe how many teams the kids could play on for the same sport! For example, some of their CYO teammates also play basketball for their town league and for the town's travel league. So they are juggling three team's schedules in the same season for the same sport. That may be doable when you have one or two kids in sports, but it's certainly not practical when you have lots of kids. It's hard enough having 5 soccer teams to schedule, or three basketball teams (all different leagues) that occur just by each kid playing on one team, there's no way we can do more that that.
In addition, right off the bat, we said no to football and ice hockey because we deemed them too dangerous for our kids (you can completely disagree with me, but we have to draw the line somewhere).
Insofar as which sports to choose, time and money are usually the deciding factors on what we allow our kids to participate in. Soccer, basketball, and track are cheap sports - you just need special shoes for each and shinguards for soccer. In the past, we've said no to Maggie for gymnastics due to the expense, but now make the sacrifice to let her take Irish Step dancing classes each week because she loves it, and I love preserving my Irish heritage.
Choosy moms choose carefully. Our kids have played soccer, basketball, track, tennis, baseball, lacrosse and swimming. We eventually cut out tennis and baseball, and stopped swimming lessons once they were good little fishies. We just can't do it all, and if we also can't do it for all who want to, then we cut something out. Also, there's been seasons we've not done much because a new baby was coming and I knew our family needed a break from the scheduling demands.
Think ahead! Remember to think about the next season while you're in the current one. Soccer tryouts happen in the summer, basketball tryouts happen during soccer season, baseball signups happen in the winter, etc. If you know your kid's school has a track club or swim team, then start your kids in those sports early. Work with what's available.
If money is an issue, try to find a discounted way to play sports. Most leagues have family discount prices ($100 for kid #1, $90 for kid #2, etc.). When we signed up for lacrosse last year, the website said there were scholarships available. I emailed to ask how to apply, and upon hearing how many children we had they just let our kids join for free. We still had to buy all the equipment (lacrosse has lots!!) but we went to a used sports store and got it there. When my first four kids were little, we got them all free swimming lessons at the YMCA based on our family's income at the time. It never hurts to ask! Well, it might hurt your pride, but you learn fast to let that go :)
We try to pick leagues where all ages of kids can play. Town leagues are good for this.
Think about what sports they will be playing in high school. What sports are available at the high school you want to send them too? What are the athletic requirements for high school? For our Catholic high school, students must participate in two sports seasons or take gym class to fulfill their athletic requirement. I'm actually so excited for high school sports because it means my kids go to school in the morning, stay for sports, and then come home at night. There's no picking up from school, dropping off at some other school's field or court, picking them up again and bringing them home. High school is a one-stop shop.
Likewise, think about what you want your kids to be able to learn. I want my kids to be able to jump in a pool or the ocean and know how to swim. I want them to be able to run so they have an easy way to exercise throughout life. I want them to be part of a team to learn to be good sports, cheer on others, win gracefully, lose graciously, and work hard. I want them to join in a pickup game of anything when they are in college and hanging out with friends.
I don't think my kids are going to be the best on their teams. I don't think they are going to win college scholarships. I don't want to push them too hard. I don't want them to think athletics are more important than faith, family, or their education. But they are important to us, they teach so much, and they keep our kids involved, healthy, and fight their natural inclination towards laziness. We just see sports as a big win-win for life.