back to school : activities and how we choose (and limit)

Less than 2 weeks left of school holidays here I thought I’d do a series of posts on back to school just to get us in the mood and for all the new school mums out there too. I’m no expert and I know some of you have been there and done that so I”m sure we can all learn from each other.

Today I’m talking activities. Kids love to try new things and after school activities are great for health, fitness, finding out what our kids are good at and enjoy doing, they help them learn new skills, make new friends and I could go on. They also take time, money, driving and can overload a little person’s already busy life. We’ve gone from having lots of activities to hardly any to picking what we really love and I thought I’d share what we do and ask what you do at your house.


this is the non negotiable activity because it’s a life skill and also because I can’t dive or swim 50 metres. I’m like one of those ladies you see with head and hair out of the water doing a bit of breaststroke. That’s me. Just like my own mum. So swimming is saturday afternoons for the big kids, sunday afternoon for our little miss at a special swimming club and our 2 year old is on a little break after screaming down the whole swimming pool each week. We’ve been working on him at home. If weekly lessons are too much in terms of time and money look for school holiday programs. Our kids also do a term of swimming at school which I love.

Team sports

Great for team work, physical fitness, it’s generally affordable (about $100  for us for the season), they get to train once a week and play the game, if friends are involved you can share the driving and it’s a great way to make friends. Girls do netball and boys do rugby in our house but there is lots to choose from and you don’t have to wait until school starts. You will need to put some volunteer hours in but we really enjoy going (I mean who doesn’t like a sausage sandwich on saturday morning or lunch time). Downside can be early morning starts, fitting in the training with homework and dinner, playing rain hail or shine and the cost of uniforms can add up but ask around as we were kindly given the rugby uniform when my friend’s sons switched to soccer.


I grew up playing piano from the age of 4 until year 11 so piano was always going to be an option here. We do lessons through the school – note to parents – activities through the school are great and save on driving the rest of the family around with you. The downside is they can miss some class time but it is usually swapped around so they are not always missing out on the same session. Last year all 3 at school did piano but it was just too expensive and the twins in kindy just weren’t that into it and our big girl loves it so our big girl will do piano this year as well as choir which she loves. We’ll wait a year or two for the twins. Look into group keyboard lessons, choir, band and when things come up at school. Also your school might offer a music program where they get to pick an instrument to hire and learn through the school and it’s much more affordable than private lessons.

Girl Guides or Scouts

We did guides for a year and she loved it. Not expensive, great way to meet children in the area from different schools, you do need to put some volunteer hours in, great life skills and fun and we really enjoyed it. I also think it’s great to get our kids away from the tv and popular culture and learn how to light a fire, roast marshmallows and other things and for us it really helped our big girl with her confidence and overcoming being shy. Really think it’s a great one to look at.


OK so I’m a little disappointed that my girls aren’t interested in dancing! Dancing is so great for fitness, fun, body strength and I am convinced that all the years I did of ballet until I was at uni are what have given me a really strong back and great core (ok not so great right at this moment) that have helped me get through 5 pregnancies including twins. It can be expensive for the fees, uniforms and there is the time commitment especially at concert time but it’s lots of fun. Hoping I can change the girls mind on the dancing but we did ballet for a few years.


We did a few terms of gymnastics and it’s lots of fun, was very expensive but helped our little girl with some skills for PE at school that she needed some help with. You do need to put the hours in to take them there and wait and if it’s too much during term time do some school holiday activities which are a great taster to see if they enjoy it and before you dish out a terms worth of fees. Look at your school and see if they offer gymnastics after school or have a team that you could put your children in.


Art classes are very popular in our house and we’ve taken a break since we moved and will look at holiday programs as our weekly schedule is quite busy during term time. This is great for creativity and really helps in the classroom especially if your school doesn’t have designated art teachers. The artwork they make is also great for presents. We had the most fabulous little art school right near home and must find one near us this year for holidays.


be careful not to overload when they are in the early years of school! Kindergarten is a big year for little ones so keep the activities to a minimum so that they get enough play time after school and rest time.

learn to say no. It’s ok to say no when your kids ask to start another activity and you know you don’t have the funds or time to add another activity to the schedule. Look at other options like a free taster lesson or school holiday activity in what they want to do or they give up something they have on to swap to a new one.

keep dinners simple and plan ahead of time when you’re out at training/dancing or an activity after school. Nothing worse than coming home in the dark and everyone is whining about how hungry they are and you can’t think of what to cook. In a pinch we do toasted cheese sandwiches, pasta with lots of grated cheese and tuna or my old favourite the frittata.

keep a calender in the kitchen and once you know training schedules and times put all the dates in the calender for the term ahead so that you can easily see who has what, where and to help make appointments, playdates and other commitments.

don’t go crazy and think that your child needs to try everything in order to find their true talent! Kids don’t need to do 50 million activities, they need to play, eat, sleep, learn and be loved. Let them do what they love but don’t go crazy thinking they need to be in everything just because your friend/neighbour/relative has their kid in everything.

look at swimming lessons on weekends if you have a busy schedule or like me have lots of little ones. It is so hard to take the little ones to the pool because they start stripping down to get into the pool and are a handful. So we switched swimming to late on a weekend afternoon and it works well for everyone and dad gets to be involved in their progress

car pool can be your lifesaver if you have girls and boys off at different sports and training!

always pack snacks and drink bottles for everyone when you have an activity on including your littlest ones

invest in a warm puffer jacket or coat and a sun hat if you are planning on taking your kids to sport!

Over to you……… do you pick and limit activities in your house?


  1. Great post Corrie!
    We have 3 kidlets, 2 at big school year 4 & 2 this year and 1 preschooler.
    We live out of town, I work part-time, blog part- time and do all the running around (I know you get it so I won’t go on) and Zadada works full time.
    Our 9 year does scouts and our 7 year old does swimming after school. We are fortunate enough to have grandma who takes our 3 year old to swimming on one of my work days and that’s it, one activity each. Mr 9 wants to learn the clarinet so we are going to look into lessons/hire run through the school. Living on a property the kids get to run around outside lots, there is always so much maintenance to be done on weekends as well as trying to fit in social commitments. If one of the kids asked to do a weekend sport I would be more than happy for them to do so but it would mean them choosing between the activity they already do and their new request.
    One thing all 3 have done is learn to swim from and early age until they could swim unaided, once they got to that level if they were not interested they could move on, Mr 9 did it until he was 6. The girls seem to love it so still going. There has been 18 months of dancing in there but interest was lost, I’m not prepared to pay money for something they don’t enjoy.
    We are planning to look into gymnastics for miss 7 but she will need to choose between that and swimming.
    There have been many times when I’ve heard parents talking about their kids after school activities and I’ve come home feeling like I’m depriving my children. Like you say everyone is different has different schedules and budgets. An extra set of hands and a driver would go a long way, maybe in another lifetime, lol. Bottom line is we’re all healthy and happy and that’s what really matters.
    Have a beautiful day Corrie xx

  2. I so hear you on the cutback. I am just going to take it as it comes this year. Last year my girls were happy enough playing with the kids who live nearby and couldn’t wait to do so, we moved to acreage so its nice for all the kids to climb trees, ride bikes and make up games. They do an instrument at school and also did netball last year which may happen again this year, no pressure. Both good swimmers too and we did irish dancing for a while but they are not so keen anymore at 8 and 10 I want them to choose something they have a passion for . I am a little sad that the riding school closed up the road, we were keen to do horse riding but its never say never.

  3. i have five kids. I always wanted my children to do a sport and something musical….but you are right Corrie it does add up! I think I am on a winner as I have outsourced swimming and ballet to the Grandmas! Last year That meant I took care of indoor soccer for two boys, basketball and Japanese lessons. But still no music! This year I hope to get one child doing flute through school, and one boy may return to drumming. We don’t let our kids do many things until they are 8-9, but my eldest three are 8,11 and 15 and it is hard to say no, especially as one of my sons has always been too shy to participate….now that he wants to it is really exciting to see him being a ‘normal’ kid, so to speak. I know even my 2yo would love something like Little Kickers, and now my 5yo sees the older kids having fun she wants to do something too! So I have some tough decisions to make….

  4. We only have 2 children with #3 due in June, but our eldest has done ballet, swimming and this year we are looking at gymnastics. Swimming is a staple for our family as we have a pool and live in a tropical city where water activities are all year round, so water safety is paramount. Our youngest is 2 and about to begin formal swim lessons, but I have taught her to swim at home in the meantime. Miss 2 does kinder gym at the YMCA and so I am planning on signing Miss almost 6 up for the older kids classes as she enjoyed dance but wanted to do a bit more. I think gymnastics will be a good compromise – but before we went through the expense of signing her up to a gymnastics club we thought we would try out the YMCA program and see if she enjoys it.
    We are trying to keep the activities simple and fun so as not to overwhelm the kids or ourselves and I wanted to make sure the routine was still doable with a newborn!!

  5. The I used to have a rule of no extra curricular activities first term of school. And that worked well when they were in younger grades. I wanted them to settle in and not be too tired or stressed. This year my youngest starts Prep so only swimming for her. Now a couple of them are in upper primary we do swimming weekly on a Thursday all year round. Fortunately our swim school is great in making sure my 5 youngest all have the same lesson times. It’s a life saver.
    And then they can choose one activity each. It’s great if a couple of them choose the same activity but doesn’t always happen so we have a mix of 3 girls doing Choral Society, 1 girl doing Art classes, and 1 boy doing Space Pilots. This still adds up to four nights a week driving for me
    And 3 do choir and instruments through school.
    We try to keep weekends free for family activities, and lots of rest!
    And use your crockpot, even in summer it can be useful for instant meals.
    And if they don’t enjoy it Don’t Do It! Except swimming. No option there.

  6. My five are allowed to choose two activities each and like you swimming is compulsory to a certain level. I am a hopeless swimmer too so I really want them to be able to swim. I don’t start them until they are 4 or 5 and they usually reach squad level at about 8 so I am happy for them to give it up then. Some of them do music which I really encourage and we have found Guides is fantastic. Especially since I can drop a few off at the same place at the same time! We have done ballet in the past and never again. Between the mothers and the expectation of doing 10 hours a week at the upper primary level otherwise you are completely left out it was the worst 2 years of my life. Girls do netball and we have tried waterpolo in the past. We do a few things like art, tennis and pottery for a few weeks at a time but they are never a long term commitment. My main rule is that dinner has to be cooked before we leave in the afternoon. It has to be ready to serve the moment we walk in the door. A problem that I am finding as they get older is that the activities finish later. Some of them are finishing well past their normal bed times which kind of does my head in.

  7. I loved reading this post Corrie as I have wondered firstly what activities I could get my girls involved in when they are older and two how to fit them in our week! We do swimming on the weekends too because little Magdalene would want to jump in the pool with Esther, but I’ve booked her first swimming lesson this weekend the same time as her sisters lesson. Daddy can go in the pool and I can sit and watch Phoebe. :)

  8. I love this post – yes Corrie you are right. Kids benefit from structured activities but they also benefit from lots of free play. Mine did swimming, gymnastics, skating, dance and soccer. The one that held true was soccer – fairly reasonable without much equipment cost and great for socializing and understanding a team sport. My rule was you want to do it – then if I sign you up and pay the money you must finish the session of x number of classes. Non-negotiable. Also with three kids and my husband away a lot (military) I limited them to 2 things each. I also decided to start playing soccer at 47. I finished my career (and I was no Pele) at 53 when I fell and broke my wrist. I loved it and frankly was glad I did it. I had never played as a kid. So don’t neglect yourself. Do something fun. Nice post Corrie.

  9. one child makes the world (financially) almost our oyster but we also have to be mindful that one child is also expensive to educate outside of school hours and there are only 5 afternoons in the week (we like to keep weekends for family time). Swimming is also a not negotiable activity. We’ve just done a week long swimming intensive where it was specific stroke focused (breaststroke) and they were filmed under water and shown what they needed to improve on. Totally amazed byt the whole process and thrilled we chose this swim school in our new location.
    We offset the not negotiable with a free choice which will be art. Sport isn’t a big thing in our family and we get a lot of outdoor time and walking with the dogs. The swimming is good as well.
    I would like a musical instrument or a language to be added but we will see what is on offer at our new school to guage what and where it could be slotted into the week.
    My advice, having had a few years now of various activities;
    *ensure the music lessons are switched around if they are at school – we were told they were but they weren’t, we missed out on maths each week but it was ‘okay because she’s bright’ – actually it isn’t okay
    *make sure the activity is properly supervised – we did guides for a year and all we seemed to do was craft, cutting and pasting, no guiding as such and that was simply because there was no program written for the junior part of the troop
    *do an activity at more than one place before you settle on locking the child in, most places do a 2 week trial, make the most of it
    *don’t limit your choices to ‘just things at school’ particularly with single sexed schools, children need to mix with other sexes to work on feeling comfortable around them
    *ask about make up lessons if the child is unable to attend, are they offered?
    *have one not negotiable, you are the parent!
    *don’t live the life you wanted as a child through your child. If they aren’t into dancing they aren’t into dancing (not meant at you Corrie!), don’t force them to do something they don’t want to do
    *watch your child for signs they aren’t enjoying the activity – quiet, single word reponses to questions, retreating or not wanting to go. Be mindful of bullying, most schools have a no tolerance policy but that can get missed in the post school activities! (we found this one out the hard way).

  10. We have the rule that swimming lessons are mandatory. When my daughter was little she started to do ballet but decided she didn’t like it so we stopped after her first year. She wanted to still do dance but a different type so she did a different class for a few years. She stopped dance a couple of years ago, her choice & wanted to stop swimming last year so as she was at the point that she could swim a lap ok & they were doing more work on correcting stroke ready to move to the squad groups she stopped. She will be starting high school this year & hasn’t chosen any out of school activities, she wants to see how busy she will be first & might join something at school if she feels she can manage. My advise is to start slowly, don’t join up to heaps of things all at once when you are starting out, see how your child copes with things before you overload your time. See if the activity offers a “test” lesson to try it out if you are not sure how much your child will like it before you spend lots of money on fees & uniform/equipment.

  11. I have a daughter who has done ballet for 2.5 yrs. She is wanting to continue this year (she’s 6) so we will see how it goes as it will get harder this year. I still want her to have fun. She’s also starting swimming so I hope it won’t be too much for her. My eldest is 10 and she is doing Swimming as well (she’s at a high level but wants to continue) and I have a 3yr old who wants to do ballet like her big sister, but I’ve said she can’t start until 4 (and I’m secretly hoping she will forget as its costly having one in ballet, and I would like all the kids to shine in their own activity)

  12. I love this post too. We have been on & off with swimming, with “off” times meaning school holidays due to time/distance & finances. Our eldest danced during the preschool year & loved it, but I knew she would be too tired starting school so we cut it out in term 1 last year. She really wasn’t ready to add anything onto school until term 4 & by then with the concert looming I decided to wait until this year. Now she can’t wait to start ballet. I know for her, that’s enough for now.

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