Balancing Kid Activities

by Katy on April 7, 2009 · 7 comments

Highland Dancing

I received this question from Barb in the comments sections the other day, and wanted to address it:

I have a question for you. You say your son went to youth group and it cost $10.00. How do you manage all these activities for your kids? My daughter is in Highland dancing (paid for by grandparents) but I am left paying for all the extras like shoes, tights, body suits, competition fees, exam fees. The list goes on and one.

My son is in acting and band classes (also paid by grandparents) and he is always needing money for something. Both of my kids put a huge amount of effort into these activities and love them. My daughter is doing very well, in fact, I have to tell her to STOP practicing! Both these activities really have a great affect on their self-esteem so pulling them out is not an option I want to consider. I am a single mom, working full-time but still living below the poverty line but these extras are breaking my budget.

Any suggestions? 



In answer to your question about balancing kids’ activities and classes — Yeah, it’s difficult. It’s a money thing, plus it’s a life balance thing.

Kids need down time, parents need down time and we need to not live pay-check-to-paycheck.

The youth group thing my son went to on Friday night was actually a friend’s group group, not his. I try to limit my kids’ activities to one at a time. So there’s no extra classes if it’s also soccer season. Right now, our 13-year-old is playing a short five-week Spring soccer season which involves a weekly hour-and-a-half practice plus a weekend game. (last weekend was two games, but only because it was the first week.) In the Fall both the kids play soccer, which unfortunately means twice-a-week practices plus weekend games. This tips my life balance scale in the uh-oh direction but the kids gain so much from playing soccer, plus my husband coaches the teams, (and is on the non-profit board) so I let it go.

Last year, both kids were taking a weekly private electric guitar lessons from an incredible young woman. Unfortunately, the $20 per week per child cost did not balance for me. The kids loved the classes, but were wholly unwilling to practice. If they had been committed to the guitar I probably would have been willing to continue, but instead, this got axed. Instead, we found free African drumming classes for the 13-year-old at his school. This year, that son’s band teacher gave him a weekly bass guitar lesson after school which was also free.

Both kids are free to goof around on the guitars whenever they like, and certainly have the beginning basics to build upon on their own now.

In the summer both kids do an almost daily 30 minute swim class. I feel that learning to be a strong swimmer is an important life skill as well as a safety issue. The 13-year-old also takes life-guarding classes and will hopefully start working as a lifeguard when he’s fifteen. The boys also volunteer for the library summer reading program each pulling a weekly two-hour shift. 

But here’s the thing — We pretty much only do one activity at a time. If it’s soccer season then we don’t do music. If it’s summer then we don’t do art. In the Winter-time we often don’t have the boys signed up for anything, which is great. I don’t enjoy ferrying the kids around town. The time this takes from our lives is usually not worth it, plus the gas usage and wear-and-tear on the car has to be considered as well.

It’s okay to not have your kids involved in multiple activities in addition to school. It’s okay to say no.

Having said all that, it does sound like Barb’s kids are benefitting greatly from their chosen activities. Perhaps she could find out if there are scholarship opportunities for her son’s band and acting classes. In terms of her daughter’s dance costumes and supplies, I would suggest she ask the parents of an older girl if they would be willing to sell her their hand-me-downs. She could even employ this tactic and sell her daughters’ costumes and shoes to the parents of a smaller girl.

How do you feel on this issue? Do have a good idea to share with Barb? Please share your thought in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen April 7, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Kid activities are a huge deal in our house. We homeschool, so these activities are vital for social interaction. But we try to keep them scheduled together, so that I have “run around like crazy” days and days when we can kick back and relax at home. We also try to keep the classes close to home and try to enroll through our local rec center as much as possible, and swap supplies whenever we can.


Alison April 8, 2009 at 6:19 am

For the extras – shoes, tights, outfits, etc – try looking at sources like Craig’s List, Freecycle, area yard sales, and local thrift shops. My daughter’s dance school had a bin where people could drop their outgrown tap and ballet shoes and the teachers were very helpful about knowing which children needed shoes.


Tara Morrison April 8, 2009 at 7:31 am

We are only dealing with one child as the others are not yet old enough. Violin is the activity of choice and although we could not buy our first one used, we will be able to trade it in for the next size up and it was a gift from grandparents. For things that enrich childrens lives that are not offered at school, I think it is worth it as long as it is within reason of your budget. I also think, for me, making certain sacrifices in order to have children involved in some of the activities is okay. My mom did this for me as did my husbands mom and we both had college scholarships for the activities we were involved.


Kathy G. April 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm

We have one child and through trial and error we developed a system of deciding what activities to sign on. They have to meet some criteria.

First, our son must display interest. For example, he has to ask us if he can play baseball, soccer with some one– we have to see him doing this with his free time.

Second, we find an inexpensive venue that only meets once or twice a week and observe if he remains enthusiastic after the first three practices or classes. We will often inquire if we can do a trial at a reduced cost or audit it or if he can just join them for practice a few times– if not, we choose a beginner group and the shortest class/practice/team schedule.

Third, We try to borrow equipment, get it for free or buy it used. We don’t invest in quality until it is apparent the child is very invested in the activity.

Fourth, We try to find activities that are multi-dimensional/purpose. For example, my son attends a teen art class that also has a teen peer group component– they organize trips and activities as part of the Teen Institute/Prevention Network.

Fifth: We avoid any long term contracts. The most we will agree to pay for in advance is one season. In Winter, we sign up with the school’s ski club (he snowboards) which gives a seasonal discount and provides transportation.

He does attend private guitar lessons but I took months before signing him up and purchasing a guitar. I borrowed an acoustic from a friend and he played with it all summer. I was observant to see if he kept his interest. He got what he could from YouTube etc. I scanned Craig’s List for someone giving private lessons and found a talented college student who was young enough for him to relate to and could apply fundamentals to the current popular music. Then when I signed him up, I only picked half hour lessons to see if he would practice. It was soon apparent he practiced often and needed to increase his lesson time as he was progressing quickly.

The guitar/music is meshing well with his art/teen group classes and he plans to take a music theory class at his high school next year. He has met his best friend at the art class (very good kid).

We learned this all the hard way. However, we took all the sports equipment from rejected sports leagues and traded it in for credit at Play it Again Sports towards his snowboard and boots.

Our costs: We pay $60/month (2 hour class every Wed) for art classes which are one afternoon a week after school — he takes school bus there and I pick him up after work, $25/hour for guitar lessons on Sunday afternoon. In winter the snowboarding is about $125/season for his lift ticket. We have long winters in upstate NY. I don’t drive all over, the lessons are located in our village.


Ingrid April 11, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Grandma pays for our daughter’s Scottish dancing lessons, too, and for the shoes. We’ve thrifted the kilts and blouses, and as she progresses I will network with the moms of other girls to see how we can keep the dance clothes affordable. I may start taking her to the monthly ceilidhs (I like to dance, too) and become part of the community that way, which is another form of networking.


Barb April 12, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I am sorry I took so long to get back! thanks for all your answers. Great ideas!


jillian June 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm

My daughter is also involved in Highland dance, so I know how expensive it can get. One of the ways we have balanced the cost aspect, is to budget a certain amout for it per week, for example $25. If lessons are $15 per week, then $10 goes into an envelope earmarked for dancing. When she wants to do exams, competitions, etc, she checks to see if there is enough in there to do it. It means planning out ahead (she really wanted to do nationals, so we saved up and didn’t compete for six months). As far as outfits and shoes go, e-bay can potentially be a great resource. Also has a highland for sale / resale section. Finally, make friends with the older dancers in her studio. Anticipate what she will need and get it as it comes along at reduced rates, then resell her old equipment while it is still in good shape. Make sure she understands that everything will be resold, and she MUST look after it well. So far, after five years of dance, we’ve only ever bought one new and two used outfits, plus I made her one, and we have only just bought her second new pair of shoes, plus three very used pair! It can be done, but it’s important for the kids to be involved in the budgeting and planning aspect so they really appreaciate it.
Good luck!


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