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Why do we enroll our little kids in extracurricular activities? I mean, seriously, why?

My daughter’s only four, so it’s not about padding her college applications. And there’s certainly no pressure coming from my kid, who’d be just as happy digging in the dirt all afternoon. Yet I couldn’t resist signing her up for swim lessons. My logic: kids need to learn how to swim for safety’s sake. Plus maybe she’d get good at it, join the swim team, and who knows, get an athletic scholarship to college? And then one day she could be up on the podium, telling Bob Costas how she owes it all to her mom, just like Michael Phelps.


As you might have guessed, the reality of swim class was a little different from the Olympic dreams in my head. My kid couldn’t focus, scrambling out of the pool every five minutes to find me and the snacks in my purse. And she wouldn’t put her face in the water the entire summer. I’d say she learned nothing, except I noticed that at bath time, she became quite expert at flooding the whole bathroom with water, which must have been due to her improved kicking.

When it comes to extracurriculars, our high parental hopes are often crushed by kids being, well, kids. For example:


What we hope they’ll learn: Self-discipline, confidence and respect for their elders

What they really learn: Creative ways to inflict pain on their siblings


What we hope they’ll learn: Coordination, balance and following directions

What they really learn: That the couch at home is great for trampoline practice and—good news‚ it is possible to scale the bookcase to reach the highly breakable knick knacks on top

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