Forget Gymnastics: The Case For Non-Traditional Extracurricular Activities


My kids suck at unstructured, inside play. They do this brand of play that is exactly what siblings have been doing since the dawn of time. It’s called pick pick pick, poke poke poke, tickle, scream, repeat. I think it is actually affecting my sanity a little bit. Maybe a lot. If your children don’t do this, or if they do and it doesn’t drive you mad, please share how you have accomplished either of these feats. Actually, if you have some sanctimonious crap about how your kids don’t play this way because you have just made a fresh batch of play dough and after lunch you’ll be guiding them through a little Rembrandt’s art lesson followed by homemade vegan cookie baking, don’t bother. That will also drive me crazy. I do some of those things. I do! But I also don’t feel like I’m doing them any favors by filling every second with some sort of guided activity or game. 

I recognize that pick pick pick, poke poke poke, tickle, scream, repeat is part of having children, but I hate it and love nature, so we spend as much time outside as possible.  Still, the weather is frequently oppressive, especially lately, so extracurriculars are necessary and even valuable.

I know there is a lot of noise out there about not over scheduling and letting them be kids and not helicopter parenting our sweet babies into exhaustion. I’m all in favor of not over scheduling and of grasping the teachable moment and romping outside at our park, but I cannot be constantly grasping moments and romping. And also, I don’t have all the skills or all the knowledge. There are professionals who can teach our sweet babies really cool stuff.

A much respected elder encouraged me to help my kids find a non-traditional activity or sport that they loved. An activity in which they could excel without having to compete for a few coveted spots on one or two small teams. And in the absence of snagging one of those spots, be all adrift or relegated to only playing at recess or occasionally in gym class. I wasn’t sure what that would mean for my kids. His kids have become world class whitewater kayakers. My kids are small and appear to be super good at rolling around on the floor like puppies and also good at making a close approximation to tornadoes. I’m assuming these things don’t correlate to some amazing alternative sport.

I do know that I want my girls to feel strong and confident and powerful. I want them to trust their bodies and their abilities. I don’t want them to hesitate when someone asks what they’re good at. I want them to know that there is something out there that they can crush.

non-traditional alternative extracurricular activitiesWhen my big girl was 5 (she’s 8 now) and I was ready to sign her up for her first summer camp, I asked her what she’d like to do. She said she’d like a monkey bar camp. With a sort of straight face, I said, “Okay. I’ll see what I can do.” And I went in search of a monkey bar camp. Because, monkey bar camp. Duh!

I didn’t find a monkey bar camp. What I did find is even better. I found the Echo Theater Company and School. According to their website they operate “an all-ages school as a haven for people to move and create fearlessly.” Yes, please! What I tell my friends is that it’s kind of like circus school. (Though not exactly circus school, which you can find in Portland.) My girl is now crushing it on the trapeze. Shocking the neighborsShe can do fingertip pull ups on the door frame and she can scare the crap out of strangers by climbing to the tippy top of everything. She knows she’s good at this stuff.

Today, she is confident, and that feels like winning. She’s also super good at pick-poke-scream, which feels less like winning. But we’re parents–we take the good with the bad, no?

There are loads of interesting things to get your kids into. The list really is longer than ballet and gymnastics. There are classes that your kids can take that will make them happy, that they’ll be grateful for today, and that won’t give them body image issues tomorrow.  There are equally as many classes and camps to teach them how to do said things. There are SUP (stand up paddle) classes and climbing camps and futsal and hiking clubs and a million different kinds of dance and movement classes. There are things I haven’t heard of and couldn’t imagine. Find what works for your kiddos, and share that magic with us other moms!

Featured image credit: Flickr


  1. ” . . . and share that magic with us other moms.”

    Yes . . . magic! The world needs more magicians.

    The unusual stuff–or less-usual stuff–is often more interesting than the usual stuff. A master list of ideas and resources would be handy.

  2. Swim teams are great alternative activities, if you have a team close by. They are taught to mainly compete against theirselves. The time commitment can be a little daunting at higher levels (my 12 year old swims 1.5 hours 4-5 days a week…some his age swim more, some less), but at beginning levels is like 45 min 3 days a week. As a side note, ist especially good for kids with ADD/ADHD because it burns off a lot of energy, teaches them focus, and teaches them breath control which can later be used to teach them meditation techiques that can help them learn to calm himself. And while every area is different, some of the older boys have really taken my son under their wing, which helps a lot

    • Monica,
      Thanks for the tip about swimming! We spend a lot of time playing in the pool, but for some reason even though my husband was a swimmer, I hadn’t really thought about it as a sport my girls would participate in. I especially love the side note about breath control. My older girl has a lot of anxiety and we spend a lot of time talking about and practicing breathing.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  3. As a child I threw myself into horseback riding, sure it can get competitive depending on what discipline you peruse. It is also easy to keep it low key and enjoyable. It teaches trust, respect, patients and much more. I’ve also thought about parkour for my monkey. . .eh erm. .I mean daughter. Love this post!

    • Thank you Ashley! I love both of your suggestions. Though I have to admit, I’m afraid of the costs associated with horseback riding. We’ve dabbled a little bit. (And A loves it) I’ve also thought a lot about parkour for my big girl. I think The Children’s Gym offers Parkour classes.

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