Saturday, February 27, 2016

Brave Blogging: Favourite Extra-Curricular Activities

In some ways I struggle with the term "extra-curricular". If curriculum can be defined as a course of study offered by a school (or in our case a homeschool) then any learning opportunity I offer to my kids is part of the curriculum. And while I'm not an unschooler I do believe that everything is a learning opportunity and is therefore part of our curriculum.

Semantics aside, over the years we've engaged in a range of activities that would commonly be considered extra-curricular (mainly done out of the house and led by someone other than me) including art, drama, music, science classes, first-aid, cricket, soccer, swimming, gym, Scouting, French classes, volunteering, public speaking courses.  I'm sure there are more. As a general rule we only did one or two of these at a time and usually only if the kids were interested. We're mostly introverts and when they were younger plenty of unstructured time at home was a priority. However there were definite benefits to adding some extra-curriculars to our curriculum.

1. Expert instruction - I've never studied a foreign language. Certainly I could (and did) learn alongside my children but having an expert guide their learning, especially when it came to modelling correct pronunciation, was very helpful. We also utilised expert instruction in art, drama  and music - all areas my children expressed interest in and which I had little to no knowledge.

2. Access to supplies - A big advantage of art classes was being able to experiment with a range of supplies and techniques - oil paints, pottery, print making etc - without me having to buy all the supplies which can be expensive and often only available in larger quantities.

3. Socialisation - We all know this is a big non-issue but the extra curriculars did provide a good opportunity for my kids to learn and socialise with other kids and adults and to experience both the positives and negatives of that. With the exception of keyboard and conversational French class which were private lesson, most of our extra-curricular activities have been group based. All four of my kids were involved in Scouting and that has been great for fostering group work and providing them with genuine leadership opportunities. 

4. Sports - By definition team sports virtually have to be done out of the home. As do most individual sports. Fitness can be handled at home but for us sports needed outside resources, especially for those kids that showed a serious interest.

5.  Independent Recognition and Validation - From nationally recognised qualifications and awards to sporting prizes to a genuine comment of praise from a teacher all my kids have benefited from having their abilities recognised by someone other than me.

6. Individuality - Extra-curriculars have provided a great opportunity to develop individual passions. My science lover took lots of classes at the local science centre. My other kids did not. All of my kids did a term or two at a homeschool gym class. For three of them that was the end of it. For Miss 15 it led to a passion for trampoline which continues to be a mainstay of her life. My extrovert has been involved in more outside activities and from a younger age than my other three. He simply needed more than they did in this area.

7. A chance to give back. All four of mine have volunteered in a variety of roles. And while they've all learnt skills, gained experience and learned about themselves in the process, volunteering has allowed them to contribute to a group greater than their family, to participate in society as a whole.

As regular readers know Miss 15 is my only remaining homeschooler and two activities dominate her life - birding and trampolining. And truthfully I couldn't tell you whether or not they were "extra-curricular". I do know they are both central to her homeschooling experience. It's interesting to look at how they have evolved and what she gets out of them.

Birding. As a Cub Scout (aged about 9 I think) Miss 15 worked on her Naturalists badge. As part of the requirements she had to observe three living things for a month. At the time we had tadpoles and plenty of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in our backyard. For some reason she picked birds as her third category. After observing them for a month the interest struck. It was pretty casual for a while but when she was 12 she started getting more serious. So we joined the Ornithology Society which gave her a chance to learn from experts via formal talks and on field trips. She was offered the opportunity to edit the branch newsletter and then to contribute to a national magazine, which lets her give back to the group, use her writing and editing skills in a meaningful way and develop some new skills (desktop publishing) in the process. She's also become involved in a Young Birders group that aims to promote birding to children and teens. This provides opportunities for teamwork and socialising, plus a chance to develop other new skills. This year's homeschooling includes a formal ornithology course plus she's attending a university course on ecology, which is a direct outgrowth of her interest in birding. Currently she plans to study zoology, ecology or other related areas at university and hopes to work in the area of ornithology.

Trampolining.  A one hour gym class when she was six or seven has somehow morphed into eight (soon to be ten I fear) hours of trampoline training each week, plus a small part time job coaching. She's just completed an entry level judging course so will be volunteering as a judge at competitions this year. Clearly we'd have no trouble making the hours for a PE credit if necessary (it's not required here)! There's a world of difference between having fun bouncing on a trampoline in your backyard and training and competing in it as a sport. The latter needs specialised equipment and skilled coaching. Trampolining is the key to her physical fitness which means it's also important to her mental well being. Lots of great experiences for socialising - both small scale e.g. chatting with friends during training and larger scale e.g. rooming with friends during out of town competitions. It certainly provides a great physical and mental challenge - there is absolutely nowhere to hide when you are competing. All eyes - including five judges who are looking for every little mistake - are focused intently on you. And there is always a new skill to learn and older ones to refine and perform. Trampolining has given her lots of valuable life lessons as well, how to win and lose graciously, not to mention  developing the courage to come back from a serious injury sustained during training. There are some definite downsides to pursuing one extra-curricular activity so intently. Time and money spring instantly to mind! But she loves the sport and is working towards some long term goals so I'm pretty sure it'll remain another key component of her homeschooling journey.

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