I believe pretty much every child should be involved in an extra-curricular activity of some sort. I don’t believe that will look the same for each family, nor do I think the ones that are most expensive are the best. I don’t think every boy should do certain sports, nor do I think every girl should do dance. I think, like most things, it depends on the child, their needs, interests, and of course their family situation. I don’t believe the goal is to become an expert in something, unless that is what the child wants, for me it’s about being exposed to different physical, mental, spiritual and group settings, making new friends and maybe learning a skill.
Extra curricular activities can vary widely in costs, some of the more reasonable ones are Scouts, Guiding, faith & community youth groups and city run programs. Swimming lessons in my area vary from around $70 for 9 weeks of city classes, to $900 for lessons at the private pool (!!!), and around $300 for the same number of weeks at a private swim school using a city pool. Karate varies from $50 a month all the way to $130 a month. While wee girl’s dance is $60 a month, and they allow pay as you go, another dance school our neighbours go to is $130 a month. That school has a fee associated with Christmas and Summer concert $30 per adult, $20 per child, ours is free for all.
One of my big lessons learned is that the fees advertised are only a small picture of what the costs can be. And there can be many, many hidden costs. Sometimes they are for fundraising, other times special trips, and often related to books or syllabus needed, costumes or clothing, special shoes or even examinations, team meals, and travel. I have three people in my larger circle who admit they spend over $2000 a month on hobbies for their children – ice-hockey, soccer, 5 types of dance, competitive dance, karate, swim teams and the list goes on. All three of these families travel most weekends year round for games, so that cost includes hotels, meals out, and the rest. They are not typical by any stretch of the imagination, but I have commented to them that there are likely many families in their clubs who were not expecting the added costs, and struggle. It’s one thing to spend $3000 on your child being on an ice-hockey team (fees and equipment), it’s a whole other to also have to come up with $300 twice a month for weekend away at competitions.
But it isn’t just high cost sports that have added costs. Wee girl loves Guides, and we were very very blessed to receive a full subsidy this year. Guides/Scouting etc., are some of the most frugal activities your child can be involved in and are organizations that do great work in their communities. But since it started 2 months ago we’ve also had the following:
- $60 Guiding trip (we declined)
- Weekly dues so far totalling $10
- Another trip next month (residential) that is over $120 (wee girl won’t be attending)
- A new gift for a Secret Santa exchange, estimated value $10
- Food contributions and an item of clothing – totally around $15
Already in the first quarter of the year, the extras have totalled more than the total cost of Guides for the year if you don’t have a subsidy. In addition many children sell hundreds of cookies, but we don’t have geographical proximity to friends to make that possible, so I ended up buying 2 boxes (at $5 each) and we still have a few boxes to sell that if we don’t, I’ll need to give money for too. Wee girl did start a little business at school which was fabulous, though some of the money disappeared.
Other parents have also told me that the local troops all go away on a big trip each year, out of province, and while subsidized by fundraising, is still several hundred dollars.
We’ve experienced the same with a free music program, and a friend of mine was telling me she is amazed at how often her child’s piano teacher requires new books. With Christmas coming she was insistent they buy 2 holiday books, totally $30, when they had only just purchased 2 new books in September. And we had an awful experience with one of wee boy’s programs in the past, which one day I’ll blog about, but yes, complete dishonesty about fees.
So what do you do? Honestly, I’ve had to hold firm that the extras just aren’t possible for us right now, and I’ve had to not let guilt eat away at me. Also? Honestly, we have many goals as a family we are in no place to work on right now, including important ones like an emergency fund, and maybe possibly hopefully ideally (lol) a trip to meet family in the UK. So if we had that money sitting around (which we, er, certainly don’t have), it wouldn’t be how I’d choose to use it.
What I’ve learned is to ask those hard questions, not just of the teachers and school, but try to talk to other parents too. Ask what is mandatory and what is optional. Then ask how many people partake in the optional because no one wants one child to be left out, whether it is your child or not, it isn’t right. And advocate, not only for your situation, but when you know costs are prohibitive, really try to open people’s eyes to that. This is about not further marginalizing children. I remember once getting quite upset (before I was a mother) hearing my good friend (who reads this blog!), had a class trip across the country as a Grade 6 Graduation trip, only the cost was high (student fees also paid for the teacher and Principal to go) and a couple kids in the class in hard family situations (one raised by Grandma, one I believe in foster care of some sort) couldn’t go. I got very very upset and felt the school should have chosen wiser. And I was vocal about it. My wonderful friend said it opened her eyes and as a teacher she hadn’t thought about those kids, now she’d make different choices. Be a voice and don’t be scared to be. Someone might just need you to.
Finally I’d strongly advise you budget for it. Many families I know have a three activity rule during the school year, and then swimming lessons in the summer. Only the extra costs may make the three activities more like four, or five. So take whatever the costs are and add another 20-25%. Doesn’t mean you’ll have everything covered, but it may make some added costs possible without stress and worry. And finally don’t forget about petrol costs. That 30 minute trek across town twice a week can easily add another $10+ to your weekly spending on gas alone.
What are your feelings about extra curricular activities? How do you budget for them? Have you found, like me, the costs can often skyrocket? How do you limit that while still giving your children opportunities.