Choosing Time Outside of the Home Wisely

I think choosing how we spend our time outside of when our children are in school –whether that be in public, private or homeschool – is an important topic.

If your children are in public or private school, I know many families who choose to do no extra activities outside of school.  This gives children time to come home, relax and play, get homework done, eat with the family and go to bed on time.  I know families that adhere to this even when their children are teenagers, despite pressure to “do lots of things to put on a college application.”  If any activities are chosen, it might be one activity at a time that has a short life span – ie, an activity that might span 4-6 weeks and then culminate in an event.

I know many  homeschooling families that will only choose activities that the entire family can participate in (or least all the grades-aged children and therefore the younger children coming up to this age will eventually do). I find this to be especially true of families with four or more children. If the family is very large, for example, I have known homeschooling families with six to twelve children, they may choose two activities such as soccer and dance and the children divide according to their interests.  Even this can start to get a little dicey because of age requirements for different levels, but it still is a way to limit.

I think the families that are running around the most that I see in the homeschooling communities are actually those with one to three children!  There is this idea that every child needs their separate things to do.  Sometimes that is true.  However, I think it takes really careful thought and consideration so it doesn’t turn out that each child has there “own three separate things” so therefore you are running nine places between three children!

I don’t know as children below 12 need much in the way of outside, adult-led, structured activities, dependent upon the child’s temperament and extraversion levels.  Young teens  of 13-15 sometimes struggle because it seems as if many of the activities for “children” are up to age 12 and therefore those ages 13-15 need to be in a teen group of some kind.  My almost fourteen year old often feels left out in a group of older teens at this point and I have noticed this across the board in observing the 13-15 year olds. So I have tried to look for activities that still can include her with her sister and children her age (because 13-15 year olds often seem to feel left out with only smaller children as well) or activities that especially include a good grouping of 13 to 15 year olds.  This sort of grouping  also makes sense to me based upon Steiner’s pedagogy of the sixteen/seventeen year old change.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  How do you handle outside activities?  At what point do you feel children really, really need something to do outside the home?  Not to generalize, but many mothers of 11 and 12 year old girls have told me that is when they really felt their girls needed something more and many mothers of boys told me their boys didn’t care so much to do something until they were closer to 14.

Tell me how many children are in your family that are grades-aged and how you handle outside activities! Let’s have a discussion!


32 thoughts on “Choosing Time Outside of the Home Wisely

  1. Great post, Carrie. Depending on the community, the push for activites can be huge! I have an only child, 10 yo boy. He is in a wilderness class for 8-12 yo homeschoolers one day a week (all day.) This level of activity is easily doable and is a nice break in our week. Well, he also decided to study marimba which is on the same day as wilderness class and now Little League has started with games that same evening!!! So Thursdays are too jam packed and I am trying to judge if the tears of frustration will come. It’ll slow down within a couple of weeks., thankfully.

    I struggle with the only child thing and getting him ‘kid time’. The more activites, the more kids but it seems to be too much. Any ideas from other oarents of only children?

    • Mary Lynn –
      I hope parents of only children reply as well..I think having an only child can bring a special dynamic to these decisions.. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  2. Great topic! We have four children ages 11.5 (boy), 9.5 (boy), 7.5 (girl), 5 (boy). Our oldest son is enjoying Boy Scouts. He has participated in Cub Scouts for the last 3 years. The Boy Scouts activities are lead by the kids with minimal adult involvement. This is good for him as he is definitely going through a shift (the 12 year change). He is ready for more challenge which Boy Scouts provides but at home he is acting like everything is boring and babyish. He is very melancholic about whatever I plan. Since he is the oldest it is good for him to be the youngest in the Scout troop. This is his only activity but the meetings are once per week and one weekend per month he is away camping. We may not sign up for every camping trip next year.

    Our second son rides horses once per week from May to October. Our daughter has been taking swim lessons during September and April for the last couple of years. She started a tap dance class this year also (one day per week). She actually asked me if she could join. She is fairly social (more than the boys) and didn’t even know any of the girls in the class. Her first recital is coming up in a few weeks. Next year she is interested in taking piano lessons one day per week. Our little guy takes swim lessons with his sister in September and April.

    All four children go to a Waldorf homeschool group one afternoon per week. I have been assisting there and will teach there next year. This is about the extent that I like to be committed. I like having time to do whatever comes up that we are interested in during the week, such as a field trip or traveling.


  3. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I have never been an over-scheduler, favoring, instead, a much more home based, slow approach. Yet much of this current year has felt unsettled due to an odd mix of ‘out of the home’ activities on an inconsistent schedule. In fact, it is where I started with my planning for next school year…notes for what each child truly needs, what *I* need, what did and didn’t work this year, etc. One thing I have realized is that, at least for us, it isn’t all about the number of activities, but also the timing of activities. By this I mean, not only the time of day, but the day of the week and the activities in relation to each other. As a homeschooling parent, it can bee hard to see all the possible activity options without feeling an urge that one or all of us would benefit from many/all of them (or be left out of a greater community if we don’t). It can also be hard not to compare to other families. In a more direct response to your wise post, Carrie, my kids are 10yr girl and 7yr boy and this is the first year where they have had some separate activities. They have one that goes for part of the year that they both participate in (in separate groups), it gives me a break, we all enjoy it, but it is the one that seems to throw us into ‘over done.’ Both my kids really need quiet, down time, but I can see where my daughter will soon benefit from some more positive peer time. So lots of meditation on this for me right now.

    • I suppose I should have said what our activities are/were. We homeschool through a charter, which provides classes one morning/mid-day a week for part of the school year. (That day the rest of the time often has other activities that are parent-involved.) We love the charter, the community, and they are supportive of our Waldorf approach. The kids (10 yr girl and 7 yr boy) love the classes and I genuinely appreciate the break. We follow with the library, which we visit weekly. The charter classes have now ended for the “year.” We are also involved in a homeschool 4-H group, which is lovely because both kids can participate and all activities are during the day. Each project meets just once per month and my kids are together in 3 projects plus club meeting. Since winter break, we have had one other day a week that we are out for soccer (son), ballet (daughter), and a pottery class covered by our charter. I have made that our errand day, too. My girl had been doing piano, but we have stopped that for awhile. None of this continues through the summer. We will be doing our own thing a lot, as well as swim lessons. I am longing for an intimate co-op with like-minded, similarly aged kids, but I haven’t connected with that successfully. There is a large homeschool group that has a weekly park day, but that hasn’t clicked, although we do attend occasionally.

  4. Mama of an only child here, and we keep our schedule pretty open as far as activities go. He is only 6.5 years and besides his half day nature program bi-weekly he doesn’t do any other activities. We do participate in some private swimming lessons in the summer for two weeks, but that is it. And our plans for the next couple of years is to keep things as they are. My husband and I want him to have a childhood that includes lots of time to play, to hang out in nature (we are a nature loving family and spend a lot of time in the woods) and to just enjoy time at home with us. We also stay away from activities because most activities are in the evening, and we are just not ready, or willing at this point to give up our family evenings. We get asked a lot about why we don’t do activities and the socialization aspect of it all, what homeschooling family doesn’t. We have a close group of homeschooling friends, four families, that we see pretty regularly for nature adventures one morning on a biweekly basis, and family potlucks every few weekends. We also do a lot of our festival celebrations with these families. And I am fortunate that I have another little one that joins us to homeschool. She is here three days a week, and gives my little man a friend to hang out with on those days.

    I think activities and scheduling is tricky these days, so much offered for children to do. It can be hard to say no, but for us, saying no right now is best for our family.

    • You have what I long for with your little homeschool group! I had that when we first started homeschooling and it was really lovely! So good for mamma AND kiddo(s). We, too, avoid evening activities.

  5. I have a 12 year old, 8 year old, and 4 year old. I have generally limited their structured activities. Right now my oldest does Boy Scouts and soccer (seasonal, fall only). My 2nd child does horseback riding. I think my children need lots of time for informal play with other children, and in the past we have had that. However, after moving last summer, in our new location there simply are not other kids to play with. My children are lonely; they wish for friends. It is tempting to sign them up for structured activities simply to provide them with social experiences that don’t seem to be possible to get in our neighborhood. Horseback riding is great for my daughter, but it is just her and the teacher, it is not social with other kids. I’ve been pondering if she needs something else, but I have yet to decide what that “something else” might be. It cannot be something that would be a big time or energy commitment. What would be idea would be a homeschool playgroup or park day, something very laidback. But we have not found that yet either.

  6. We have a similar problem such as Lisa mentioned. Most kids do not seem to easily socialize around here. They are in organized activities and that is how they interact.
    Last fall we finally were able to join a homeschool co-op that organizes different classes for the kids, from first grade up to 11th grade. They have separate lessons, but those are also all classes, not really to ‘socialize’ with other kids and just to play and be.
    I hope that maybe in a little while we manage to make better connections with some of the families there, so that we can get together and just enjoy each others company.

    Besides the co-op morning my kids both take part in a theater/ dance homeschool group this spring. Other than that my son also takes violin lessons once a week.
    This is actually a lot for my taste, I prefer to only do two outside activities per week, but we plan to drop the theater/ dance group in the fall, so that would leave only two regular activities per week for us. Oh, maybe I should mention that our kids are 10 and almost 5 now, the little one is a girl and she is a very social butterfly she does miss interaction with other girls and just absolutely loves being around them. I might have to think about something for her, albeit we have some very nice friends who have girls and invite her during the week, after school, from time to time just to play with them.
    So once in a while we do unscheduled play dates. 🙂


  7. Excellent post! And so true about running around 😀 I have 2 kids, 6 and 9 y,o. They have a swimming class once a week together, then 9 y.o. has martial art 3x/week and a choir practice once a week. 6 y.o. has dance once a week. So we have 5 days of activities. It is all in the pm or am, so there’s plenty of time left for homeschooling and play, and they say they are happy. I am the one tired of driving all the time, but they love it so much. It also gets serious for 9 y.o. and as he’s so invested in his activities and finally getting good, I don’t have a heart to make him stop. Another problem is that we live far from everything. I am seriously considering our schedule for the next year and hopefully will be able to either get rid of something or figure out a better way to schedule things.

    • Anya,
      The one person I find often not on the schedule is the driver (US). Hahaha. How many days would need to be home entirely to feel more rested and at peace? Where is the one day a week for your activity? LOL. And not just Sunday or Saturday – one day during the week for you.

  8. I homeschool our 4 kids. My 8 and 7 year old girls are playing softball right now and my 5 year old son plays soccer. My 2 year old does nothing 🙂 The kids beg for these activities, but just one each wears me out. When these seasons are over mid May we are taking a break. The girls are going to take swim lessons at the Y because they still cannot swim (sigh), but that is it. My oldest wants to play volleyball and my son wants to play bball (at the Y), but I am going to have to break it to them that it’s not happening. They will live 🙂 If I tell them I will take them swimming all summer and we are saving money for a big road trip (truth) they will agree.

    • Megan –
      Good for you! I just want to encourage you to stick to your guns! I think a break from organized sports is a great idea from my pediatric physical therapist perspective. I hope you have a fantastic summer and I am so glad you came and shared your story.

  9. My kiddos are almost six and almost two. Right now we participate in a weekly gathering of homeschooling friends that is essentially an opportunity for free play with a consistent group of kids. My almost-six-year-old also goes to a once-a-week Waldorf forest program. We have tried community center ballet and swim classes and my daughter really enjoys them but I get resentful of being a driver and then just SITTING there. Now that I’m sitting there with a wild toddler I’m not willing to do it, so we’ve cut those activities out for now. I think this is a more challenging aspect of homeschooling for me – finding the right balance of home and outside activities. I’m ok with my daughter’s forest program because it is drop-off and allows me a few hours to take care of things at home, but I am really not a fan of activities that take up my time too.

  10. I really enjoyed thinking about this post, especially since I sometimes wonder if I’m depriving my kids by not doing any activities! I have three little ones, my oldest is a girl, who will be 7 this summer, my son is 3 1/2, and my younger girl is 14 months. My daughter is in her second year of Waldorf kindergarten, and we live only 5 minutes from the school, so I pick her up at noon. Last year we lived much further away, so she was doing 3 full days and 1 half day, and on Fridays we all crashed and slept in. It was exhausting! I tried some ballet and swim last year, but realized school and commuting were more than enough. This year we started with swim lessons in the early fall, but then I really pulled back, even though we’re so much closer to school and have all open afternoons. My son attends the Waldorf nursery 3 mornings/week, which gives me a break to be with my baby and give her long morning naps. But it means he’s pretty tired from spending the morning with other children and going on long walks with his class. In the afternoons, we share lunch, and then my baby naps, my son naps (or sometimes just rests in his bed), and my older daughter listens to an audio story or draws, or occasionally naps on the couch. Looking back over the winter, it has been such a gift to have this quiet, low-key rhythm. My older two head outside after rest time and play until dinner. I’m glad they have that time to really be together, since we have our afternoons at home. I see how close they are (even if they do fight sometimes) because of this time. We have a neighbor boy my daughter’s age who often comes up around that time and provides that extra person to change the sibling dynamic and make afternoon outside time exciting. They ride bikes, play in the woods, climb trees. In the winter there was lots of sledding. Occasionally my daughter has had a friend come spend the afternoon too. She has been asking about doing gymnastics or dance, but I just haven’t been ready for it! This summer, we will do two weeks of swim lessons for everyone (parent-child lesson for my baby). My daughter will do 2 or 3 one-week camps, which she really needs in order to have some extra challenge and a break from her brother. One is a handwork camp with a Waldorf teacher, and one is an outdoor forest and farm camp. Other than that, we will spend our days hiking or going to the lake. We may look into some horseback riding lessons, because I do think my daughter lacks some self-confidence, which could be strengthened by learning some new skills, and she loves horses. I’m also considering Irish dancing class for next year, when she will be in 1st grade. She loves to dance, and I think the Irish reels will be much healthier than the more stilted movements in ballet, and again – I think it will help her to work on learning something new and seeing other children around her learning too. She picks some things up very quickly, but as a result tends to be defeatist when something is hard at first (she has been that way about jump roping and about riding a bike with pedals since she used to have a balance bike). So I wonder if a class of that sort would help with that tendency and encourage her to work at something. She has also been interested in learning piano. I think we will see how our rhythm feels when 1st grade starts (4 full days, and 1 half day – a big change!) and go from there.

  11. Fantastic post as usual Carrie! My eldest is a 11 year old boy that goes to a Waldorf elementary school 40 min away from our home, so it is important to us that we keep the amount of outside activities down to almost zero. He’s not into sports a lot, but at home he likes to ride his bike a lot, do nature trails and climb loads of trees (we live in the countryside)! 🙂 Right now he is only doing Padovan therapy once a week outside of the home, as recommended by his teacher ( After that is over in a few months he wants to do a martial art. I also thought of teaching him English once a week (we live in Brazil), but it was just too much this semester. Most of his friends, however, do at least two activities (2x each) or as much as two different activities per afternoon! I get tired just thinking of it! 🙂

    I also have a two year old boy at home and a 4 year old girl who just started in a Waldorf pre-k 10 min away from our home. So despite not having loads of activities it is quite time consuming to reconcile everything, such as carpools, etc.

  12. First, great post as usual!

    I had written a huge comment but it disappeared 😦

    Just to sum it up – my eldest son (of 3) is ten and goes to a Waldorf school 40 min away. Thus (and especially because of the commute) I think it is important for him to stay at home as much as possible. We live on the countryside where he can ride his bike, hike in the forest, climb trees, etc. So he only has an outside activity once a month, when he does Padovan therapy (it was recommended by his teacher and goes well with Waldorf principles –

    Most of his friends, however, have activities outside at least twice a week, and some even two activities per afternoon after school! I get tired just to think of it! 🙂

  13. Thank you! My kids are still only 2.5 and 5, but I struggle with finding balance here. We participate in two homeschooling co-ops (which only meet 1-2/week) and have some other social commitments with friends, family and our farm. I go to town once/week for choir practice. Then we go to church. What with our longer drive to town from our farm, our week already feels so full! And my kids don’t yet “do” anything in terms of lessons, sports, etc!!!! I’m always trying to find ways to further simplify, but our balance right now feels good. But I feel pressure (of my own making based on peer examples) to someday provide our kids more of those kid activities!!! I’m happy to hear that it’s ok to NOT do such things. I feel like we have years and years of good home life ahead of us, where I can meet a lot of those same needs here within the family (for example, early music lessons, outdoor adventures, etc.). I especially feel the need to guard our family’s dinners and quiet evenings. I cannot imagine all of us running around right at that dinner hour, doing this and doing that. I am glad it works for my friends, but I just don’t have it in me!!!! But that’s what kids are “supposed” to do! (or, so it seems from examples around me …) I SOOOOOO love our evenings and hope to keep them quiet for a long, long time — I’m especially excited about the potential of good family time as the kids’ bedtimes get a bit later. I want to have time in the evenings to read books aloud, play a game together, linger at the table, etc. To me, those are some of the most valuable times of all!!!

    • Katie,
      I totally agree with you, and I want to encourage you to even think about what you are doing now. I think you could reduce even further if that resonates with you. I love what you wrote and am glad you are here and feeling validated!

  14. I am a parent of an only child. He just turned 7 years old and this year I felt like we did too much outside the home. He had a music class one afternoon a week, a nature based outdoor program one full day a week, then rock climbing in the fall one afternoon. We also met families one or two afternoons a week in addition. Just reading this I see how much it is. However, there are no kids to play with in our neighborhood. He would be okay staying home more but I felt compelled to get him around friends at least a few days a week. I won’t do classes in the evenings as family dinners are important.

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  18. We have 5 kids between the ages of 7-13. Our general rule is “one sport per kid per season.” This does not include their music lessons, community theater, so those are extra time commitments. There have been times when we had 4 lacrosse or baseball games in 3 different states (CT, RI, and MA) at the exact same time…and just me. Our dinners are almost always rushed or eaten in the car, and people often tease me about my big blue cooler, because when we are at the hockey rink for 7 straight hours, the cooler comes too! My kids are all different, of course, and these activities provide different things for each child. My oldest thrives on the social aspect. My third is an insanely good little athlete. My second is not, but has had such growth from realizing that when he works at something, he gets better and better. They love what they do, but I absolutely hate the running around and micromanaging the schedule, the meals on the fly, and the lack of time to just breathe. if we didn’t homeschool, the kids would not have have any down time (= free play time), and some of my kids absolutely thrive on their time to just play.
    So…don’t do what we’re doing, it really is not enjoyable!

  19. I should add the math, that this means we have practices, games, or rehearsals, every day of the week. Usually we have at least two on any given evening. Weekends are at the rink. It is hugely unbalanced, I spend an unbelievable amount of time in the car, and during the week when my husband is working, I am the only driver.

    • Aw, Kasien! I totally get it! My husband was traveling a lot at one point, now he travels less but still in spurts so most of all I have to make sure the schedule is manageable for ME and the amount I can give and drive. I think you and your husband really need to sit down and talk about this. I doubt you are getting any time for yourself – when do take care of yourself? Exercise? Homeschool plan? We really can’t do it all!
      I would love to hear what your perfect week looks like (for you) and see if there is some way that can intersect the children. They are still little, and I am just wondering what more free time for play, hiking, whatever it is you all like to do as a family would look like. It doesn’t sound that schedule is sustainable long-term for you!
      I will be thinking of you, please check back in at some point and let me know how it is going. Or, if you want to talk, email me at
      Blessings and love,

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  21. Jumping in even though this thread is from a while ago…
    I have an almost 6-year old and a 2.5 year old. My older one does a 50 minute dance and tumble class once a week. Once a week we get together with two other families and hike/play in the woods, sometimes up to 5 hours in glorious weather. On Fridays we do field trip and friends day, where we might meet a couple of friends at a park or nature preserve, or in yucky weather have a play date at our house or someone else’s. That’s all we do outside the house right now, so only the dance/tumble is a structured activity.

    My issue coming up is that next year we will only have one other friend homeschooling, and everyone else will be unavailable for play during the week as they’ll be starting formal schooling. My older one will have an opportunity to join an outdoor nature group that is for homeschoolers, in a beautiful garden/farm location, which I’m thrilled about, BUT, the only option is twice a week (and believe me I’ve tried to convince them otherwise). I would prefer one day a week…. but then again they meet 10:30-3 which I think could work with our grade one plan. They do nature projects outside, brain gym warm up, taking care of animals, planting/tending/harvesting the garden, and the like.

    The main thing I want for my children is to have consistent friends to play with. This program would definitely offer that, but I don’t want to overload my first grader. I’m so torn because it sounds like a wonderful program, just wish it was one day not two!

    Carrie, if you see this post I wonder if you have an opinion? Or if I may email you for advice? I know you have your own life going on, but just thought you may be able to help me.

  22. We homeschool our 2 boys who are 3 and 7 and they are so very different right now… my eldest has structured activities coming out of his ears, private tennis, group guitar, group tennis, group karate, private French and group parcours. During school breaks (when other children are around) he also asks to do tennis camps and trampoline camps and sailing camps and art camps and you name it. And these are only the things I allow him to do. If it were up to him, he would also be doing drums and rugby and boxing and soccer and gymnastics but I’ve just had to put my foot down to keep our sanity. 😂😂

    Luckily for us, there are parks all over the place and so we just play on our way to and before and after activities. I find taking picnics and books out mean we can just live life outdoors and not spend our lives feeling like we are permanently travelling to and from.

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