It makes my head spin to think about the kind of schedule some kids these days keep. School, after-school care, homework, dinner, sports or dance once a week, swim lessons or another activity twice a week, games, birthday parties and campouts on weekends. The range of extracurricular activities available to children today is mind-blowing, but of course we want our kids to have everything. But Jill Connors, mom of five, says, “I know friends whose kids are in school that are so scheduled that anytime they are home they are ‘bored.’”
So where’s the time for fort building, skateboarding, cops-and-robbers and other free activities that let a kid’s imagination run wild? Dad Jeff Pearlman is outraged by this over-scheduling dilemma and wrote in a piece on cnn.com, “Kids are gifted with 18 years of childhood… Yes, I want mine to do well in school, and learn the virtues of compassion and empathy and hard work. But I also aspire for them to jump on our trampoline until their legs sag from exhaustion, and ride their bikes up and down the street… and chase down the ice cream man and watch in amazement as the pink petals fall from our cherry blossom tree.”
Whether a parent puts a child in many activities with good intentions or for their own ego or perceived outside pressure, so much can be lost to a child when presented with an overfull schedule. Jill Connors also shares, “I think that you can lose so much valuable family time with too many activities. Come soccer season, we rarely sit down at the table and eat dinner.” Carolyn Parsons, author and mom of four daughters, says, “If a child is called to something, or a parent sees activities that would build on a natural talent or affinity, then it makes sense to put them in that activity. If kids are scheduled for the sake of giving them something to ‘do,’ they will never learn to find things to do by themselves.”
FIND THE ACTIVITY/PLAY BALANCE
David Elkins wrote in a piece on psychologytoday.com, “Unstructured play allows children to pursue their interests, express their personalities and learn how to structure their time. Play is the natural mode of learning for young children, but when their lives are dominated by adult-organized activities, there may be little time left to just be kids.” The answer, it would seem, lies in balance and moderation.
PLAY A LITTLE/MIX IT UP
Parents can find balance in different ways. For instance, Suzanne Andrews, mom of four, shares, “One out- of-house individual activity/sport per season is the max for mom sanity at our house, and even then it gets a little iffy.” In my house, we take it one step further and my kids have to actually ask to be in an activity. I got tired of paying for trying to enrich their lives with activities they didn’t even want to do! Some families run like crazy during the school year, then loaf around all summer, taking advantage of the pool, the zoo, nature centres and maybe even a relaxing vacation.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
Some families can handle multiple activities very well, while some families do better to hang out around the house more. Kyle Boeglin, mom of four boys, says, “I think the family balance is very important. Jimmy, Johnny and Joey might all like to be in different sports and activities every season, but if mom and dad never see each other and the family has no downtime, that’s not good for anybody.” If your calendar seems packed on paper/computer, if you constantly run late or if your child simply doesn’t want to go, you might have too much going on.
FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR FAMILY
Your child’s temperament factors in somewhere, as well. Alyssa Ast, mom of four, says, “If your kid isn’t enjoying it, like my son and sports, it’s too much. If their grades start to slip, it’s too much.” As an only child, my parents encouraged me to participate in softball (hated it), Brownies (bored) and I did two years of dance before I dropped out. I preferred to curl up with a book. Today - miraculously - I’m a well-rounded social butterfly who still likes to read… and spend my days writing. So before you sign your kid up for that awesome soccer team or rockin’ theatre class, consider how it will fit in with your child’s – and your – current schedule. If your child is destined to be the next David Beckham or Anne Hathaway, go for it. If, however, they could not possibly care any less, send them outside to play Olympics with some neighborhood friends.
POINTERS FOR PARENTS:
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