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Over-scheduled Kids

Is your child's time overrun by scheduled activities?

 

The other day my friend and I had a ridiculous conversation on the playground while trying to plan a play date for our children. Attempting to schedule a time to get them together proved to be a daunting task.

"We have soccer practice after school on Tuesdays and soccer games scheduled on Thursdays. Oh, we have gymnastics, too, on Thursdays for my little one, and then we have an oral report due on Wednesday that he will be finishing up," I told my friend. "So it looks like we could only play on Monday or Friday."

She scratched her head and reviewed her children's after school activities; "Well, we have dance class on Mondays and Thursdays, swim team on Wednesdays, and Karate class on Fridays, and we have to squeeze in time to do homework, too."

In the end, we realized that there was absolutely no time to schedule a play date. We threw our hands in the air and decided to revisit our calenders after soccer season was over--six weeks later.

The kids still haven't had a play date.

I'm aware that extracurricular activities are important for a child's development but many kids these days are over-scheduled. The majority of moms I know feel like nothing more than a glorified taxi service as they chauffeur their kids from activity to activity. 

I don't believe these parents are super competitive or that they're pushing full schedules on their children. It's become the norm for kids' afternoons to be filled with ballet class, piano lessons, soccer practice and homework. Many families don't even sit down for dinner until well after 7:00 pm.

So, how much is too much and how can a parent be sure that their kids are not feeling the strain of over-scheduling?

The American Association of Pediatrics advices parents to be careful not to let a full schedule govern thier child's day. "Your child needs some time that is not governed by the clock. He can benefit just as much from spending quality free time with you and his siblings as he can from structured activities," the AAP said in their radio series; "A Minute for Kids."

They suggest that parents be selective in the organized activities they pick for their children to keep a healthy balance in their child's life. It's also important to let your child have a say in selecting activities.

"Also, evaluate your child’s personality and the time he can realistically devote to structured activities. Not all kids have the same attention spans and interests," the AAP said.

Soccer season is winding down for my son and I'm tempted to not schedule a new activity for him this winter. Perhaps some time at home to play with his toys and use his imagination will give him just the stimulation he needs for a bit. After all, unstructured play is important for kids, too.

Somehow, the idea of an open calender sounds liberating to me.

Do your children participate in after school activities, if so, how many? Does it ever feel like your kids are over-scheduled? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Jesse October 17, 2012 at 07:17 PM
My family is guilty of this but we do weigh how important the activity is to each child and what benefits they get from each one. A sacrifice of time has to happen somewhere and we try to make the most of downtime when we are at home. I agree that free time is important but I don't feel like my kids get stressed from our busy schedule. If anyone feels the brunt of our running around, it's me.
This is such an important question. As parents, we feel compelled to offer our children everything - soccer practice, violin lessons, tutoring, etc. But the science is clear that the best thing we can give our kids is time for unstructured play. That's one of the reasons why I co-founded http://www.playdateplanet.com. It's a free online playdate scheduler that makes scheduling playdates, even for busy kids, super easy. If you do check it out, please drop me a line and let me know what you think!
tiffanie October 18, 2012 at 01:31 AM
I have been working very hard not to sign my kids up for everything. My daughter is still pretty young, so her older brother is really the only one in after school activities at this point. Whenever I start thinking about signing him up for something else, I try to think of what it will be like in a year when she wants to do activities, too. That usually helps me simmer down a bit. We also have just started our first year of bringing home actual homework. That is taking more thoughtfulness on my part about how we spend our afternoons..
Linda Labbo October 18, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Kids used to come home from school and play in the neighborhood with friends, do a bit of homework, watch some tv, and get ready for a reasonable bedtime. Unfortunately, just hanging out outside isn't always a safe option in these days of child abduction, etc. So, parents schedule their kids for afterschool activities and playdates. There can be too much of a "good thing", though. A friend of mine had his daughter in Diving class on Monday, swimming class on Tuesday, Band practice on Wednesday, Clarinet lessons on Thursday, and gymnastics on Friday. Her weekend was filled with meets, recitals, and competitions. She never had a moment to herself when combined with staying up late to finish homework. He told me he regrets the over scheduling... because as a young adult now, she can't sit still. She feels like she's a loser if she's not achieving something. She's now an RN and still schedules herself and her kids everyday of the week. She confessed she doesn't even enjoy it, she just doesn't know how to stop! A cautionary tale, indeed.
Sue Anderson October 18, 2012 at 01:37 PM
We always kept it to one sport and one hobby. With four kids, that worked for us and still left enough time for play. I do think kids are over-scheduled today, and I don't think the benefits are worth what they lose. Children need time to be children and to develop the ability to entertain themselves and each other. =)
Caroline U October 19, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Leigh, with our oldest just now in the first grade we are NOT quite there yet with all of the activities. And truthfully, being such a (relatively) big family, we sometimes just CAN'T do it all. I mean sometimes it's just impossible to sign the kids up for things that conflict with things the other kids have to do and there is only one ME and my husband is always working. So in weird way, this has kind of kept us under-committed to things. Remember when we were little and we were bored so we got our friends to help us build forts and start clubs? Kids today need time for that. Less structure, more freestyle. Always love your articles. They are always, always great food for thought on parenting!!

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