Finding the balance with extra curricular activities -
You see the range of wonderful activities on offer and kids tend to sign up for a lot.
A common issue parents everywhere struggle with today is extracurricular activities and the questions of how much? And, is it too much? There is just so many wonderful activities on offer it can be hard to choose what is really important and which ones will develop the talents and passions of our children. At the same time we don’t want to run them ragged and have them stressed out because they are overloaded. Parents everywhere are feeling the pressure.
I feel it’s really important to acknowledge that extracurricular activities is often informal after-school care for older children. 9 out of 10 families today have both parents working long hours and the dilemma of ‘what to do with children’ after school before work finishes is often solved by extra curricular activities. It has also become popular because as parents we are no longer comfortable in allowing our children to have unsupervised ‘free time’ for a variety of reason, but mainly safety. For kids in middle and senior school we know that the couple of hours after school until parents are home from work is the highest risk time of them becoming involved in dangerous behaviours simply because it is unmonitored. So regular extra-curricular activities can certainly have many benefits.
The Benefits. Firstly we know kids love structure and routine and having an afterschool routine is really beneficial. Kids tell me: extra activities are wonderful, they love all the new skills they get to learn whether it is drama, art, soccer, dance, martial arts. And it’s social! They gain friendships and confidence. Another big plus is that if the activity is sport-exercise based, kids are getting their hour of physical activity a day which loads of research shows us is vital for a whole range of health reasons. The lifestyle most families lead today is certainly more inactive and involves heaps of sitting down.
But what about overscheduling? If kids have too many activities on the go then they run the risk of stretching themselves too thin and not being able to really focus and master the skills of one activity. It certainly isn’t fun anymore when kids have signed up for too many activities and then are stressed and trying to juggle and manage their schoolwork as well. They take kids away from time with their families.
Having extra extra-curricular activities doesn’t give your kids extra benefits. You need to be able to have a child that can focus and put their energy into a few activities and learn to master – make goals and really enjoy it. Rather than dipping their hand into everything that goes by and mastering none.
How much is too much? When should you as a parent say enough is enough? The balance – is the tricky part. My advice to parents often is; it’s too much when it starts interfering in your child life. It also depends on the activity, some activities are intensive and involve multiple trainings and games on a weekly basis. So even one of these activities can be consuming and leave little room for life.
To find out if it’s too much ask these questions; “Can you still do your homework? Can you still get the 9 + hours of sleep each night? Can you still be a part of your family? Can you still see your friends?” If the answer is ‘no’ to anyone or more then it’s too much. You need to scale the activities back.
The biggest downside I often see to extracurricular activities is that it takes children away from time with their family and friends and this is really important time. Relationships with others are the emotional core of life and we know this brings contentment and happiness. Kids really miss being with their family. Just being. No agenda, no planned activity etc. so build in winding down time, both during the week and on the weekend.
As a parent try to have one whole day on the weekend that is free of any activities, no commitments. Also at least one day during the week and it’s better to have two, unless the activity is the hour of exercise then this can be the exception. With so much on offer it can be difficult to say ‘no’ but it is important for your child’s health to find the balance early.