How Many Extracurriculars Are Too Many?
When my children were younger, I was as excited as they were when a school break came around, and it wasn’t just the reprieve from having to think up creative school lunches that appealed. For me, it was a break from extracurriculars. No more dance on Wednesdays, yoga on Thursdays, and swimming on Fridays, at least for a couple of weeks anyway. After talking to other parents however, I knew that my schedule didn’t even compare to some whose kids were involved in competitive dance or in a hockey league. Multiply that by two or three children and both parents and kids are often left feeling exhausted.
I’ve always encouraged parents not to enroll their children in more than two extra curricular activities per week. Religious school may be a third, depending on the family’s inclination and the age of the child. When my children were preschoolers, I enrolled them in more. (Having two children born eight years apart certainly had its advantages). For instance, when my second was born, my first was already in grade two. I had more time at my disposal to explore different programs. As she got a little older, I noticed that she liked to climb and move in her physical space. So, we checked out gymnastics and found that she had a real aptitude for it. When she entered grade one, we put gymnastics on the back burner and she enrolled in dance.
Swimming, the second extra curricular, I made mandatory since I considered it an essential life skill. The following year I let her choose between dance and gym (swim continued) and we added religious school into the mix. In short, my recommendation is for parents to explore as much as time and energy allows before their child goes into grade one. After that, it’s best to refine the choices according to your child’s interests or aptitude. Allow them to choose one activity each year, maybe alternating for a couple of years until they settle on one. A second choice, as I said, may be yours: an essential skill such as swimming, for example.
Children, like adults, can feel overwhelmed from always being on the run. A sandwich for dinner in the car three nights a week is not ideal. As well, by occupying our children every waking moment, we don’t teach them the value and importance of enjoying their own company during quiet moments. Learning how to sit still, process, and reflect on what is going on around them and developing patience are just some of the benefits of not always being on the run. It’s true that keeping them busy does sometimes keep them out of trouble, but sometimes to the detriment of the family.
Instead of adding more extracurriculars to an already full plate, consider scheduling ‘family time’ instead. Especially in families where parents are working full time, most children prefer just spending quality time with their parents when they get home from work. This may include sitting down to eat dinner as a family at least a couple of times a week, without feeling that it’s tightly squeezed between getting home from school and work and rushing out to another activity. It may also include putting one night a week aside to play board games or even to watch a mutually enjoyed show on television together. Spending time together as a family might include going tobogganing on a hill near your house after dinner, raking leaves (and then jumping into the piles), visiting grandparents or volunteering. All of this together time will create wonderful memories and encourage bonding as a family.
The bottom line is that there’s as much to be learned and gained from spending time with one another as there is from learning or developing a new skill. So, don’t feel guilty about not keeping up with the Joneses. Instead, de-stress by taking some of the load off your plate and hanging out with the people you love.