There is no magic answer that suits every child and family. However, there is an answer that’s just right for you, your child and your entire family—it’s just a matter of finding it.
We recently heard this from a client,
‘I know that I want my kids to do martial arts this year. They also need to do swimming and speech. They love to dance too. But maybe it is time for them to start piano…and what about an art class? Do you think that is too much for a child just starting Grade One?’
When we work from the outside in, listening to all the possibilities and all the activities that our friends’ kids are involved in, it is easy to feel swept away and overwhelmed. Prevailing culture would have us believe that we don’t want our kids to ‘miss out’ or ‘be unprepared for life’. However, we encourage parents to make decisions from the inside out, based on values and life choices.
This is what you can ask yourself to discern the right answer for your family:
- Who do you want your child to become?
- How much downtime do you want for your child each week?
- How much time will be taken up with reading homework?
- Is your 6-year-old going to bed around 7:30 pm?
- How will your child get to/from activities?
- Is budget a consideration?
This is a great place to start to help you figure out what is realistic for your child. When parents begin to map out a child’s schedule, including time for sleep, play, rest, homework and any mandatory classes, it can quite clearly outline the amount of time that actually remains for activities.
Time is certainly a factor in this decision. Another is family beliefs around physical and mental health. Often parents will encourage their children to choose one physical activity and one artistic activity (soccer and piano/ tennis and choir/swimming and drawing). This also offers a balance between group and individual pursuits. It all boils down to matching the prioritized family values.
There is another thing to take into account. Just because a child has time for a certain number of activities, does not mean that the child attends willingly.
Many parents can sometimes be embarrassed by children who won’t participate and throw tantrums to get out of activities. Clarity ahead of time can be very helpful in knowing how you will respond to your child’s behaviour.
- Is this activity mandatory? If not, how many times must your child try before deciding not to continue?
- What behaviour do you expect of your child?
- Who can that child rely on for help if you are not involved?
Getting everyone clear on the schedule and expectations, along with consequences is a great start to making extra-curricular activities worthwhile. It’s less about a specific number and more about what works for you.
After you ask yourself these questions, you’ll be able to come up with a plan that suits you and your family just right. And that’s all that matters.