How Much Is Too Much? Children and Extra-Curricular Activities

When your child’s school is offering a variety of clubs, or the local leisure centre is awash with swimming and self-defence lessons, it’s easy to give in to your child’s every request for a signed permission slip. But is it healthy for your child to have a fully booked schedule? And what is the most efficient and enjoyable use of your pocketbook and his or her time? Read on to find out more.

My 9-year-old’s eyes are forever bigger than his watch. He wants to do it all – drama, art, radio station, choir, cello – when something’s offered, he’s pretty much there willing to try it with no regard for his talents in the area or even his enjoyment of the activity. And most of the time, we let him fill his boots. So, this year, he spends an hour each week in cello lessons and three further hours in extra-curricular activities laid on by the school.

People make a disapproving face when they hear how busy he is, and sometimes we get comments about loading him up too heavily. At other times – when speaking to a notable other mother at the school – I’m told he doesn’t do enough and I should, in fact, be scheduling every spare moment he might be spending out of school.

The answer, of course, is that every child has a different tolerance level and every parent can handle their child’s workload in a good way or a bad way. My son, for example, gets an hour right after school to sit down, play, relax, and have some time to himself before he has to do his chores. At night, he gets to read in bed before going to sleep.

We like to schedule his homework for the weekend, when he has a veritable ocean of time stretching out all around for him to sit in his room playing with cars, or to build fragile cardboard structures in the hobby room. He gets time to be himself, in his own home. Ultimately, that is more important than some arbitrary idea of how much time he can spend doing structured activities on a weekly basis.

Another thing to look at is how much your child is enjoying what he or she does. Learning to play an instrument requires a lot of dedication and hard work, as well as daily practice. But if your child hates the instrument they chose a few months ago, is there really any point in paying through the nose for them to play it?

It may well be time to let them swap or drop their instrument altogether. Swimming lessons are important and you may wish to pay for a private tutor, but your local leisure centre will usually do a great job for less money.

Be willing to prioritise your own time, too. Okay, your child wants to spend time on extra-curricular activities every weekday. Can your schedule take that hit? Can your mental and physical health?

As long as you don’t act too silly about it, your child can probably take on quite a few extra-curricular activities. But be pro-active about making sure he or she takes time out of the rat-race to be a child, and don’t be too reluctant to drop a class if he or she has ceased enjoying it. After all, this is your child’s childhood… Let them enjoy it while it lasts!

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