How many extra curricular activities should kids do?
There are two types of extra-curricular activities my children are involved in. The first is extra-curricular activities that they have chosen themselves: gymnastics, cub scouts, jazz ballet, choir. The second is extra-curricular activities that I have chosen on their (very) well-rounded behalf: trombone, clarinet, swimming, band, football.
Unfortunately, because we have the ‘for you, for me’ approach to activities, between us my children and I have succeeded in completely missing the mark. We are simply doing too many activities and something has to give. The trouble is, the kids don’t want to give up the activities they love and I don’t want to budge on my choices either.
Signs the kids have too much on
However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:
- The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
- Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
- The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
- There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
- There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
- We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
- The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
- It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.
Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!
How many is too many?
It’s obvious from the signs above that my family has overstepped the mark – we’ve actually over-leaped the mark. The amount a child is comfortable with doing is going to vary hugely from one child to another, of course. It also varies between families – kids from bigger families can often be restricted by finances or sheer logistics alone. Often a larger family like mine (we have three, so we’re really ‘in between’) will choose an activity that all of the kids can be a part of – Little Athletics, Tae Kwon Do, art classes – and rotate it term by term to let every child get a go choosing the activity. This is something we need to consider at my place!
Lots of families have a set rule for how many activities a child can do in any given term; often it’s a maximum of two things, generally including swimming lessons. Other families are guided by their children, many of whom are happy doing just one or two things. Some kids don’t want to do anything at all and that sounds like a godsend to me.
When kids want to do absolutely everything that’s going (for some it’s three different sports a week, for others it’s a combination of lots of different types of activities), it can be hard to know when enough is enough. We want our children to have as many opportunities to learn and grow as possible, but common sense needs to prevail. We need to ask ourselves exactly what – and even who – the extra-curricular activity is for.
What are they getting out of it?
My daughter does three days of gymnastics a week because she absolutely loves it. It keeps her fit, healthy, motivated and engaged with a team of girls who are first-class all the way. I’m not keen that she needs to go as often as she does, but not once has she ever complained about it. The downside is that all that physical activity makes her tired. She gets emotionally and physically wrung-out from time to time and it’s hard to get her to stop the relentless pace and go a bit more gently for a while. We are working on this.
The point is that she loves it, she wouldn’t be without it and it makes her a big part of who she is and, importantly, who she wants to be. I think that makes gymnastics a perfect extra-curricular activity for her.
Things we hope our kids are getting out of their activities:
- A passion for life and a lifelong passion.
- Knowledge and growth.
- Interest and stimulation.
- Health benefits like physical activity and fresh air.
- Social engagement with kids outside their usual school circle.
- A sense of belonging.
- Opportunities to improve and even excel.
What are we getting out of it?
That’s the kids covered, but what about the activities we ‘make’ them do? Every parent has a few of those, surely?
There are two activities I insist the kids keep going with (although I am reconsidering as I write this!) and that is music and swimming. Swimming is a no-brainer – we own a pool and for their own safety the kids need to be able to swim. End of story.
Music is a different, though. I want them to learn an instrument and play in the school band because I think music is an important part of a well-rounded life. Mastering an instrument and being a part of something musical is fulfilling in a way that few other things are. If I’m honest, part of me wants this for them because I stopped my music lessons when I was a teen and it’s something I wish I’d kept going with. I think many parents could say the same thing about some of the activities their children are involved in: that ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ feeling that means we press our child in a certain direction because we regret not taking that path ourselves.
Are these reasons valid? I think they are but we do need to ask ourselves if stretching our kids to do things they probably wouldn’t choose to do on their own isn’t as important as keeping an eye on their overall wellbeing. If the kids are tired and over it, it make sense to drop “our” activities and let them keep up with “their” activities. As my husband said to me the other week, “if they want to keep going with music on their own, let them take it up when they’re older. They’ve got their whole lives to learn how to do things.”
Isn’t that the truth? Part of me needs to consider whether it’s me who should be doing some of the extra-curricular activities I insist the kids keeping doing. Should it be me taking those music lessons?
Do you think you might be a bit like that, too? Should your husband have a go at the ‘over thirties’ footy team, rather than pressure your son into the local team? Would you like to take up art classes rather than schlep a bored child there every Monday after school? It’s food for thought, isn’t it? How many of us are living our ‘well-rounded’ life through our kids?
With this in mind, as I slash through the timetable at my place, there is one extra activity I think I need toadd. Yes, my latest ‘extra-curricular activity’ might just be a little soul-searching … wish me luck!
This article was written by Maxabella for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz