School is back in session! Accordingly, worries about your child fitting in, getting homework done, cafeteria food and carpooling are in full swing.
Coinciding with colder weather is also a resurgence of school and outside activities. It was ok to be a little idle during the summer. That left time for vacations, ice cream cones, and the pool. But now that kids are back to school, the days are going to be crammed with things to do. And we, as parents and caregivers who want the best for our kids, are most likely going to add more and more to the schedule as time goes by. Pretty soon (if it hasn’t already happened) we are lucky to have a few minutes to breathe in between runs to soccer practice and piano lessons, Chinese tutoring and play dates. Those long, expansive and sometimes boring days of summer suddenly seem like a distant memory.
So, what are the pros and cons of having a very full schedule?
- Social exposure. Scheduling playtime and activities with other kids encourages social skill building and friendships! Yay!
- Enrichment. By sending your child to foreign language lessons or art classes, you might be helping them discover a talent or interest that could be cultivated throughout their lifetime. At the very least, it exposes them to different possibilities and groups so that they can make some informed decisions about where their interests lie.
- Including your child in your interests. For parents with little time to cultivate their own interests, taking a pottery class with their children can make it a possibility. Exploring activities together can also be a platform for increased bonding and understanding between parents and their kids.
- Lack of unscheduled time for kids– While planning for things makes life easier, having free time to do nothing or have some fun develop naturally is (in my opinion) extra valuable for kids and families. Using your imagination isn’t something that you generally schedule. People watching in the park or blowing bubbles aren’t usually written on the calendar either. I find that the most interesting conversations often happen when kids are allowed just to think. When there is no expectation placed on them of having fun or working hard or learning something, kids sometimes are more likely to have fun, work hard or learn!
- Less free time for adults. When parents commit to having their kids at fencing lessons, Boy Scouts and church choir, they have created a hectic schedule for themselves as well as their kids. It might seem like a good idea to drop your kid off for an activity for an hour, but it leaves little time to do something on your own. All of a sudden, the need to be places at certain times starts to dictate everyday life. It’s hard to find time for getting homework done, let alone for a parent to go to the gym or meet up with friends. Those “unnecessary” activities are the first to be cut from the schedule.
- Social pressure. There is an element of competition involved in enrolling children in a number of enrichment activities. It’s easy to compare notes with other parents regarding when your child said their first word and took their first steps. The same push for having an exceptional kid and giving them lots of opportunities to make them more exceptional exists in the extracurricular world. Camps, chess classes, violin lessons, karate, French, lacrosse and so many more are simply more things for adults to use when comparing their child to other kids. It offers opportunities to brag and be worried for the other child who isn’t receiving all of these supports. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if social pressure is a factor when choosing activities, but if it is the main reason for doing so, it most likely doesn’t put your child’s needs, wishes and natural talents at the forefront of the decision making process.
- Cost. These activities cost parents a great deal of time, money, stress, fatigue and patience. So while the hope is that the eventual payoff will be worth it, for many, that simply won’t be true. Learning to fence as a kid could give you a head start on your natural way to becoming an Olympian… or more likely, it could simply be something that you used to do when you were a kid. Sometimes the headaches that these “fun activities” can cause really outweigh any potential helpfulness. How many parents have found themselves hurrying protesting kids out the door so that they could get to softball practice on time? Fights ensue. Threats are made. Tears are shed. Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?
I guess it’s obvious what my opinion on this subject is (I did call it “over”scheduling after all). As competition to get into college and preschool continues to increase, there has been a natural shift to push kids to succeed and stand out in different ways. It makes sense. It just might not be the best idea for every family and for every kid.
Take a look at your schedule and see when the next afternoon of nothingness is. If there isn’t one, maybe you should schedule it in.