Schedules: Find the right balance in your child’s week
We all want our children to participate in activities that enhance their development. Yet kids need ample time to just relax, play with siblings and friends, learn how to pursue activities independently, and, as they grow older complete chores at home. Over-scheduled children are often tired and irritable, and, as a form of rebellion, they stop applying themselves to their activities. Children who are under-scheduled may be bored and could miss out on opportunities to find their passions. How should parents decide on extracurricular plans for their children? No magic formula can determine a child’s optimum schedule, but you can come up with the best combination of outside activities for each child by looking at several factors.
Your Child’s Personality
Does your child enjoy unstructured time, or does he become bored and restless when he doesn’t have a plan? Some children feel stressed by always having to be somewhere at a particular time and relish the opportunity to have a free afternoon. Others like a very structured day and thrive when they have scheduled activities. Some kids love to be challenged; others are stressed when the demands are high.
Time Commitment and Intensity Required for Each Activity
Look at the mix of your child’s activities in terms of the level of commitment and performance expectations. For example, my daughter loved ballet classes at the “Mommy and Me” and “Pre-Ballet” levels. But once the classes became more serious (including a requirement that she take a minimum number of hours per week), she became less enthusiastic. She was willing to spend many hours each week on other activities she enjoyed, but not on ballet. We were able to find a more appropriate recreational dance program for her, and she was much happier.
Make sure your child isn’t overloaded with intense extracurricular and be sure that the activities requiring a large time commitment are the ones he enjoys most.
Your Child’s Interests
Does your child like group activities? Playing sports? Or does he prefer to spend hours drawing or reading? Know what your child is passionate about and schedule accordingly; make sure his schedule reflects his interests, not yours.
Take into account any demands on your child’s time that are nonnegotiable. Does he have religious school, a long commute to and from school, or a lot of homework? Figure these responsibilities into your equation as structured time.
Keep in mind that your children don’t have to stick with the first activities they try. Offer various activities when they are young and see what they enjoy most. Possibilities include programs or lessons in art, sports (team and individual), acting, chess, language, photography, computers, and music. Check out offerings at museums, community centers, libraries, and cultural institutions.
Reevaluate your child’s activities at the start of each school year or semester. When your child wants to take on a new activity, or if you decide that he has too many, ask him the following question about each activity in his schedule: “Is this something you look forward to and would really miss if you didn’t do it?” In this way, you can rank each program and decide what might be cut. Pay close attention to your child’s demeanor when you have this discussion: the choices offered and made during his young years may ultimately determine his passions.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- What percentage of my child’s non-school time is spent in structured activities and what percentage is free time?
- Does my child have enough time to do what is required (schoolwork, religious school, etc.) and be able to just relax?
- Does my child have at least one extracurricular activity that will expose him to new pursuits?
- Does my child have one or two scheduled activities he really enjoys?
- Is my child over-tired, stressed, or not getting enough sleep due to over-programming?