By Ashley Weingart
Let’s face it, there always will be a class your children’s friends are taking that your kids can’t wait to try, too. Dozens of enrichment opportunities are available through school, the library, a community center or local businesses: science club, ballet classes, travel soccer, drama club, piano lessons, gymnastics, art classes, ski club — the possibilities are endless.
While it’s important for our children to be involved and find activities they enjoy, there is only so much time in the day and so much money to spread around.
By signing our children up for too much, are we inadvertently doing them a disservice? When it comes to being busy, how much is too much?
Here are some things to consider when helping your children choose the programs that best fit their needs and schedules.
Benefits of Busy
Preschoolers are learning Spanish, some kindergarteners can read chapter books and first graders are dabbling with multiplication.
Kids still receive exposure to art, music and some sports during school hours, but they are limited by the amount of time they get to spend in these special areas. Allowing our children to delve further into special subject matters after school helps broaden their horizons, and open their eyes to enjoyable hobbies or even potential career choices.
Enabling them to try new things and experiment with a variety of activities helps them to get a feel for what they’re good at, what they find interesting and what they are passionate about.
Afterschool programs also offer new opportunities for socialization. Getting kids involved in extracurricular activities gives them an opportunity to create another social group and new friendships, minimizing the possibility of bullying.
“Kids that are involved are more likely to stay out of trouble, find a positive mentor and make healthier decisions,” says Emily Farrell, a high school guidance counselor from Chagrin Falls, who now offers private counseling services and academic coaching to adolescents in Aspen, Colo.
On the other hand, kids need time to play, explore, rest and figure out who they are. Structured classes can expand their minds, allowing them to be creative and utilize their imaginations, but so can building skyscrapers out of Legos or creating a chalk masterpiece on the driveway.
More Family Time and Focus
However, too many afterschool activities often make sitting down for a family meal a thing of the past and force bedtime to get pushed back later.
Studies reveal the benefits of eating dinner together as a family are plentiful, and include everything from children with a larger vocabulary and higher achievement scores to kids consuming
more fruits and vegetables, along with reduced symptoms of medical disorders.
Kids who eat a family dinner also experience less stress and a have a better relationship with parents. So of course, fewer extra activities equals more beneficial family time.
Also, “overbooking” kids can impact their focus. If kids are being chauffeured from school to ballet rehearsal to swimming lessons and then to Girl Scouts, are they really at their best in each of these places? At some point, are they still receiving any value, or are they just going through the motions?
Finding the Right Fit
Farrell suggests finding a couple of activities a child is passionate about and focusing on those.
“Instead of joining every club and being part of every activity, it’s good to home in on just one or two,” she says.
For children ages 4 to 10, there can be more exploration, as Farrell notes they still need to experiment and figure out which activities they enjoy most.
Also, some parents set a limit regarding how many activities in which each child can participate.