Tuesday, March 11, 2008

After School Activities

How many after school activities is too many? Experts say it depends on a number of factors and this is a big issue facing many families.

Here is the question posted by a newsanchormom.com reader:

"I am curious what experts say is too many after school activities for middle school kids.

I've heard arguments both ways from older generations, doctors and peers. I sometimes feel the busier your kids are, the less time they have to get in to trouble and/or become "couch potatoes". But, on the other side of the coin, it cuts out some of our family time too.

I know personally that if we are all home together, we're all doing different activities anyway. I try to make time for family games, etc. But find that the kids would often rather have friends over and play outside away from us or in their rooms. Learning who knows what from those other kids. But, are they building friendships at this time?

We run every night except Fridays and Sundays. In particular, my kids go to karate a minimum of 1 hr per night. They want to! The hate missing it! And, it's great exercise as well as the fact that they are building friendships there as well.

Are we doing things right?

I know what the grandparents think (and hear it often). They feel that the kids are exhausted and need time at home with us. Well, I prefer that they are doing something to better themselves and encourage physical activity than sit and watch t.v. or play video games."

Child Psychologist Dr. John Day talks to parents about how after school activities are becoming too time consuming in society and often times there is too much pressure on kids to perform. He said kids need down time, where there is no structure. "Children need to learn to regulate themselves. Children and play is important. Play has become stressful and expensive. The best play is imagination. Children should rely on themselves for play time," he said.

Dr. Day said research shows kindergartners need at least 30-40 minutes each day of unstructured play. He said, "Maybe a couple evenings of activity a week is plenty. But the sports activities have a pretty rigorous schedule. Some practice 4 times a week. If the child is pretty motivated in the sport, I would let them do it. But talk to the kids. Some of them are overwhelmed, but might be scared to tell parents. And I would limit it to that one sport. Don’t overload the sports."

So are all these after school activities stressing kids out? Dr. Day said, "Yes they can. You have to look at all the activities and decide why you are doing so many. When I was in school, they had practice right after school. For some of these kids, practice is at 6pm at night."He said maybe some kids get used to these rigorous schedules early on and they can handle it, but some don't. He said, "I think some of the kids really get pressured and it’s usually by adults-parents, coaches, teachers. The kids get caught in the cross fire. That could lead to childhood anxiety and childhood depression. Kids quickly run out of resources. Often kids try to fix the situation on their own and when that doesn't work they just give up. Their grades suffer."

Dr. Day says he uses the child's grades a gauge on whether or not they are doing too many activities. He said when grades start to suffer, limit the activities. He said parents also need to keep in mind the importance of family time. He said,"It’s good to learn team work, but kids need time to themselves for self regulation and family time. We assume because the kid has breakfast with us or we are in the car together that’s family time, but that’s not necessarily enough. You have to interact with the family-talk to them."

If you are stressed out by taking the child to so many activities, Dr. Day said that's a good sign your kids are stressed too. He advises parents not to let kids drop out of commitments, but to finish that semester or season, if possible, and don't sign up again. He said, "I have seen kids really get hurt with this. When they get stressed, their learning will go down. Reading comprehension drops to zip. So keep an eye on that. "

How many nights a week are you running your kids to events? How do you achieve a healthy balance?

-NewsAnchorMom Jen


Rixblix said...

Our children both take music lessons one day a week. They also participate in one "extra". We consciously limit their after school activities and focus instead on family time and activities that will provide enrichment. I think parents tend to keep children up too late on school nights in order to fit more activities into their schedules. As an educator, I see firsthand the effects of too little sleep and over scheduled kids.

Mike Lanza said...

I'm a fairly new parent (3-1/2 and 4 months) who hasn't had to deal with this overscheduled stuff, but hates it. In fact, I've started a family of online communities called Playborhood dedicated to encouraging parents to let their kids play outside in their neighborhoods.

Anyway, I'm absolutely amazed by the initial letter where the parent says that time her/his kids spend playing outside with other kids is bad because they'll learn "who knows what?" Does that parent really think kids are inherently evil? Doesn't she/he understand that kids at middle school age *need* some autonomy, away from adults, to develop?

Also, why does she/he let the kids sit and watch tv or play videogames whenever they want at home? If you don't think these are good influences, you limit or eliminate them. Period. You wouldn't let your kids drink alcohol even if "all the other parents let their kids do it," would you?

newsanchormom.com said...

I talked to the Athletic Director at Washinton H.S. last week about this topic. He said touch football starts in second grade! I was shocked! He said the teams start younger and younger and it makes parents feel like they have to get their kids involved or they won't make the team in junior high and high school. What happened to the days of playing kickball or wiffle ball with your friends in the neighborhood? My kids are too little for all this, but it sounds like it will be a big issue.

Anonymous said...

You are a parent of very young children so you have a lot of questions, there are no right answers. For some kids 2 hours a day of sports fits in perfectly, for some 30 minutes a week is too much. You will know, a good parent always does. I have one child heavily into 1 sport and another lightly into everything. My 1 sport child will practice 2 hours a day 6 days a week, and want more. The other will do 9 other things each day and may play 3 sports casually throughout the year. They both have strict schedules for homework and household responsibilities, they never miss school and always seem to find plenty of time to go out and play with friends as well. There is a lot of time in a day and learning from a young age how to make the most of it is a great life skill. Our kids are in bed before 9:00 at night and are at the top of their classes at school. Before you worry about too much time in extracuricular stuff be it sports, music, drama, scouts ect. I would try and avoid television and video games for as long as possible.

Jennifer said...

While I think it does depend upon the child, I would say a good rule of thumb would be 0-2 activities per child, per season. (It's hardest when seasons overlap, in that case, I would limit it to 1 activity per season, otherwise, you'll end up swamped.).

I have two kids, one who would love to do everything and the other that really only likes basketball. And even with just the two it does sometimes feel that we spend and awful lot of time on the go. I always wonder how the families with 3-4 kids do it...

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