As summer winds down and we prepare for fall... one thing on many parent's minds (including mine!) is class and extracurricular signups for fall.
Between the swimming, kindie music, gymnastics, soccer, piano, lego building classes, chess club, etc, there's practically an unlimited amount of program options.
They all look fabulous on the websites and it's easy to see how your child will benefit, BUT it can reach a point where it's too much - for everyone.
Committing children to too many activities, known as overprogramming, has become a hot topic in child development the last few years.
While all of these activities can be enriching experiences, over scheduling can also have negative effects on a child's mental and physical health.
What Can Happen When Children Are Over Scheduled...
Stress and Burnout: Your child might become irritable because they haven't had enough time to relax and play. Older children may also feel pressure to excel in every activity.
Loss of Creativity and Imagination: When children are constantly scheduled, they have little time for unstructured activities and play, which is essential for developing creativity and imagination.
Lack of Sleep: Overprogramming can lead to later bedtimes, making children tired and grouchy.
Decreased Academic Performance: Older children may struggle to keep up with their schoolwork.
Physical Health Risks: Older children that are practicing too much may experience more injuries, exhaustion, and consequently, a weakened immune systems.
How To Balance Activities & Free Time
The most important factors for a child's healthy development, more important than trying a ton of extracurriculars, is getting enough sleep and eating well.
So give yourself some grace if you feel bad about missing that recent hockey or swimming sign up. Focus on what's important for your child's overall growth and wellbeing.
When things are already very busy at home for other reasons, caring for an aging parent, work is busier than usual, etc, extracurriculars can take a backseat for a session or two.
When choosing activities:
Prioritize - Choose one or two activities that your child loves and focus on those. As Montessori says, follow the child. Engage your child, especially if they're over four, in choosing activities.
Be Open to Quitting - This is the time, when children are young, for trying different hobbies. After finishing a session, ask your child if they liked it and if they want to do it again. There's no need to commit to something for years just because your child did well in one session.
Schedule Downtime - Just as you schedule activities, schedule downtime. Reserve days where there are no activities, dedicating these days for unstructured activities and play at home.
It's such a challenge to hold back on over scheduling when you feel like your child is the only one who isn't in some popular activity. I struggle with this constantly.
But it's good to remind ourselves that if our families are over scheduled, everyone becomes irritable, sleep deprived, and everything just feels harder. It's not worth it to try and squeeze in one more activity.
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