Before I had kids, I was what you would call a joiner. If there was an activity I could participate in, a club I could join or a petition I could sign, I was in like Flynn. Once I had kids I had to tone it down a notch. For the longest time, I couldn’t leave the house in the evening, because I had to be home for bedtime. The fact that my husband worked an unpredictable schedule at the time only upped the ante, since I could never guarantee when he’d be around to be with the kids. Even after that abated, I found that my time was just way more limited. My schedule was too tight for me to sign up for everything that was presented to me.
In spite of the fact that as a parent I face a lot of constraints, I’ve still found myself in a position where my family felt overscheduled more than once. My daughter Hannah loves to take classes and join groups as much as I did at her age. It’s pretty rare for her to say ‘no’ to an activity. My son Jacob is younger and so less vocal about all the things he’d like to do, but he’s done some classes he’s really enjoyed and I enjoyed doing with him. If I have two kids, each doing one or more activities, and then I take a yoga class or something for myself, things can get out of hand pretty quickly.
Jacob at music class
Now that my daughter is in grade two, school plays a major role in our schedule. Last year a fair bit of work was sent home – there was home reading every day, and then weekly sight words, build-a-word exercises and spelling tests to study for. I found myself spending 20 minutes after school every day playing homework police. All of these little things add up quickly, and cut into family time. This year so far the workload is lower, but there are still weekly spelling tests and other odds and ends to do.
I’m a firm believer that kids need free time, and lots of it. They need time to play, and be bored, and make art, and build pillow forts. All of the schoolwork and extra-curricular activities run in direct opposition to children getting free time. This is why I’m fighting my own joiner tendencies so hard, and trying to keep a lid on kids’ activities.
Hannah playing around during some free time
At the moment, I allow each of my kids to do one activity at any given time. I could just skip all classes and groups, I suppose, but I do see some value in kids having the chance to try new things. Right now Jacob is taking music classes and Hannah is taking musical theatre. These are things they don’t do at school, and that I couldn’t teach them myself in the same way. There’s benefit to the activities, the challenge is figuring out the right balance, and avoiding a situation where we’re eating dinner in the car as we shuttle from one to the next.
So far, while my kids have done a lot of activities, none of them have really stuck. They’ve enjoyed them, but given the choice between continuing with their existing class and trying a new one, they’ve opted for the new one. While there’s a part of me that watches the Olympics and imagines my kids having that kind of commitment and aptitude, on the whole I’m glad my kids like to switch things up. When a kid really loves something, it can get pretty big pretty quickly. I’ve seen how much time parents and kids invest in competitive sports, for instance. When Hannah decided to take gymnastics instead of doing soccer again, and then opted for musical theatre over another round of gymnastics, it removed any possibility that I would be spending the next 10 years driving her all over the country for games or meets.
Hannah played soccer when she was in kindergarten
Everything in parenting is about balance. Balancing scheduled activities with free time. Balancing your needs and your kids’ needs. Balancing academics and other pursuits. Balancing the schedule so that you don’t need to be in two places at once. I’m not sure I ever get it right, but I really am trying.
What about you? How many activities do your kids participate in, and what kind of time commitment do they involve? How do you balance those activities with school and free time? I’d love to hear!