After School Activities: How Much Is Too Much?

After School Activities: How Much Is Too Much?

This article first appeare15433604_mld in the Boston Parents Newspaper on Aug. 8, 2014

When I was in kindergarten, the school day consisted of playing, singing, lunch and a nap. After school, we played outside on the block. How times have changed!

Today, children of all ages are engaged in full day activities, packed with highly charged academics, brief respites of recess, short lunch periods and homework beginning in kindergarten. To add to the mix, parents are putting children into after school activities as young as nursery school.

After school activities developed in order to give children extra enrichment in areas that the school didn’t offer, such as the arts, team sports, extra interests such as karate, horseback riding or a swim team, musical training or gymnastics. While every parent looks forward to having a child participate and succeed in after school activities, when is it too much?

Children differ in their stamina, their willingness to cope with a long day and their drive to tackle many activities. I know children as young as 3 who happily attend ballet and gymnastics or children at 12 who cannot cope beyond the school day plus homework. All children need a combination of academics, relaxation/sleep and recreation. But the best balance for each child is different.

To set up an after school activity schedule, first talk with your child. Offer him or her one activity a week and talk about the different options. Be open to the idea that your child may be interested in very different activities than you expect. While many parents expect their child to participate in competitive sports, some children do not like or wish to do so. Respecting their wishes will allow the child to develop in his or her unique way. Don’t try to offer a compromise if it means your child will have to commit to too many activities. (“You can try that knitting class if you also agree to join my old basketball team; I know you will love it!”)

Sometimes competitive sports are offered too early. In my experience, most children do enjoy team sports if it is offered at the right time. Some kids do not get interested until 4th or 5th grade or later. Some parents want their child to concentrate on one thing in order to excel, such as piano practice several hours daily. Make sure that this meets both your expectations as well as your child’s wishes.

So choosing after school activities needs to be a blend of your child’s unique interests, their level of stamina and your intuitive understanding of what would be best for your child. Remember that children should not be expected to be on the go all day every day. Having fun, blowing off steam or enjoying a great time with their friends after school is just as importance as winning that trophy for the soccer league.

While structured activities are fine, remember to teach your child the joys of casual socialization and relaxation. Remember to include weekly time to be together as a family for family bonding and closeness.

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