Does your child really need extracurricular activities?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  February 15, 2009 09:05 PM

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There's an old joke about what happens when you have a lot of kids.

With the first kid, the joke goes, you take her everywhere -- playgroups, Mommy and Me gymnastics, the park, music lessons, the library, baby ballet, etc. When the second kid comes along, you take them both to playgroups, the park, and the library. With three, you take them to the park. But by the time numbers four or more arrive, you're taking them everywhere again -- to the grocery store, the drug store, the dry cleaners, the doctor's office...

It certainly seems to be true for my family.

Our oldest kids -- 15, 13, and 10 -- are plenty busy, but I think our 2-year-old has set foot in the library maybe five times in his life. (We have about a kajillion books at home, of course, but still.) A few weeks ago, our 4-year-old wanted to "Go out and DO SOMETHING," and when I asked her what she wanted to do, she said, "Let’s go to COSTCO and RUN ERRANDS!"

I'm not sure how guilty to feel about this. On the one hand, I'm all for kids having plenty opportunities to learn and grow and do things that have captured their interests. With older kids, there's a measure of self discipline, self awareness, and self esteem to be gained from certain kinds of extracurriculars -- team sports, for example, or Mock Trial or maybe even a part-time job. (Added bonus: If teenagers are super busy, maybe they won't find time to date until they're out on their own!)

But preschoolers? Toddlers? Do they really need extracurricular activities -- especially if they're already in preschool or daycare?

When my 4-year-old expressed an interest in following in her older brother's Taekwando footsteps, we found the worlds tiniest gi and signed her up for the beginners class. She loves it, the schedule is flexible, and if she decides she doesn't want to do it anymore, we'll stop.

But her friends take dance and gymnastics and art classes -- often all at the same time. My young nieces do soccer and swimming and horseback riding as well as ballet and ice skating. My 2-year-old tags along with his older siblings, but isn't signed up for anything.

Am I depriving my youngest kids by not keeping them busier outside of school?

According to some experts, maybe not. Studies on over scheduling tend to focus on the effect it has on older kids and teenagers, but even toddlers and preschoolers may be feeling the burnout. Stress may lead little kids to act out at school -- or beg you to let them stay home.

How much is too much? Do you think kids today are over scheduled?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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34 comments so far...
  1. The elephant in the room: What if the school, for children already in elementary school, lacks? Ours has cut art; music is optional; the social studies teacher is years behind in teaching to the Mass. DOE social studies framework (mine's in 5th grade; she's re-learning stuff she learned in 2nd grade in another town); the librarian's position has been cut, so the children do check out books (courtesy of their homeroom teacher), but learn nothing about the art of library science, don't learn how to *use* a library. There is one SPED teacher per 75 students. World languages don't exist. Hence - "extra-curricular"? Hardly. What mine learns outside the classroom, after school - fine arts, languages, &c. - is what she should be learning in school. Art, language, library - these are not "frills," but part of a comprehensive, libral arts education for an elementary school child.

    Posted by reindeergirl February 16, 09 11:45 AM
  1. I think kids are way overscheduled these days. My son (7 yo) does one activity-TKD. It is a flexable schedule but he usually goes 3 days a week and that is it.

    We do usually hit the library once a week but it is not scheduled and it based on what time we have (and what is overdue!).

    He does have the occasional playdate after school but so many of his friends take spanish, piano, play soccer, basketball or hockey, have art classes, get tutored , etc that they are rarely free to just play. It is crazy.

    Other than that our weekends are spent running errands, grocery shopping, hanging out with family or friends. Being a WOHM I like that just fine!

    Posted by betsy February 16, 09 11:46 AM
  1. Can I make a suggestion? SLOW DOWN with the reproducing! 1 or two is fine, but for all you people having 3, 4, 5 or more kids in these times? You are psychotic, selfish and hedonistic NUTS!! In case nobody noticed, the world is getting over-populated as it is. We need to be focusing more on resources before we focus on reproducing. There is hardly enough food and water to feed the people here NOW! You think the joblessness and homelessness and poverty is bad now? HAHA!! JUST WAIT!

    Thanks for the comment, The Horn, but you're way off topic. -- LMA

    Posted by The Horn February 16, 09 12:29 PM
  1. we cut back our 5 yr old's activities from 3 to 2 and it's been wonderful. so much more relaxing for everyone. our 4 yr old is in 1, and most weeks we miss it or skip it and no harm done. i would love for them to learn music, languages... all in good time though.

    p.s. ok this is off topic too, but i was reminded by what "the horn" wrote of an essay i just came across. this is from the ayn rand institute:

    "But for environmentalism, the size of your "footprint" is the measure of your guilt. Nature, according to green philosophy, is something to be left alone--to be preserved untouched by human activity. Their notion of an "environmental footprint" is intended as a measure of how much you "disturb" nature, with disturbing nature viewed as a sin requiring atonement. Just as the Christian concept of original sin conveys the message that human beings are stained with evil simply for having been born, the green concept of an "environmental footprint" implies that you should feel guilty for your very existence."

    Posted by catherine the great February 16, 09 01:15 PM
  1. It depends. I have an only child who has been in full time pre-school and after school car since 2. She's now 10. There reaches a point where a kid with this background begins to need to structure her own time and not rely on others to do so. It really depends on the kid, the family (extended family? mine are all back east), neighborhood, other friends, etc...It's a fine balance between making sure your kid is headed in the right direction with certain extra-curriculars and making sure she has enough down time to be, well, self reflective, relaxed, etc...BTW, I'm not sure running errands should be considered extra-curricular. That's just life.

    Posted by Desperate Dad February 16, 09 01:23 PM
  1. I think whatever works for your family. I prefer to not over schedule our daughter. She takes 1 class in the winter and goes to pre-school 2 1/2 days a week. Other than that we are free to do what we choose - play at home, the park, museums, inpromptu pop ins at Grandma's, etc.

    There are definitely weeks like this one where there are no classes and I feel like I'm not sure what we'll do all week - but then we start dancing around in the living room, playing silly games that she makes up herself, and I'm grateful she has time to just be creative and not be told what activitiy she should be doing now.

    Posted by bosstowner February 16, 09 01:35 PM
  1. A couple of other questions to ask:

    1. How much is this activity going to cost in both time and money? If you're driving all over the back end of nowhere for activities, you're burning up some serious time and gas. What happens when gas goes back up?

    2. What about you, the parent? What are your extra curricular activities? I know a number of both men and women who "never have time" because their free time is taken up by going to all these activities. It seems as though these people only have time for their kids, not for themselves. A little adult activity is good for the parental psyche as well.

    Posted by P&P February 16, 09 03:06 PM
  1. it truly depends on the helicopter parent trying to keep up with the people down the street. Oh thier kids do this,,, so ours has to do that,,, bla bla bla.first TKD is for kids above the age of 5, I am a strong believer in this. If you put your kid in TKD prior, done waste your money, go to gymberie or something. Kids brains melt when over stimulated. by the time they get to be teens in school they are burned out, dont want to do anything, sit in front of the tv/video/xbox and become fat. did my kids do any "extra" activities. yes,, cubscouts, basketball, even a year of baseball. they also did TKD, all achiving thier 1st degree, one to a second degree. but they were not over whelmed with activities as many parents do.

    bottom line, 0-3 yrs old, enjoy them, dont hover over them, library time sure. park time great. mommy/baby exersice class, get a life and / or a job. 4/5 maybe t-ball. once they hit 1st grade, let them take a year and get used to homework, school work stuff. start cub/girl scouts for a great learning activity. 2nd grade on up, depends on how much home work your child has, grades, and the such. The best thing I can say though is extra activities are nice, but there is no substitute for parent / child interaction and time. To many parents use "kiddie" activies to socialize and as a baby sitting service. Take them fishing, hiking, a walk in the woods. ever hear of "geocaching"? Let the out doors be thier class room, nature be the teacher and you be the guide. If your kid likes to do this or that and thier grades are good, home work is done, attitude in check, sure. but dont do it simply because you feel YOU need to keep up with the neighbors. My boys dont need to keep up with the neighbors, They do ski club, basket ball, roller blade and ride bikes. They spend most of thier time outside and no, I dont own an xbox, game cube, video game system.

    Posted by quantemlp February 16, 09 03:49 PM
  1. For all the money parents spend on extracurricular activities...If that money was pooled, many cut programs could be re-established in schools.
    Anyways, kids are way over-booked. Its totally unnecessary. Kids don't know how to be alone with unscheduled time. How do we/they know what they would really like to do? If its not offered in a class or club, would they do it, would they know about it?

    Posted by lala February 16, 09 04:38 PM
  1. We have four girls (ages 2,4,6 & 8) AND I have an advanced degree in Child Development and Early Childhood Ed. AND my husband travels on average two weeks per month... so what do my kids do after school? Let's define their activities as CHEAP and CHEERY. The two eldest participate in Girl Scouts (not weekly) and take Cheerleading at our local Rec. center. They also take the occasional art or riding lesson (both local. not weekly). The four-year-old is full-time AM pre-school and sees a speech therapist twice a week (paid for by the town) and the two-year-old hangs with me (she is a wonderful plant-waterer and dust remover) and still naps.
    Guilt? None what-so-ever. I never realized how much homework a third-grader brings home each night! I think my greatest discovery after having these wonderful children is that a person can do only so many things WELL and that parents need to be aware that if school is ONE of those things, then that leaves room for only one other well-done weekly activity. So many kids today have no idea how to PLAY (dramatic or anything, really)!
    (Oh, and sleep is critical! Our girls are all in bed by 7:15 and are read to and lights-out starting with the youngest. I guess it all boils down to ROUTINE).

    Posted by South Shore SAH Mommy February 16, 09 05:12 PM
  1. When my oldest was a toddler/preschooler, we did mommy and me gymnastics and swimming and visited the local children's museum on a regular basis. With the second child, not so much. But the activities were just as much for me as they were for my son. I worked outside the home (about 80% of full time) and on my afternoons off enjoyed these leisurely interactions with other parents and their children as well as the time spent with my son away from home where the chores beckoned. I'm still friends with some of the moms I met way back then. At daycare, parents zoomed in and zoomed out and there was little time to get to know them. Because I worked, the cooperative preschool wasn't an option. I highly recommend toddler classes as a way for a lonely mom to get to meet other moms.

    Posted by Cordelia Potter February 16, 09 06:03 PM
  1. P&P-
    Amen about parents not scheduling time for themselves/each other.

    lala-
    Amen. Kids need to know how to be alone.

    Posted by Desperate Dad February 16, 09 07:02 PM
  1. Every minute in life not spent contemplating the next is lost. Doubly so if spent in traffic.

    Books are great ways to educate, inspire, keep close to home, and create wealth. Who doesn't value their life long books?

    Kids love to read, harry potter is just the Taco Bell of reading, just wait until you devour the good stuff.

    Posted by Johannes Gutenberg February 16, 09 09:38 PM
  1. It never ceases to amaze me how self-righteous and judgmental people can be when it comes to child rearing. How can anyone portray their child's after school activities as THE way? In an increasingly standardized world of public education, it should be our blessing, and not our burden, to have the opportunity to share fun, interesting, perhaps quirky pastimes with our children. If only there was more time for joyful learning and, even, imaginative daydreaming in the midst of K-12 education!

    Posted by KS February 16, 09 10:22 PM
  1. LMA your family sounds like mine. I think that for younger sibs, esp. those with much older siblings, the older kids ARE the extra curricular activity. My younger boys (3 &4) have had more exposure to sports and other activities just by virtue of tagging along to the bigger kids' (ages 10 & 11) activities. When the bigger kids were small, there was no reason or opportunity for them to go to a baseball field, or basketball court, or skating rink, or lacrosse field so we enrolled them in one activity at a time as they reached an age where they were interested and able to participate. My little guys, by contrast, see all of this every day and have a blast watching the bigger kids play. They have been exposed to so much more at their young ages than the oldest kids were. They usually play along on the sidelines, imitating the bigger kids, and act out the sport ju jour at home too. We recently enrolled the four-year-old in Karate (following in big sis's foot steps) and he is looking forward to t-ball and lacrosse next spring but we're not searching high and low for things to keep them busy. They keep themselves busy enough (the joy of built-in playmates) and it'll be their turn to keep us busy running around when they're older and the oldest kids are on their own. I am one of five and my youngest sibling chose activities for herself with razor-sharp focus because she had already been exposed to so much through the rest of us, had access to a number of instruments, sets of sporting equipment, etc. and knew by exposure what looked interesting to her and what she didn't care for. Not a bad way to go through childhood!

    Posted by Jen February 16, 09 10:24 PM
  1. American classrooms don't match up well against schools in Japan, China, and South Korea. How do we know? Because standardized testing proves it. In particular, the math and science performance level of Asian children is several years above American kids. American boys and girls will be competing within a global economy when they grow up, but they are told from kindergarten on that 2nd place is OK.

    I don't know if your kids are over-scheduled, only you can make sense of that for yourself. What I do know is that the more your children learn at an early age the better. Do as much as you can for them while they are young and receptive to your ideas. Once they are teenagers the mold is already cast, for better or worse. Successful adults get on the right path early.

    Posted by Ralston February 17, 09 04:01 AM
  1. We just enrolled our daughter in a once weekly playgroup and I was somewhat horrified at the range of options and classes I could have selected from...for babies. It could have been worse. I could have put her in Baby Yoga...

    But seriously? She's not in daycare and she is extremely social - with other babies as well as kids and adults. We thought it was time to add something new to her routine and get her into a structured play group once a week.

    Other than that, her father takes her on two walks a day, every day, around the same time.

    We've talked about what we might do as she gets older because we've seen so many of these over booked, over stressed kids who are just ferried around the city and back again - and want no part of it. We've tentatively agreed that we'll see what she's inerested in, what she wants and what she may be missing from school (arts, languages, etc.), but the most important thing is that she be out and playing, using her imaginiation and not plopped in front of a computer or TV all afternoon.

    Both of us have led very busy, active lives. We've enjoyed a huge range of "extracirricular" activities of our own - from dirt biking (me) to scuba diving, surfing, art, writing, music and so on. But maintaining schedules like that is for adults - not kids. We don't need to live vicariously through our daughter, nor do we need to foist her off on everyone else. Children shouldn't have to keep day planners just to keep track of their lives out of school.


    Posted by phe February 17, 09 07:01 AM
  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Posted by Elaina February 17, 09 08:43 AM
  1. We're working parents of a 9yo daughter. We physically cannot do all of the things some of these parents are doing because we're AT WORK and can't be there to drive her all over creation. She goes to an afterschool program 3-4 days a week, but on different days every week. Would she love to try horseback riding and art classes and gymnastics and on and on and on . . . ? Sure. She's aware, though, that there are limits to both time and money and that choices need to be made. She takes piano lessons one night a week, right after dinner, and plays one sport a season, and even that can be a logistical nightmare (Practice at 3:30 in the afternoon on Tuesdays? I'm glad you're home, coach, but I'm not. Thank goodness for flexible grandparents.)
    Kids are busy at school, and then add the before and after school programs and they need some "down time" to read a book or even **GASP** watch TV or play video games for a bit. I think team sports are great for so many things, and if there is something that your child is passionate about (art or music or whatever) then sure you should encourage and nurture that, but they need to be allowed to be just KIDS, too.

    Posted by finny February 17, 09 09:18 AM
  1. I am at home with my two girls (5 and 3). While the 5 year old goes to kindergarden (only 1/2 day), the 3 year old is not yet in preschool. We try to have one activity a day (e.g. swimming at the YMCA, library story time). I find it actually helps to keep me sane. On days when we have no activities, we all go a bit stir crazy, but we do crafts at home and yes, do watch some TV.

    But really, what people have said above, whatever works for you and your family, and keeps everybody happy and sane. Do check out the YMCA in your area. We go to the Woburn branch and it is clean and wonderful, and has many low priced classes. Same with library which is free. You don't need expensive classes to let your kids have fun!

    Posted by bv February 17, 09 11:05 AM
  1. I'd like to make an observation as an auntie. i think extra curricular activities are beneficial, provided they don't take over a child or the rest of the family's life. I've got one set of nieces and nephews who are immersed in extracurricular, and one which is not. There are noticeable differences in behavior between the two. The homebodies (a term i use endearingly, not as a put-down) are far more clingy and needy of their parents. They are also much less adept at handling themselves at say, holiday gatherings, church and what have you. They do a bit more interrupting and blurting out inappropriate kid-isms than their cousins do- they're a bit less aware of wait your turn and be polite social norms.

    Now that being said, my observation is not a complaint against my homebody relatives, it's simply how it is. There are valuable lessons and social skills that can be taught through things like play dates, sports and child crafts groups. but over extension isn't really good either.

    Posted by Holly February 17, 09 12:15 PM
  1. I agree with the other posters who stated that it depends on the particular child and family situation. Some children embrace activities, others feel burdened by them. The only activity I feel strongly about is that children should know how to swim at a basic level by the time they are 6, just for safety reasons.
    I would also agree with the posters regarding the scheduling of activities--it is so hard to participate when you are a working parent unless you have a nanny that can drive children places during the week. My 5 year old son loves Kung Fu Panda and wants to learn martial arts now, but trying to find a class that fits my work schedule is very difficult. I have learned, however, that if I don't find a class that fits our schedule, if I round up enough parents that want their children to participate in an activity (I organize playgroups for working parents, so I can easily find them), many places will create a new weekend class to accomodate the group.

    Posted by Kay February 17, 09 12:26 PM
  1. I should preface this with the fact that I don't have kids myself. I'm not quite 30 yet and still remember fairly well how things were when I was little. My parents hadn't much money, so activities were cheap. My dad bought me a roll of paper that was giant that I could use as a never-ending piece of artwork, or as several thousand drawings. We'd draw together, or go to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary and feed chicadees in the winter, look for animals in the summer. He taught me how to make "ghosts" using a 35mm camera. Mom or Dad & I visited museums using passes from the library. I didn't take classes of any kind because we couldn't afford them, but I did Things. I learned to entertain myself. I would read voraciously. I would hang out with friends of mine when they were available. I remember a classmate of mine who had music lessons and soccer and a ton of other classes, and when she had rare hours of free time... she was bored. Loudly. Vocally. I think there's a fine line between giving them activities to enrich their lives and just keeping them too busy to learn who they are themselves and how to be alone.

    When I was 12 I started volunteering once a week at the Children's Museum in Boston to learn new things, which was fantastic. I've grown up (mostly) to be a well-adjusted, intelligent and happy person. And I can be alone with myself and enjoy it. ;)

    Posted by Kate February 17, 09 01:20 PM
  1. I just think you should feel guilty that your child's idea of an activity is running errands. You say you have lots of books at home, and I'm sure lots of toys. You didn't say she said, "let's read a book, mommy", or "let's play with ___" Participating in activities helps a child learn skills that can be used in the rest of his/her life. I teach parent/baby swim classes. What's most important in the class is the child having fun, and SOCIALIZING. And the parents / grandparents have fun, make new social contacts as well. And so do the nannies.

    Posted by swimmom February 17, 09 01:37 PM
  1. I have realized that if you are stressing over making these decisions for your kids, then it is not worth it for them or for yourself. I know some people that are eating dinner at 9 pm, with their children. If you are one of those families, stop and reflect on this. Most children should be tucked in and fast asleep by 9 pm, not eating dinner!!! Our society has got to take a step back and stop pressuring our kids to do too much, they grow up TOO FAST!
    A wise mother once told me, a family that spends time together, sticks together.

    Posted by Working mom February 17, 09 03:21 PM
  1. The education system in Massachusetts/the US is absolutely horrible, however if we take our kids to activities and do them with them, the experience in the long run will create more positive relationships with people who they should have positive relationships with. One activity maybe two in addition to school is more than enough.

    Posted by mommoaaron February 17, 09 03:26 PM
  1. "The education system in Massachusetts/the US is absolutely horrible" -- you really think so, mommoaaron. A little off topic, but I continue to be impressed with the educational system in the US and MA. My wife was an exchange student in Italy 20 years ago. I am sure that the education at the top is great, but long before high-school, kids are tracked into classes where they can never rise up. If they are not great students at an early age, they are destined for low paying careers.

    Posted by bv February 17, 09 03:48 PM
  1. I have two kids, 1st grade and 3rd grade. They are allowed to do 1 weekly activity a week. That is it. It's too much with homework............ They don't need more than that. My son does cub scouts and my daughter girl scouts, but those are every other week. These parents that have their kids do too much is ridiculous. Let them be kids.......... Learn to say NO!

    Posted by mom2kids February 17, 09 03:59 PM
  1. The kids need to start extracurriculars like music, arts, or sports early if they want to excel at them. They need to excel at something other than school in order to get into a top-rate college (e.g. Harvard or MIT). However, chances that you'll pick something they'll be able to be top-notch at by the time they're in high school when they're four is pretty low, unless you have the energy to force them to practice all the time. And with however many kids you have (at least five, and probably a more considering there's 6 years between two of the ones you mentioned), you probably don't have the time to make sure each one individually develops his or her skills. But that's okay since you probably can't afford to send them all to top-rate colleges either!

    Hi, extracurricular_junkie, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Snarkiness aside -- you must have read over the part when I said my older kids have plenty of extras, and I was talking about the younger two -- the 6-year gap is because the first three kids are mine by marriage, so the total stands at five. And I think if a parent has to "force" kids to practice all the time, then perhaps that particular extracurricular is more about the parent than it is the child. -- LMA

    Posted by extracurricular_junkie February 17, 09 05:15 PM
  1. Wow, lots of judgement being passed around! I have my girls involved in swimming, dance and gymnastics just to emphasize athletics. I would like for them to feel that physical activity is a natural and important part of their day. They don't need to be good at it, just have fun with it. I also enjoy the connections with other moms. Just my 2 cents!! BTW they are 5 and 3 yrs old.

    Posted by shake February 17, 09 10:33 PM
  1. I am the grandmother of one girl, age 3. Her mother has always been one who likes to be with the "in crowd". Consequently, her daughter is scheduled in numerous activities besides attending daycare 2-3 days a week. My granddaughter is unsettled, overly active and unable to play for any length of time by herself. Unless, you count watching television as a activity? I am okay with some television, as the programs she watches are enjoyable and educational. What I am saddened about is the lack of quiet time with her parents. Learning to be satisified with oneself, alone and still content, I believe comes at an early age. Parents encouraging a child to find one or two activities that stimulate the feeling of self accomplishment while fighting boredom sounds like a good plan to me. It is even better if this can be started at home, in the presence of family.

    Posted by Jane Kelsey February 18, 09 11:39 AM
  1. Jane Kelsey: Just a quick question. Is your granddaughter "unsettled, overly active and unable to play for any length of time by herself" because she has so many / too many activities, or is her personality one which is naturally "unsettled, overly active and unable to play for any length of time by herself" and thus her parents schedule lot of activities to keep her sane and happy? I ask because there are kids / adults of all ages who are naturally more active and social and want lots of activities and others who are happy to be by them selves and be quiet. It is a nature / nurture argument and I know I do not have the answers. Just something to consider.

    Posted by bv February 18, 09 08:47 PM
  1. My kids need time to be at home, playing with their toys, building things in the basement, getting filthy in the yard, riding their bikes. They both do cub scouts, and swimming. But most days, we are a much happier and less stressed out family if we keep the activities to a minimum.

    I really dislike the 'you have to get them started at age 1 or they will never excel and never get into Harvard' argument. Seriously, Harvard is not that big. Even if every suburban mom in creation puts their kids in activities for 4 hours a day from the time they are born, they are not all going to get into Harvard. And truly, a Harvard (or MIT, or name your school) diploma and $2 will get you a bus ride, but it is not a guarantee of success or happiness.

    If your kids get crazy if they are not scheduled - then schedule them. But don't overschedule them in order to chase some dream of yours.

    Posted by BMS February 19, 09 12:37 PM
  1. When I was growing up extra curricular activities were something that I did only if my homework was done, my grades in good standing and my household chores completed. Does anyone else agree that this was reasonable?

    Posted by phillipburton February 25, 09 05:54 PM
 
34 comments so far...
  1. The elephant in the room: What if the school, for children already in elementary school, lacks? Ours has cut art; music is optional; the social studies teacher is years behind in teaching to the Mass. DOE social studies framework (mine's in 5th grade; she's re-learning stuff she learned in 2nd grade in another town); the librarian's position has been cut, so the children do check out books (courtesy of their homeroom teacher), but learn nothing about the art of library science, don't learn how to *use* a library. There is one SPED teacher per 75 students. World languages don't exist. Hence - "extra-curricular"? Hardly. What mine learns outside the classroom, after school - fine arts, languages, &c. - is what she should be learning in school. Art, language, library - these are not "frills," but part of a comprehensive, libral arts education for an elementary school child.

    Posted by reindeergirl February 16, 09 11:45 AM
  1. I think kids are way overscheduled these days. My son (7 yo) does one activity-TKD. It is a flexable schedule but he usually goes 3 days a week and that is it.

    We do usually hit the library once a week but it is not scheduled and it based on what time we have (and what is overdue!).

    He does have the occasional playdate after school but so many of his friends take spanish, piano, play soccer, basketball or hockey, have art classes, get tutored , etc that they are rarely free to just play. It is crazy.

    Other than that our weekends are spent running errands, grocery shopping, hanging out with family or friends. Being a WOHM I like that just fine!

    Posted by betsy February 16, 09 11:46 AM
  1. Can I make a suggestion? SLOW DOWN with the reproducing! 1 or two is fine, but for all you people having 3, 4, 5 or more kids in these times? You are psychotic, selfish and hedonistic NUTS!! In case nobody noticed, the world is getting over-populated as it is. We need to be focusing more on resources before we focus on reproducing. There is hardly enough food and water to feed the people here NOW! You think the joblessness and homelessness and poverty is bad now? HAHA!! JUST WAIT!

    Thanks for the comment, The Horn, but you're way off topic. -- LMA

    Posted by The Horn February 16, 09 12:29 PM
  1. we cut back our 5 yr old's activities from 3 to 2 and it's been wonderful. so much more relaxing for everyone. our 4 yr old is in 1, and most weeks we miss it or skip it and no harm done. i would love for them to learn music, languages... all in good time though.

    p.s. ok this is off topic too, but i was reminded by what "the horn" wrote of an essay i just came across. this is from the ayn rand institute:

    "But for environmentalism, the size of your "footprint" is the measure of your guilt. Nature, according to green philosophy, is something to be left alone--to be preserved untouched by human activity. Their notion of an "environmental footprint" is intended as a measure of how much you "disturb" nature, with disturbing nature viewed as a sin requiring atonement. Just as the Christian concept of original sin conveys the message that human beings are stained with evil simply for having been born, the green concept of an "environmental footprint" implies that you should feel guilty for your very existence."

    Posted by catherine the great February 16, 09 01:15 PM
  1. It depends. I have an only child who has been in full time pre-school and after school car since 2. She's now 10. There reaches a point where a kid with this background begins to need to structure her own time and not rely on others to do so. It really depends on the kid, the family (extended family? mine are all back east), neighborhood, other friends, etc...It's a fine balance between making sure your kid is headed in the right direction with certain extra-curriculars and making sure she has enough down time to be, well, self reflective, relaxed, etc...BTW, I'm not sure running errands should be considered extra-curricular. That's just life.

    Posted by Desperate Dad February 16, 09 01:23 PM
  1. I think whatever works for your family. I prefer to not over schedule our daughter. She takes 1 class in the winter and goes to pre-school 2 1/2 days a week. Other than that we are free to do what we choose - play at home, the park, museums, inpromptu pop ins at Grandma's, etc.

    There are definitely weeks like this one where there are no classes and I feel like I'm not sure what we'll do all week - but then we start dancing around in the living room, playing silly games that she makes up herself, and I'm grateful she has time to just be creative and not be told what activitiy she should be doing now.

    Posted by bosstowner February 16, 09 01:35 PM
  1. A couple of other questions to ask:

    1. How much is this activity going to cost in both time and money? If you're driving all over the back end of nowhere for activities, you're burning up some serious time and gas. What happens when gas goes back up?

    2. What about you, the parent? What are your extra curricular activities? I know a number of both men and women who "never have time" because their free time is taken up by going to all these activities. It seems as though these people only have time for their kids, not for themselves. A little adult activity is good for the parental psyche as well.

    Posted by P&P February 16, 09 03:06 PM
  1. it truly depends on the helicopter parent trying to keep up with the people down the street. Oh thier kids do this,,, so ours has to do that,,, bla bla bla.first TKD is for kids above the age of 5, I am a strong believer in this. If you put your kid in TKD prior, done waste your money, go to gymberie or something. Kids brains melt when over stimulated. by the time they get to be teens in school they are burned out, dont want to do anything, sit in front of the tv/video/xbox and become fat. did my kids do any "extra" activities. yes,, cubscouts, basketball, even a year of baseball. they also did TKD, all achiving thier 1st degree, one to a second degree. but they were not over whelmed with activities as many parents do.

    bottom line, 0-3 yrs old, enjoy them, dont hover over them, library time sure. park time great. mommy/baby exersice class, get a life and / or a job. 4/5 maybe t-ball. once they hit 1st grade, let them take a year and get used to homework, school work stuff. start cub/girl scouts for a great learning activity. 2nd grade on up, depends on how much home work your child has, grades, and the such. The best thing I can say though is extra activities are nice, but there is no substitute for parent / child interaction and time. To many parents use "kiddie" activies to socialize and as a baby sitting service. Take them fishing, hiking, a walk in the woods. ever hear of "geocaching"? Let the out doors be thier class room, nature be the teacher and you be the guide. If your kid likes to do this or that and thier grades are good, home work is done, attitude in check, sure. but dont do it simply because you feel YOU need to keep up with the neighbors. My boys dont need to keep up with the neighbors, They do ski club, basket ball, roller blade and ride bikes. They spend most of thier time outside and no, I dont own an xbox, game cube, video game system.

    Posted by quantemlp February 16, 09 03:49 PM
  1. For all the money parents spend on extracurricular activities...If that money was pooled, many cut programs could be re-established in schools.
    Anyways, kids are way over-booked. Its totally unnecessary. Kids don't know how to be alone with unscheduled time. How do we/they know what they would really like to do? If its not offered in a class or club, would they do it, would they know about it?

    Posted by lala February 16, 09 04:38 PM
  1. We have four girls (ages 2,4,6 & 8) AND I have an advanced degree in Child Development and Early Childhood Ed. AND my husband travels on average two weeks per month... so what do my kids do after school? Let's define their activities as CHEAP and CHEERY. The two eldest participate in Girl Scouts (not weekly) and take Cheerleading at our local Rec. center. They also take the occasional art or riding lesson (both local. not weekly). The four-year-old is full-time AM pre-school and sees a speech therapist twice a week (paid for by the town) and the two-year-old hangs with me (she is a wonderful plant-waterer and dust remover) and still naps.
    Guilt? None what-so-ever. I never realized how much homework a third-grader brings home each night! I think my greatest discovery after having these wonderful children is that a person can do only so many things WELL and that parents need to be aware that if school is ONE of those things, then that leaves room for only one other well-done weekly activity. So many kids today have no idea how to PLAY (dramatic or anything, really)!
    (Oh, and sleep is critical! Our girls are all in bed by 7:15 and are read to and lights-out starting with the youngest. I guess it all boils down to ROUTINE).

    Posted by South Shore SAH Mommy February 16, 09 05:12 PM
  1. When my oldest was a toddler/preschooler, we did mommy and me gymnastics and swimming and visited the local children's museum on a regular basis. With the second child, not so much. But the activities were just as much for me as they were for my son. I worked outside the home (about 80% of full time) and on my afternoons off enjoyed these leisurely interactions with other parents and their children as well as the time spent with my son away from home where the chores beckoned. I'm still friends with some of the moms I met way back then. At daycare, parents zoomed in and zoomed out and there was little time to get to know them. Because I worked, the cooperative preschool wasn't an option. I highly recommend toddler classes as a way for a lonely mom to get to meet other moms.

    Posted by Cordelia Potter February 16, 09 06:03 PM
  1. P&P-
    Amen about parents not scheduling time for themselves/each other.

    lala-
    Amen. Kids need to know how to be alone.

    Posted by Desperate Dad February 16, 09 07:02 PM
  1. Every minute in life not spent contemplating the next is lost. Doubly so if spent in traffic.

    Books are great ways to educate, inspire, keep close to home, and create wealth. Who doesn't value their life long books?

    Kids love to read, harry potter is just the Taco Bell of reading, just wait until you devour the good stuff.

    Posted by Johannes Gutenberg February 16, 09 09:38 PM
  1. It never ceases to amaze me how self-righteous and judgmental people can be when it comes to child rearing. How can anyone portray their child's after school activities as THE way? In an increasingly standardized world of public education, it should be our blessing, and not our burden, to have the opportunity to share fun, interesting, perhaps quirky pastimes with our children. If only there was more time for joyful learning and, even, imaginative daydreaming in the midst of K-12 education!

    Posted by KS February 16, 09 10:22 PM
  1. LMA your family sounds like mine. I think that for younger sibs, esp. those with much older siblings, the older kids ARE the extra curricular activity. My younger boys (3 &4) have had more exposure to sports and other activities just by virtue of tagging along to the bigger kids' (ages 10 & 11) activities. When the bigger kids were small, there was no reason or opportunity for them to go to a baseball field, or basketball court, or skating rink, or lacrosse field so we enrolled them in one activity at a time as they reached an age where they were interested and able to participate. My little guys, by contrast, see all of this every day and have a blast watching the bigger kids play. They have been exposed to so much more at their young ages than the oldest kids were. They usually play along on the sidelines, imitating the bigger kids, and act out the sport ju jour at home too. We recently enrolled the four-year-old in Karate (following in big sis's foot steps) and he is looking forward to t-ball and lacrosse next spring but we're not searching high and low for things to keep them busy. They keep themselves busy enough (the joy of built-in playmates) and it'll be their turn to keep us busy running around when they're older and the oldest kids are on their own. I am one of five and my youngest sibling chose activities for herself with razor-sharp focus because she had already been exposed to so much through the rest of us, had access to a number of instruments, sets of sporting equipment, etc. and knew by exposure what looked interesting to her and what she didn't care for. Not a bad way to go through childhood!

    Posted by Jen February 16, 09 10:24 PM
  1. American classrooms don't match up well against schools in Japan, China, and South Korea. How do we know? Because standardized testing proves it. In particular, the math and science performance level of Asian children is several years above American kids. American boys and girls will be competing within a global economy when they grow up, but they are told from kindergarten on that 2nd place is OK.

    I don't know if your kids are over-scheduled, only you can make sense of that for yourself. What I do know is that the more your children learn at an early age the better. Do as much as you can for them while they are young and receptive to your ideas. Once they are teenagers the mold is already cast, for better or worse. Successful adults get on the right path early.

    Posted by Ralston February 17, 09 04:01 AM
  1. We just enrolled our daughter in a once weekly playgroup and I was somewhat horrified at the range of options and classes I could have selected from...for babies. It could have been worse. I could have put her in Baby Yoga...

    But seriously? She's not in daycare and she is extremely social - with other babies as well as kids and adults. We thought it was time to add something new to her routine and get her into a structured play group once a week.

    Other than that, her father takes her on two walks a day, every day, around the same time.

    We've talked about what we might do as she gets older because we've seen so many of these over booked, over stressed kids who are just ferried around the city and back again - and want no part of it. We've tentatively agreed that we'll see what she's inerested in, what she wants and what she may be missing from school (arts, languages, etc.), but the most important thing is that she be out and playing, using her imaginiation and not plopped in front of a computer or TV all afternoon.

    Both of us have led very busy, active lives. We've enjoyed a huge range of "extracirricular" activities of our own - from dirt biking (me) to scuba diving, surfing, art, writing, music and so on. But maintaining schedules like that is for adults - not kids. We don't need to live vicariously through our daughter, nor do we need to foist her off on everyone else. Children shouldn't have to keep day planners just to keep track of their lives out of school.


    Posted by phe February 17, 09 07:01 AM
  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Posted by Elaina February 17, 09 08:43 AM
  1. We're working parents of a 9yo daughter. We physically cannot do all of the things some of these parents are doing because we're AT WORK and can't be there to drive her all over creation. She goes to an afterschool program 3-4 days a week, but on different days every week. Would she love to try horseback riding and art classes and gymnastics and on and on and on . . . ? Sure. She's aware, though, that there are limits to both time and money and that choices need to be made. She takes piano lessons one night a week, right after dinner, and plays one sport a season, and even that can be a logistical nightmare (Practice at 3:30 in the afternoon on Tuesdays? I'm glad you're home, coach, but I'm not. Thank goodness for flexible grandparents.)
    Kids are busy at school, and then add the before and after school programs and they need some "down time" to read a book or even **GASP** watch TV or play video games for a bit. I think team sports are great for so many things, and if there is something that your child is passionate about (art or music or whatever) then sure you should encourage and nurture that, but they need to be allowed to be just KIDS, too.

    Posted by finny February 17, 09 09:18 AM
  1. I am at home with my two girls (5 and 3). While the 5 year old goes to kindergarden (only 1/2 day), the 3 year old is not yet in preschool. We try to have one activity a day (e.g. swimming at the YMCA, library story time). I find it actually helps to keep me sane. On days when we have no activities, we all go a bit stir crazy, but we do crafts at home and yes, do watch some TV.

    But really, what people have said above, whatever works for you and your family, and keeps everybody happy and sane. Do check out the YMCA in your area. We go to the Woburn branch and it is clean and wonderful, and has many low priced classes. Same with library which is free. You don't need expensive classes to let your kids have fun!

    Posted by bv February 17, 09 11:05 AM
  1. I'd like to make an observation as an auntie. i think extra curricular activities are beneficial, provided they don't take over a child or the rest of the family's life. I've got one set of nieces and nephews who are immersed in extracurricular, and one which is not. There are noticeable differences in behavior between the two. The homebodies (a term i use endearingly, not as a put-down) are far more clingy and needy of their parents. They are also much less adept at handling themselves at say, holiday gatherings, church and what have you. They do a bit more interrupting and blurting out inappropriate kid-isms than their cousins do- they're a bit less aware of wait your turn and be polite social norms.

    Now that being said, my observation is not a complaint against my homebody relatives, it's simply how it is. There are valuable lessons and social skills that can be taught through things like play dates, sports and child crafts groups. but over extension isn't really good either.

    Posted by Holly February 17, 09 12:15 PM
  1. I agree with the other posters who stated that it depends on the particular child and family situation. Some children embrace activities, others feel burdened by them. The only activity I feel strongly about is that children should know how to swim at a basic level by the time they are 6, just for safety reasons.
    I would also agree with the posters regarding the scheduling of activities--it is so hard to participate when you are a working parent unless you have a nanny that can drive children places during the week. My 5 year old son loves Kung Fu Panda and wants to learn martial arts now, but trying to find a class that fits my work schedule is very difficult. I have learned, however, that if I don't find a class that fits our schedule, if I round up enough parents that want their children to participate in an activity (I organize playgroups for working parents, so I can easily find them), many places will create a new weekend class to accomodate the group.

    Posted by Kay February 17, 09 12:26 PM
  1. I should preface this with the fact that I don't have kids myself. I'm not quite 30 yet and still remember fairly well how things were when I was little. My parents hadn't much money, so activities were cheap. My dad bought me a roll of paper that was giant that I could use as a never-ending piece of artwork, or as several thousand drawings. We'd draw together, or go to the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary and feed chicadees in the winter, look for animals in the summer. He taught me how to make "ghosts" using a 35mm camera. Mom or Dad & I visited museums using passes from the library. I didn't take classes of any kind because we couldn't afford them, but I did Things. I learned to entertain myself. I would read voraciously. I would hang out with friends of mine when they were available. I remember a classmate of mine who had music lessons and soccer and a ton of other classes, and when she had rare hours of free time... she was bored. Loudly. Vocally. I think there's a fine line between giving them activities to enrich their lives and just keeping them too busy to learn who they are themselves and how to be alone.

    When I was 12 I started volunteering once a week at the Children's Museum in Boston to learn new things, which was fantastic. I've grown up (mostly) to be a well-adjusted, intelligent and happy person. And I can be alone with myself and enjoy it. ;)

    Posted by Kate February 17, 09 01:20 PM
  1. I just think you should feel guilty that your child's idea of an activity is running errands. You say you have lots of books at home, and I'm sure lots of toys. You didn't say she said, "let's read a book, mommy", or "let's play with ___" Participating in activities helps a child learn skills that can be used in the rest of his/her life. I teach parent/baby swim classes. What's most important in the class is the child having fun, and SOCIALIZING. And the parents / grandparents have fun, make new social contacts as well. And so do the nannies.

    Posted by swimmom February 17, 09 01:37 PM
  1. I have realized that if you are stressing over making these decisions for your kids, then it is not worth it for them or for yourself. I know some people that are eating dinner at 9 pm, with their children. If you are one of those families, stop and reflect on this. Most children should be tucked in and fast asleep by 9 pm, not eating dinner!!! Our society has got to take a step back and stop pressuring our kids to do too much, they grow up TOO FAST!
    A wise mother once told me, a family that spends time together, sticks together.

    Posted by Working mom February 17, 09 03:21 PM
  1. The education system in Massachusetts/the US is absolutely horrible, however if we take our kids to activities and do them with them, the experience in the long run will create more positive relationships with people who they should have positive relationships with. One activity maybe two in addition to school is more than enough.

    Posted by mommoaaron February 17, 09 03:26 PM
  1. "The education system in Massachusetts/the US is absolutely horrible" -- you really think so, mommoaaron. A little off topic, but I continue to be impressed with the educational system in the US and MA. My wife was an exchange student in Italy 20 years ago. I am sure that the education at the top is great, but long before high-school, kids are tracked into classes where they can never rise up. If they are not great students at an early age, they are destined for low paying careers.

    Posted by bv February 17, 09 03:48 PM
  1. I have two kids, 1st grade and 3rd grade. They are allowed to do 1 weekly activity a week. That is it. It's too much with homework............ They don't need more than that. My son does cub scouts and my daughter girl scouts, but those are every other week. These parents that have their kids do too much is ridiculous. Let them be kids.......... Learn to say NO!

    Posted by mom2kids February 17, 09 03:59 PM
  1. The kids need to start extracurriculars like music, arts, or sports early if they want to excel at them. They need to excel at something other than school in order to get into a top-rate college (e.g. Harvard or MIT). However, chances that you'll pick something they'll be able to be top-notch at by the time they're in high school when they're four is pretty low, unless you have the energy to force them to practice all the time. And with however many kids you have (at least five, and probably a more considering there's 6 years between two of the ones you mentioned), you probably don't have the time to make sure each one individually develops his or her skills. But that's okay since you probably can't afford to send them all to top-rate colleges either!

    Hi, extracurricular_junkie, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Snarkiness aside -- you must have read over the part when I said my older kids have plenty of extras, and I was talking about the younger two -- the 6-year gap is because the first three kids are mine by marriage, so the total stands at five. And I think if a parent has to "force" kids to practice all the time, then perhaps that particular extracurricular is more about the parent than it is the child. -- LMA

    Posted by extracurricular_junkie February 17, 09 05:15 PM
  1. Wow, lots of judgement being passed around! I have my girls involved in swimming, dance and gymnastics just to emphasize athletics. I would like for them to feel that physical activity is a natural and important part of their day. They don't need to be good at it, just have fun with it. I also enjoy the connections with other moms. Just my 2 cents!! BTW they are 5 and 3 yrs old.

    Posted by shake February 17, 09 10:33 PM
  1. I am the grandmother of one girl, age 3. Her mother has always been one who likes to be with the "in crowd". Consequently, her daughter is scheduled in numerous activities besides attending daycare 2-3 days a week. My granddaughter is unsettled, overly active and unable to play for any length of time by herself. Unless, you count watching television as a activity? I am okay with some television, as the programs she watches are enjoyable and educational. What I am saddened about is the lack of quiet time with her parents. Learning to be satisified with oneself, alone and still content, I believe comes at an early age. Parents encouraging a child to find one or two activities that stimulate the feeling of self accomplishment while fighting boredom sounds like a good plan to me. It is even better if this can be started at home, in the presence of family.

    Posted by Jane Kelsey February 18, 09 11:39 AM
  1. Jane Kelsey: Just a quick question. Is your granddaughter "unsettled, overly active and unable to play for any length of time by herself" because she has so many / too many activities, or is her personality one which is naturally "unsettled, overly active and unable to play for any length of time by herself" and thus her parents schedule lot of activities to keep her sane and happy? I ask because there are kids / adults of all ages who are naturally more active and social and want lots of activities and others who are happy to be by them selves and be quiet. It is a nature / nurture argument and I know I do not have the answers. Just something to consider.

    Posted by bv February 18, 09 08:47 PM
  1. My kids need time to be at home, playing with their toys, building things in the basement, getting filthy in the yard, riding their bikes. They both do cub scouts, and swimming. But most days, we are a much happier and less stressed out family if we keep the activities to a minimum.

    I really dislike the 'you have to get them started at age 1 or they will never excel and never get into Harvard' argument. Seriously, Harvard is not that big. Even if every suburban mom in creation puts their kids in activities for 4 hours a day from the time they are born, they are not all going to get into Harvard. And truly, a Harvard (or MIT, or name your school) diploma and $2 will get you a bus ride, but it is not a guarantee of success or happiness.

    If your kids get crazy if they are not scheduled - then schedule them. But don't overschedule them in order to chase some dream of yours.

    Posted by BMS February 19, 09 12:37 PM
  1. When I was growing up extra curricular activities were something that I did only if my homework was done, my grades in good standing and my household chores completed. Does anyone else agree that this was reasonable?

    Posted by phillipburton February 25, 09 05:54 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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