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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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