Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Five Points of Time Managment for Children

My mother is the kind of woman who can whip up a gourmet dinner with one hand while painting a work of art worthy of any wall with the other--all with a spotless house. She gives Martha a run for her money. But with all her talents and interests she had a rule for her six children: only one extra-curricular activity per child at a time.

I figured this was merely a survival tool for our family--I can't imagine what life would have been like if each of us played after-school sports and had weekly instrument lessons in addition to church and family obligations--but now as a mother of four I've come to see the wisdom in this policy, a wisdom that many families today have lost.

The majority of my children's peers are simultaneously involved in music lessons, tae kwan do, soccer, drama and dance, where their families plan their lives around the football, hockey, basketball or baseball seasons. As I watch the world around me rushing to get their child to the next lesson, tryout or game I can't help but wonder if parents realize the long-term consequences of producing overly-involved children.

Putting the issue of money aside (though the cost of these activities is staggering) there are three major reasons why having children involved in more than one activity at a time is detrimental to their development.

First, it gives children an unrealistic view of the world and success. Children who are black belts, starting forwards on the basketball team and youth-symphony violinists come to expect that life is measured by the trophies on your shelf. They feel they aren't successful unless they have received recognition for their latest accomplishment which is simply not true.

How many adults are prize-winning authors, top marathoners, and concert ballerinas? Life has many awards and accolades to hand out but the majority of humanity goes through life largely unnoticed, unrecognized and unquoted. If children are taught that happiness comes from a perfect 10 instead of through successful interpersonal relationships and meaningful work they will grow to expect the impossible.

Second, it makes it difficult for children to choose one path of pursuit. The average time it now takes to get a four-year college degree is now six years according to an article on MSN. Students are finding it increasingly difficult to find and stick with a course of study.

If a child is introduced to so many activities and areas of study how can he or she possibly be expected to suddenly, at age 18, choose one field of study to follow for the rest of their life? An overwhelming task at best. No wonder there are so many college students lingering in the abyss of general education or recycling through the educational system seeking one degree after another--taking lessons is a safe, comfortable place because that's what they have been taught to do.

Third, it teaches children to be consumers rather than producers. In an age of instant gratification and self-indulgence the last thing a child today needs is a parent who chauffeurs them from one activity to the next, scheduling their lives like a personal secretary, videotaping every recital like a personal film crew. When children are enrolled in multiple activities the message they receive is that their parents' lives and the family's existence revolve around their schedule.

It is more important to teach a child that there are many things that they might like to do but that are impractical, that no one has time to do everything, that the world can't accommodate every desire of their heart and that they'll grow up well-rounded and happy nonetheless.

Perhaps this is more difficult to teach a mother than it is to teach a child. Mother Guilt is a powerful force and I too have felt pangs of worry that I'm somehow placing my children at a disadvantage if they're not given the opportunity to explore all life has to offer. But in reality a child learns more about getting along with others, accomplishing something that is difficult or unpleasant, working hard and teamwork from meaningful family activities than they ever would from a soccer team. They don't need coaches, they need parents.

As an antidote to this over-scheduling epidemic here are five points that, if followed, will not only simplify your life but to teach your children that life is a wonderful thing with many amazing opportunities--but that it's not all about them.

1. Only one activity per child at a time. In our family this doesn't include church or family obligations, which means that during school months my children have church activities one time during the week outside of Sunday and then one other activity of their choosing. They are highly encouraged--though not forced--to make that one activity a music lesson. Mostly because I can save money by teaching them piano lessons myself but also because I think that's a valuable thing to learn for both artistic and analytical skills.

During the summer, however, they are allowed to participate in swimming lessons and they're encouraged to play outdoor sports with the neighborhood children. All other physical recreation during the year, summer or winter, comes from family activities such as cross-country running, sledding, ice-skating and hiking--and we do plenty of that.

2. Encourage your children to stick with it. In whatever activity they've selected there is much to be learned from perseverance and overcoming obstacles that they'll never discover if they jump ship the first time things get rough. Teach them to pick something and keep at it.

3. Change your view of your child. Don't look at your child's success as an extension of your own and allow them their own life, skills, talents and failures. I Speak of Dreams is a blog I found that discusses this growing phenomenon of having Trophy Children and has a long list of articles on the subject.

4. Remember what a family activity is. A "family activity" is NOT watching another member play baseball. Family activities are those where all members are participating equally, all others are merely family obligations.

5. Don't allow family obligations to get in the way of family activities. Have priorities and stick to them. Supporting a family member in his or her endeavors is one thing, putting everything in the family on hold until the season's over is another.

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Miscellaneous-Mum said...

A very valid and balanced post. Food for thought

girlymama said...

fantastic post. i completely agree. i'm tired of people thinking i'm crazy when i say that my 3 year-old isn't in any activities yet. *gasp*

every parent should read this.

Tonya said...

I wish I could print this out and distribute at school. We are faced with this issue as are many parents and there are a few parents who make it extremely hard to explain to your child "why" they can't do it "all". I think we have finally reached an understanding with my oldest and hopefully this plateau will help set the standard as my youngest comes along. Thanks for the post and validation of my position!

Stephanie said...

I love this! Especially the part about their being more to learn about life in your family. That is so true! Great post Michelle!

Blondie said...

Excellent post!!! Very good advice.

Amy W said...

Thanks for this post...

I have my three year old in two activities just a couple of months ago, and then came to my senses and took her out of one.

MC Milker said...

Great post! The only problem I find is the lack of playmates for my DS...since all of the other kids are running from activity to activity and never home!

BTW - one nit- I'm not sure I agree that,

"…at 18, they need to pick out one field of study for the rest of their lives”'.

In today's world, he or she will most likely have 2 or 3 different careers. To your point, though, the likelihood of one of them being an activity in which he engaged as child is inversely related to the number of activities in which he engaged.

Karen Shanley said...

Fresh from the "When we were kids" archives... : )We'd get home from school, run out the door, and play with kids in the neighborhood until dark or the dinnertime whistle-- whichever came first.

We had to figure out how to get along, and think up and organize our own activities with nary a manic,screaming coach, over-zealous instructor, or amped-out parent in sight. (Sadly, this is the norm where we live. I know there are reasonable, balanced, adults out there who give away much of their time for the benefit of kids. Hopefully, you are lucky enough to have them.)

Seems there is a growing pressure for parents to engage their kids in the activity mania starting with toddlers now. Getting kids into the "right" preschool, the "right" sports, and the "right" structured after-school activities seems to be the trend. All leading up to getting kids into the "right" colleges.

I'm trying to protect my daughter's childhood from being rushed or taken away from her too soon. She's got the rest of her life to face adult pressures and performance benchmarks. At this age, I feel her only "job" should be to be a kid.

Michelle, you've said it beautifully-- finding the balance is the key. Great post.

elena jane said...

i wholeheartedly agree with the one activity per child. with 5 kids, that's 5 activities, and that's a lot! however, i have to add that taking karate has been a wonderful discipline for my oldest son. it has helped calm him and given him a lot of self assurance. but it has taken a lot of effort on his part to get to the black belt stage, it's more than just a few lessons, it's been years of work and practise. i'm proud of where he is now, black belt in training or not.

Heather said...

Wonderful post! I have the one activity at a time rule for my kids, too.
I think this should also be distributed to the schools- around here anyways. I have found that coaches in our local junior high and high school "require" specific (read expensive) independent summer camps and/or junior olympic (J.O.) participation in order to make the team. Its rediculous and frustrating. I have many friends who overload their kids and are constantly running from this to that thinking they have to in order for the kids to get playing time later on. I feel bad for the kids as there have been several occasions where the parents are late, or worse forget, to pick them up.
Great post and one every parent should read.

Waya said...

A very wise perspective as usual Michelle. My 6 y/o has one activity and my 4 y/o hasn't done anything since basketball (at the town hall for 6 wks)ended recently and sometimes I feel like I'm not stimulating them enough, but after reading this post...I'm satisfied with what we have.

I see what my hubbie's nieces go through every week/end, I mean they have no time to be kids at all, between music lessons, soccer, tennis, SAT tutoring (one is only 15 y/o) and school work. And honestly, they are not that "well trained" on the home front.

anna said...

Re: encouraging your child to stick with it. In theory, I agree with this but one of the biggest mistakes we made with our Oldest was forcing him to stay with a soccer team he signed up for in Kindergarten. Despite the fact that his interest petered away to genuine dislike over the course of the season, we insisted he had to stick it out, live up to his commitment, show up for the team etc. He didn't do another organized sport until 9th grade!

scribbit said...

Thanks for such thoughtful comments, sounds like I'm not the only one out there who's dealing with this issue.

MC--I completely understand the problem of finding friends to play with when everyone else is out at lessons. It's a tough issue, I'm lucky that my four kids play together a lot (their own playgroup if you will) and also that we have a lot of kids in our neighborhood, many which are also not overly involved. This helps our situation and doesn't help you much I'm afraid.

Elena Jane--I think that's great about your son, he proves exactly what I'm saying. He's found something that works well for him and has used it to learn all sorts of great things. My nephew is in Tae Kwan Do and feels the same way.

Anna--Yes, kids should be required to stick with something, but only to a point--I agree. I suppose that's where knowing your own child comes into play. But don't beat yourself up too badly for feeling like you made a not-so-good call on that one because that's just part of parenthood. None of us really knows what we're doing do we?

Besides, I've never heard of anyone needing therapy because their mother "made" them do soccer in kindergarten, right? :) At least I hope not or my kids are going to need a lot of therapy down the road . . .

edj said...

Oh I agree, so much! Although we allow 2 per kid; our situation is a bit different though, as none of our activities meet as often as Amer. ones do.

chilihead said...

We've long had this rule. My children are young enough that we can allow them to switch their activity each year so they can try out new things. As they get older I think that becomes harder to do. If they try out things early, I feel they'll be better equipped to decide on the one thing they like best. So far it's working for us. Max has found two things he can alternate (tennis and golf) and Wild Thing is still trying things out (she'll start guitar on Friday).

Makita said...

Great post! DH and I have long believed just the same ... our kids are young yet (4 & 2), but this will definately continue to be our 'rule', especially as they get into school and more options become available.

Marie N. said...

Great post! I appreciate that you encourage children to stick with something for a while, through some of the obsticles. It teaches them about their pursuit and about themselves.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I believe you were in inspired :) !! Thanks for giving all of us "mean" and "depriving" parents a much needed break.

Nicole said...

OOH. I love this. I have 4 too and I think it is easier to make them have just one activity. But your reasonings into "other" reasons are great. I hadn't even thought that much about it. I need to get my 10 year old in an activity. The others have one, but she doesn't. She just never liked the ones that she chose, so now she is in nothing. Any suggestions? We've tried gymnastics, soccer, and dance.

Christie said...

i will definitely have to agree! i was the kid who did everything, music, sports, clubs, everything. and now, as an adult (who took 5 1/2 years to get through college) i feel absolutely crazy if i am not doing a million things at once. i can't slow down! i will, however, be teaching my son to slow down a little, not go crazy with the activities, and enjoy the ones he is involved in. great post.

Sandy said...


The Lazy Organizer said...

Great post! I have to guard our family time like a mother bear and we homeschool! I can't imagine letting my children grow up with their mother standing at the sidelines.

Julie Q. said...

I remember when my first was born. I was so anxious to get him involved in soccer and art classes and Kindermusic so I could "develop his talents." With 4 kids there's just no way on earth I could give them all the same opportunities (financially or just the limited hours in the day). And you know what? They all still get to develop their talents in other ways. Especially at home since some of their talents are interpersonal skills.

Rae Pica said...

This is a great post and a great series of comments. Obviously, this is a really hot issue!

As a children's physical activity specialist, it is also my policy that children only be enrolled in one extracurricular activity at a time. So I applaud all of you who've made that decision!

I would like to comment on the subject of quitting. Considering that you want your child to learn the significance of commitment, you might be reluctant to let her drop out. Naturally, you shouldn't automatically acquiesce the instant your child says she doesn't want to play anymore; even if a child is too young to understand obligation, that could give the wrong message.

Rather, you can explore his reasons for wanting to quit. Does he have a fear that you can help him overcome? Is there a skill he believes he lacks that you could help him practice? Or is he simply not enjoying the experience?

If that's the case -- and she's tried it several times -- then by all means let her quit. Maybe it was the wrong activity for her. Or perhaps what she needs most is unstructured time.

Yes, your child may have pleaded with you to enroll him in a particular sport. And it may be that only a couple of weeks -- or only a session or two -- have passed. But if the point of early sports experiences is to have fun and promote a lifelong love of physical activity, forcing a childl to continue when he clearly and repeatedly expresses that he doesn't want to isn't going to benefit anybody, least of all your child.

To paraphrase what Michelle had to say: There are thousands -- if not millions -- of successful, happy people who have never scored a goal in hockey or soccer, thrown or caught a touchdown pass, or hit a home run; and their lives turned out just fine!

Jen said...

Well said. I haven't had that problem, and don't (crossing fingers) believe I ever will. I tried getting A into various activities, but it became very clear that he wasn't interested in most of them and that was fine by me. So now he's in gymnastics (which he loves) and swimming (which is a safety issue) and we're all happy.
But I also want to comment from a music teacher's point of view. When I was teaching flute lessons, I'd have students come screeching in for a lesson in between school and you-name-it. And it would be like that for that kid every day. Therefore, the student had no time to practice for the lesson. That wasted my time, her time, and her parents' money. And the parents couldn't understand why it was a problem. Sigh... If your kid is in lessons, set aside the same amount of time every single day for that kid to practice or you're wasting your money.
Rant over. ; )

Wylie Kinson said...

Really enjoyed this post, Scribbit.

We let ours have TWO ec activities, because we live in an area with NO family around us and we're not involved with the church, so we have more time.

Re - trying different things & commitment. We do many programs thru the community, like the summer soccer league, so it has a clear time frame. After soccer season, my eldest gets swimming lessons - it's an 8 week program. Next is skating for 8 weeks,... then the cycle begins again. We let him choose to either repeat a sport or pick a new one so we're exposing him to many different activities but ensuring he commits to the entire session.

Erica Rueschhoff said...

Awesome Article!! You are so right! I agree every parent shoud read this!


(just starting to do website)

Laurel Wreath said...

Very well said, I am fortunate that my boys are all close in age so they pretty much end up doing the same sport. Which really helps the sanity around here.

Jennifer F. said...

Michelle - Somehow I only now discovered this post, but just wanted to say that I found it to be an insightful breath of fresh air. Thank you SO much for writing this! I just shared it with the readers of my links blog.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent example of criticizing someone else from a distance without knowing their situation and making generalizations based on a few examples. What evidence do you have that a child who is consistently involved in, say, church activities, a sport, and an instrument will have trouble choosing a major in college? Where does this idea that you need to focus your interests down to one thing come from? Have you ever heard of a liberal arts education? And what is the difference between a curricular and "extra" curricular activity when you're homeschooling to begin with?

I have certainly seen families with kids that "do too much" that I think could benefit from scaling down. However, sometimes having more activities is better. In our family, with only one child, we find extracurricular activities help to fill a void, where otherwise our son would be spending a lot of time alone. My son has violin, religious education, and cub scouts, plus he does soccer at least two seasons of the year and sometimes sports in the summer. He still has time to "be a kid," to explore outside, to have long playdates with friends, and to hone his video game skills.

When I was a child, I had zero extra curricular activities, ever. I had lots of unscheduled time with my friends to do things like smoking, running unsupervised around the neighborhood, and taking on dares like running across a four-lane expressway or scaling the side of a three-story-building. And don't you dare ask where my parents were!

Teachers In My School said...

You look a children by your heart and you can feel any time....
I love all childrens in the world..

thanks your article....