How to Encourage Extracurricular Activities Without Over-Scheduling Kids

Since schools cut so much of their extracurricular education, it's hard not to overschedule our kids. We still want them to benefit from arts, music, and sports programs and really cater to the whole child. Not to mention, we'd love to encourage their own special interests like cooking, animation, coding, etc.

It's not that we're trying to get some competitive advantage. We just want our kids to have a complete childhood and give them the time to explore. Mostly, we’re just trying to make up for what the schools used to do but don’t do anymore. 

Back in the Day, Not So Long Ago…

Back in the day, public schools used to provide what are now extracurricular activities as part of their educational program. Arts, music, sports, and the whole lot were a part of a normal curriculum. Today? Not so much.

As an example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest district in California – as large as some state systems – fired one third of their art teachers between 2008 and 2012. One half of all children in kindergarten through 5th grade stopped receiving any arts instruction. Dance and theater classes went from 20 percent of the budget to 3 percent during the same time frame. That’s why you’re driving so much, paying so much, and eating in the car.  

The Loss Causes the Need

Parents have naturally responded to this new “no arts education” world by trying to make up for it in after school time. But it’s not to add stress and pressure; it’s because parents usually know intuitively that the expressive arts make a child happier and more receptive to learning.

The same goes for physical activity. With physical education and recess cuts, kids are having a tough time sitting in class. They can't get their energy out and focus becomes an issue. Free play, fun sports, and creative expression of some kind make for a happy, well-rounded child. It’s a no-brainer.

The Arts Are Essential

Creating a painting or a dance routine makes a child feel confident. Experiencing freedom of expression makes life more exciting. More than a third of children are visual learners who need to see things rather than just hear them. Those children really must have their “visual needs” met. Plus, art stimulates neurological growth in both brain hemispheres, which is necessary for learning many academic subjects. And lastly, creative expression is fun.

Physical Play Is a Daily Need

Pediatricians want children to engage in active play for at least one hour per day. What form that takes is really up to you as long as the kids are physically challenging themselves. Most schools provide physical education about two times a week which really doesn't meet that demand. On top of that, the number of activities allowed during recess time has been cut. No more tag. No more dodge ball. Bats and balls are even sometimes considered a hazard.

But your children need the physical activity for their physical health as well as their mental and emotional stability. Once again, it's up to you to provide the time and the resources to meet those demands.

Too Much of a Good Thing

That means the bulk of your kid's extracurricular activities now falls on you. Sure, you can enroll your kids in a variety of classes to make up for the deficiency at school. But then you're faced with a full-on afterschool schedule with activities planned for every day - not to mention the time needed to get your child to their additional classes. On top of that, there's homework to be done, dinner to eat, showers to take, and the required twenty minutes of reading. Before long, you realize that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, and you're looking at what psychologists call “the pressured child.” 

The Signs of Over-Scheduling


Suddenly, your kid is in the back seat of the car on the way to Little League practice after completing an hour of trumpet lessons. They're staring out the window in silence. There's no use trying to put on your child's kind of music, that doesn’t even get too much reaction. Or maybe you've noticed that the sense of fun is gone and baseball just feels like a chore now. Or you’re both so tired after the extracurricular classes that you just want to lie down and watch TV together? At that point you know you’ve lost the peaceful family life you want.

Another sign of overscheduling is when your child stops having as much time to spend with their best friends. When “Can I go over and play?” turns into “Maybe I can see you next week”, you know you have a problem.  Organized sports and arts classes every day of the week shouldn't replace free play. Free play at recess has also come under threat at school and that makes it all the more needed at home. In free play time children learn to negotiate fairness rules for themselves, accept physical challenges, compete with enjoyment, and a myriad of other important skills.

Moodiness Turned to Depression

The vast majority of kids don’t get to this point, but it’s good to raise the issue. If a kids feel like they have no say in the type of extra activities or the amount of them, they may become depressed. They will start to resent their lack of authority over their own lives and can start to experience bad moods, withdrawal, a change in eating patterns, crying at odd times, and not wanting to do the things that used to be fun.

Girls Are More Over-Scheduled


Interestingly, research has pointed out that it’s girls who are more over-scheduled and pressured than boys. This may be one of the unfortunate side effects of the academic achievement push girls have had for many decades. We want girls to achieve, of course, but not at the expense of mental health. Let your young girls choose what they want to pursue as extracurricular activities, and don’t be horrified if it’s sewing or cooking classes. She might enjoy sewing as a hobby when she’s running her own tech business. So let her choose.

Use Your Own Mood As an Indicator

It’s not just kids who can get moody from over scheduling, of course, and parents may be the first to realize they’re in bad territory. If you’re snapping at the kids during drive time, resenting the fact that they need food, or can’t even settle down to read a book while you wait for class to finish, you’re probably working too hard.

It's Time to Cut Back

If you notice that your kids are suffering from overscheduling, try pulling them out of classes, sports, and allow more time for easy, unstructured learning. Understandably, you still want them to benefit from physical activity, art, music, etc. but you can provide all that in a more free-form, unstructured way.

Rather than enroll your child in an art class, for example, just make sure to have art materials on hand and available. Simple materials like clay, drawing and painting tools, and even items you find around the house like aluminum foil, packing peanuts, clothes pins, toilet paper rolls, etc. go a long way. Providing your child with an unstructured way for them to explore their creativity becomes a laid-back, relaxing activity rather than the more instruction-based art class. This way, you will still be providing your child with a creative outlet without the overscheduled stress.

When it comes to physical activity, you can take the same, more unstructured approach. Rather than go for the sports class, for example, just get yourselves outside. Walking, hiking, building forts, or just playing tag will get your kids' bodies moving without the formal instruction. The increased intake of oxygen itself is a simple anti-depressant, as well as the emotional uplift that nature’s beauty brings. Plus, your children will benefit from the mental activities that go along with unstructured play – from making up game rules to building small structures or making new discoveries.

Once your child shows a deeper interest in specific activities, you can the determine whether a more formal, skill-based class could benefit them.

Taking a Slow Living Approach

By taking a slow living approach to afterschool activities, you're able to give your kids access to extracurricular activities while allowing them to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be. It's putting on the brakes on the idea that childhood is a rat race and giving them the time to explore various types of learning on their own. 

Rather than over scheduling kids, a slow living approach brings balance into the home. It sends the message that kids need the time and space to explore the world and challenge themselves at their own pace.

Think back to when you learned to swim, for example. No one could teach you to go from holding onto the edge of the pool to letting go and kicking your feet. There is a moment where you chose to make that leap and the joy of learning was yours. The same principle can be applied to every activity. You can sign your child up for a class to help them learn colors…or your can give them pots of primary-colored paints and let that learning be their own discovery. By letting kids make discoveries and challenge themselves on their own, you allow them to experience a deeper sense of pride and pleasure from their learning that simple instruction-following won’t give them.

Best of all, your child will benefit from downtime to rest, to reflect, to discover, and to expand themselves. They'll get the benefits of a multitude of extracurricular activities on their own time without the stress.

What does your child’s schedule look like when it comes to extracurricular activities?

Tags : school   extracurricular activities   arts   

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