How Many Extracurricular Activities is Too Much?

December 10, 2010

girl smelling rose

It’s been a transient year for our family.  One year in the mountains.  When we moved earlier this year, we decided as a family, to take a year off from extracurricular activities.  No soccer, ballet, Rhee Tae Kwon Do, music, art and ice-skating.  Nothing.  It’s been a wonderful thing for our family.  There’s been no rushing around after school, no panicking to find ballet slippers and ice-skates, no Saturday mornings filled with hours and hours of sport, just hours of play and more family-time.  We even stopped to smell the roses (literally) after school because we had time.

Here’s the problem: I desperately want my children to have both opportunities and time to just play. I’m just not sure if I can achieve both.  This year it’s been nothing, the year before it was everything. Is there a middle ground? I’m trying to find the balance.

Creative Play

This year, I’ve noticed my children play for longer periods, engineer more complex games and are more creative.   I’ve also noticed an increase in the time we spend as a family, from eating dinner together to playing red rover in the back yard.  I attribute this directly to the amount of “free” time the children have to use their minds without structure and instruction and also, the extra time we have as a family because we aren’t ferrying four children around to different events.  We’ve truly experienced a year of good old-fashioned play and family-time.   I’m so glad we’ve become acquainted again.

It can take time to get in the groove in terms of creative thinking and play, and time is something families often don’t have.  Capturing Creativity by Robert Epstein is a good read on the subject of unlocking creativity.

Extracurricular Activities

I aim to give my children many opportunities to learn new skills and to pursue activities they love.  Doing these sort of  activities can help with organisation, social skills and confidence.   This is important — I know — but at what cost?  That is what I’m trying to work out.

I found this excellent article on the subject: Family Times: Seeking Balance — Pros and Cons of Extracurricular Activities.

Balance

Our family will be moving again soon and I will be introducing some extra activities into our life.  However, I’m determined to take what I’ve learned this year into account.  I’ve been thinking hard about how I can encourage unstructed play for my children so they can run, ride bikes, make cubbies and explore; yet also invest time so they can learn new skills in an area they love.

How many extra curricular activities is too much?   I’d rather not put a number on it because it really depends on each family. As I introduce some extracurricular next year I’ll be keeping this in mind:

Family: Family comes first.  If the extracurricular activities are hurting the family, it’s not worth it. It’s really not.

Children: Are the children stressed? Have they lost the ability to play for long periods? I don’t want my children to lose the ability to be their own teachers, to be creative or to solve problems.

This year, our family have been reacquainted with old-fashioned concept of family-time and play.  It’s been, by far, the best year in terms of growth for our family unit.  I’m not giving up on  extracurricular activities, I’m trying to make sure they fit in our family without damaging it.

I’d love to know: what do you think about extracurricular activities?  How does your family find the balance?

External Links

Capturing Creativity by Robert Epstein

Family Times: Seeking Balance — Pros and Cons of Extracurricular Activities

Child Activities: The Importance of Unstructed Play

Be A Fun Mum Links

Inhibiting Play

Op Shop Cubby

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

NicoleNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm

We are doing that next year. Zoe starts Prep and I really think it enough for her 4 year old body and mind. She will have a library lesson, PE lesson and music lesson. Along with play time in the prep playground, arts and crafts not to mention the focused learning lessons. How much can one child really do?

I will be running a playgroup every second Wednesday for Riley to attend at the school so he wont miss out either.

I really do think that quality family time is more important than keeping up with the jonses and all of their swimming lessons, tennis lessons, piano lessons etc etc. going to go and look at your links now.

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Sounds good Nicole. And I agree… My eldest will do music in school next year which will help too.

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NicoleNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm

love the heart sticker on the watch bit, great idea for both parents.

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Michelle Dennis EvansNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Wow! This is one of the 1000 reasons why I home school!
We try to keep it to 2 extra things for each child.
Guitar & football
Dance & gymnastics
Piano & gymnastics
That way I don’t feel like I’m running around like a mad chook and the kids can focus on their chosen activity.
They often ask to do more and we suggest they give up something to try something else. For now I’m sticking to this system – for reasons of play, relaxation, happiness, contentment, meal times on time together and less stress.
xox

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Yes, we do have kept to the 2 thing. It’s a good idea… and I can totally see how homeschooling would give you a lot more time in terms of family.

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MeganNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm

My little man is only 14 months so extracurricular activities aren’t directly relevant to us right now, but it is certainly something that I think about. My husband and I have the blessing of limited finances (which won’t be changing anytime soon , unless something drastic happens!) so we won’t be able to afford to go overboard on what our kids do after school. There are many times when it would be great to have a bit more money but it seems that there are equally as many times when I am grateful that our financial circumstances help us to make better choices for our family.

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Megan I love how you say “blessed with limited finances”. Such a beautiful attitude. And I agree with you, sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise.

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Busy Brissy MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I love that you’ve taken the year off Kelly. What a joy to see the kids in play together.

I grew up having a number of extra-curricular activities from piano lessons, to speech and drama to violin lessons and girls brigade. Each extra curriular activity meant extra homework for the following week which was on top of the school homework I already had. There was less time to enjoy the things I really wanted to do like play with my dolls or just hang out with my siblings or the kids in the neighbourhood.

Our girlies both do swimming lessons to teach them safety in the pool. Family time/ sibling time is so important to us and it will become increasing more so with kindy starting up next year. I even kept Miss M at home from doing an extra year of kindy just so the girls could learn together and form a great relationship. Mission accomplished! Maybe down the track the girls may choose an activity they would like to do but for now less is great!

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 6:49 pm

THANK YOU so much for giving me this perspective Amanda. You see, I always wished I had more opportunities when I was young… but saying that, I had an AWESOME childhood and we did heaps of things. It’s a hard one I think… And I’m still trying to work it out.

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Christine BunnNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I totally agree Kelly. I have stood my ground and haven’t let us follow the crowd of ‘overdoing’ the activities. I will always remember one of my children’s Prep teachers telling me ‘don’t fall into the trap of doing tooooo much.’ It was very sound advice as I often felt guilty not doing what everyone else was doing. What a blessing it has been for us to follow this advice as you Kelly my children have great imaginations and can play for hours on end by themselves. We as a family have family night on Friday nights so we can spend quality time as a family and play and eat together. I think back when I was a child and I didn’t start competitive sports until 10- 11 years old, not 4,5 years old. I believe there is plenty of time for the extra activities and if your child is gifted they will still be gifted later on in life.

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Good on you Chrissy. And that is very good advice from the Prep teacher. And it’s comforting to hear you talk about doing extra activities when you were 10… Sometimes I feel like my children are going to miss out… but they aren’t.

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SarahNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Brilliant post! My children are young so (7, nearly 5 and a baby), so we don’t have too many. I love having as much time as possible to be free as a family to do all the creative activities that come about. I too am in a quandary as to this question and really don’t wish to spend all our after school time in and out the car from one activity to the next. Balance and family first definitely the way to go :)

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Yeah Sarah… that’s what I’m coming to discover too. It is a quandary isn’t it? And one I’m still working on.

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Hear Mum RoarNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 10:14 pm

At the moment, we don’t have any extra curricular activities. We used to have one for my eldest daughter. However, next year, I’d love to have one or two per child.

When we don’t have any though, like now, it is so much more relaxing for everyone involved.

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 8:55 am

Yeah, I think I’ll start with one per child and see how I go from there… But it’s true that things are more relaxed ay… and it’s been very nice…

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Hear Mum RoarNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 11:52 am

@Kelly Be A Fun Mum, yes, it is great from time to time to have a break from it. I know once I have my third baby, and my second child was still very much in the baby/toddler stage at the time, I just had to stop. And it’s been too hectic to go back! lol. Plus, we’ve been settling into a new home for the past year. I like to think by next year, we might be ready to dip our toe in again

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CatherineNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I had a really great childhood and so did my brother and when I had my children I asked my Mum for advice and her recommendation was to let them play unless any one of these three conditions are met.
1. They really want to do an activity.
2. They are complaining about being bored/lonely and keep asking to watch TV.
3. They fight a lot.

I followed this advice and I don’t think mine have missed out on anything and we have done lots of shared activities like when they suggested we built a robot, or a fort, or played in the sprinklers.

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 9:01 am

Great advice Catherine. Thank you so much!

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WendyNo Gravatar December 10, 2010 at 11:10 pm

We do some but try to have family only weekends
Child 1 – does sport through school (we just pick him up a bit later) and Little A
Child 2 – Ballet, Ballet and more ballet
Child 3 – Little A and next year dance for him too
Child 4 – nothing yet
They all have swimming lessons (living in QLD I feel its a must plus we have a pool) and music lessons through school but also with our next door neighbor.
We all attend each others activities because it gives me time to spend with the others playing a game or doing homework and Little A is a family activity.

I think we have found a good balance, kids aren’t out too late, we have afternoons just for playing at home and we have weekends for homework and family time.

We also have a no TV rule after dinner, this makes a huge difference with time to talk

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 9:04 am

Really appreciate your perspective Wendy. Next year my child 1 will be able to do music at school so I think that will be good for her (and for me!) And I’m thinking of trying to find a piano teacher that will come to my house for lessons so I don’t need to go anywhere… Love the idea keeping weekends free for family.

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LucyNo Gravatar December 11, 2010 at 7:53 am

I reckon this is one of the tricKiest issues with being a parent. It is a balance I work really really hard to achieve. I have flick flacked between the two.

Cost, time, scheduling all come into play. Fairness between siblings is also an issue.

Finally, for the moment at least, I feel we have got everything on an even keel.

As a family, we all swim – all three kids are enrolled in lessons at the same time. We go early and swim/play together first, all of us in the big pool together. It is SO much fun, even in winter. And a benefit that I hadn’t realised was that when they then get in the pool for their lessons, they are so happy and warmed up to it all, that their swimming skills have really accelerated. Afterwards, we go directly to the playground for a picnic lunch (and coffee.)

The other activity is cricket. Milo cricket. So, Saturday mornings are spent, all five us us, down at the local oval. Lovely husband and I help out. All three kids love it. And again, afterwards, we go for a milkshake or similar, together.

So our weekends are busy, but we are all together, all participating.

And after school, every afternoon, these times are chilled. Home by 3.30pm. At their current ages (6,5,4) this works. I potter, they play.

Next year, I may need to review all this. (And that is key too – review review review!)

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 9:07 am

As usual Lucy, you’ve hit the nail on the head, especially in terms of the factors involved in making these decisions i.e. Cost, time, schedulingand fairness between siblings.

I’m really loving the idea of family activities. We can do this with Rhee Tae Kwon Do… something we all do together which is special ay.

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MeeganNo Gravatar December 11, 2010 at 8:11 am

It is hard to keep the balance, isn’t it?

We had an opposite year to you, this year with Owen and Reuben both doing swimming on Sunday’s and Owen play soccer on a Saturday morning.

Coming from not having any fixed items on our weekend calendar to having one each on Saturday and Sunday made for full-on weekends, every weekend for a while there. But we eventually found our balance – changed the kids swimming lessons to Thursday nights – that way we can all attend and then go out for dinner afterwards, and we said no to another block of soccer. I couldn’t see the point of playing a winter sport in a QLD summer!

Next year Owen starts Prep and I think a year off everything (except swimming, which I think is a life skill, not just a sport) will be beneficial to us all!

Good luck with the move too! Are you staying in the area or travelling far?

xo

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 9:31 am

We are moving back to Brisbane next year… not sure where yet.

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MeeganNo Gravatar December 16, 2010 at 6:59 am

Ooooh that’s exciting!!!!
The Northside is always good ;)

xo

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 18, 2010 at 12:42 am

Oh yes! Only the Northside. It rocks! Looking for houses tomorrow.

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MeeganNo Gravatar December 20, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Woohoo!!!!
Good luck!!!!

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bigwordsNo Gravatar December 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Sounds like the past year has been a great one for family bonding. Why not ask the kids to pick one or two extra curricular activities and also take turns picking “family-time activities”? Sounds like whatever you guys choose will be fantastic!

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

Thanks BW. I like.

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katieNo Gravatar December 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm

i have 3 boys aged 2,5 and 6, because we are so close to the beach swimming lessons is a must for all 3, we do them on a wednesday arvo as my 6 yo is in kindy, the eldest 2 also do nippers on a sunday morning, and during winter when it finishes i will let them pick another sport to do, but will maitain the swimming lessons through out the yr, and because of this if they choose to do something musical instead i woud let them, as i think they are still a bit young to do all 3 i think pesonally having you kids in some sort of team is a great way of showing them to share and to put other people first, its also a gr8 way to get them to excercise doing something they enjoy

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Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar December 13, 2010 at 9:34 am

Hi Katie

Yes, team sport can be a wonderful way to learn how to get on with others. And swimming in Australia is an important skill to learn isn’t it?

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