Today’s lifestyle of rushing here and there, fast dinners, and late nights has become a new normal. Yesterday’s suggestion to “go outside and play” has been replaced with a long list of scheduled extracurricular activities. Even college admissions offices expect applicants to list years of experience as a student-athlete, musician, artist, or in the performing arts. Several things have changed from that long-ago yesterday to now. Children as young as eight are feeling overwhelmed by long structured days, and time is labeled between two phrases, “free structured” and “structured.” Sometimes, it is important to step back and view the family dynamic from a different perspective.
Wanting to Offer Opportunity
It sounds enriching for young girls to capitalize on the wonderful opportunities surrounding our community. There are gymnastics and swimming, dance and piano lessons, and the fall or spring sport. Yes, it seems the possibilities are endless. Do you ever wonder, “How will our children discover a talent or become inclined toward a natural gift if we, the parents, don’t introduce them to all those things? Terry Simpson writes, “I want to give my ten-year-old daughter every opportunity I can. Even though she has two activities during the week that meet once a week, and swimming lessons on Saturday mornings, my daughter is constantly moving. Since I don’t come home until 6 p.m., giving her activities twice a week seemed like the thing to do. I am thankful my parents are available to help in the afternoons. In our family, it’s hard to find balance between just sitting and enjoying one meal together.”
Many families feel just like Terry. Afternoons spent in structured activities or awaiting pick-up from an after-school program create very long days for young children. Stress wasn’t a factor until schedules were designed and play time was eliminated. Children discover who they are through play and rest, learning and time. With maturity and age, children will show us their interests.
If you wonder how many activities are simply too many, here are three questions to consider:
- At what time of day does she start feeling exhausted?
- What will my child gain from the activity?
- How does she describe her extracurricular activities?
Having Fun Is Most Important
It may sound logical to stress the value of competitiveness in the son who has a great pitching arm, or a daughter whose talent is track and field and swimming. These children, undeniably, have a natural athletic gift.
Through a survey, researchers wanted to discover why children engaged in competitive sports. The findings concluded the primary reason was not to win, but to have fun by physically engaging in the game. In fact, in the top 25 answers, “winning” was not listed. There is a greater worry. Seventy percent of children by the age of 13 will drop out of youth sports, and choose never to return.
Kristen McBell writes, “I am a mother of two middle-school daughters I love that both my children are succeeding in school and personal relationships. While one daughter has recently found a joy in taking piano lessons in addition to playing basketball, her sister thrives on the swim team. I had to figure out what I loved about their participation in sports. While I wanted to play a role, I added stress to their already stressful lives. I discovered I cared most about watching the team dynamics, and watching my girls be part of the action. When they were having fun, our home life and relationship seemed much more peaceful.”
There is no question, elementary and middle-school children need to be engaged and learn about teamwork, practice and balancing responsibility. The National Center for Education Statistics states, “Extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing the lessons learned in the classroom, offering students the opportunity to apply academic skills in a real-world context, and are thus considered part of a well-rounded education.” The question isn’t how much can we do in a week, but what is important? In our own childhoods, we learned something every day, made mistakes, played hard, ate meals at the dinner table, spent time with family and friends, and went to bed contentedly.