When it comes to keeping my seven-year-old son entertained after school with extra-curricular-activities, I have experimented with all sorts of approaches.
There was the time we decided school on its own was quite enough and we encouraged free-play. Yet there was also the time after having too many arguments about iPad time and ‘being bored’, that he was signed up for something five days out of seven.
I read this thoughtful article about simplifying kids’ lives on parenting blog ‘Raised Good’, after a friend posted the link to Facebook. The author, Tracy Gillet, a ‘nature loving, adventure seeking, natural mum’, is originally from Australia and she writes about the importance, as well as the proven benefits of free-play.
Tracy says, “Our kids don’t need to be enrolled, entertained, scheduled, supervised, coached, or assessed in an adult directed activity to be happy. They are perfectly capable of leading the way and directing their own lives. While busyness may have been glorified in our modern-day society; it is not a badge of honour and we need to prevent it from compromising our kids’ childhoods.”
I totally understand the importance of spending precious time with our tiny humans and the time and stress it takes to schedule multiple activities, but Toby quite likes doing something after school, so I wondered, what do other parents think?
Emily Lau is mum to six-year-old, Sienna, and four-year-old, Max. She says that as both her and her husband, Marty, work almost full-time, she finds that the whole household is happier if the kids have more time for free-play.
“Our eldest Sienna does one activity outside of school and Max doesn’t do any. I strongly believe that kids should be at home playing and making up their own fun as often as possible. If I’m stressed out taking the kids to multiple clubs and classes, then the kids feed off my negative energy and are stressed too. At one point we had both Sienna and Max doing a number of activities each and what with work, school and day care scheduling, it all became too much.
“I believe that the kids will develop their interests in time and end up doing what they love anyway. We decided that now is not the time to flood them with too many activities when they are so young. They need downtime just like adults do and I’d rather spend that precious time with them!”
I agree with Emily and Tracy that children need time to play and run free but as I only work when Toby is at school and he doesn’t have a sibling close in age, the interaction and fun that team sport brings, means that regular activities still have their place.
Claire Wildman, mum to six-year-old, Max, is a great proponent of extra-curricular classes, with Max attending up to seven sessions per-week.
“Max is very active and he loves his team sport and athletics. Having no siblings means that after school clubs, classes and playdates are also great for him socially. We still haven’t needed to buy him an iPad, as he comes home each day happy yet tired. Another positive is that bedtimes are quick and early!”
In our household, Toby enjoys swimming, soccer and Joey Scouts. Next term it will be different as the soccer season will end and he will likely start tennis again as he loved it last summer.
One of the main problems for our family is that while we want to encourage Toby in pursuing a couple of activities he loves; Jules and I occasionally like to do something in the evening too. Jules plays squash one night per week, and I try to make a gym class. With his little brother, Leo, only 17-months-old, we don’t need to worry about his schedule right now, but in the future, we will need to factor in his activities too.
Mum-of-two, Valerie Main, feels that while children’s after-school activities have their place, it has to work for the whole family.
“Our children have two after-school activities each and as they both do gymnastics on the same night, logistically it works well for our family and we still have time for free-play.
“Activities can be expensive and a lot of work for parents, so the decision as to how many and how often, comes down to the individual family unit.”
Toby’s planned activities will probably come and go with his interest levels and the season, but as long as he is still enjoying them and it works for us, I see no harm in keeping him active three nights per week. As Leo gets older we will no doubt need to impose some limits to ensure we all get some time together for free-play as well as a fair turn at extra-curricular fun.
How many extra-curricular activities do your children participate in? Tell us in the comments section below.