parent opinion

'Say goodbye to your Saturday mornings!' 7 parents and an expert on kids' extracurriculars.

Pull out your puffer vests and say goodbye to your Saturday mornings, because it’s term two and weekend sport is back.

We have three kids aged nine, seven and four, so we said goodbye to our Saturday mornings quite some time ago. In all seriousness, with two of our three now at school, the extracurricular activities are really ramping up and I’m feeling conflicted. 

We have a weekly schedule that involves multiple dance classes (acro/jazz/hip hop) on different days, at various times and locations, plus weekly netball training and a game, twice weekly soccer training and a game, tutoring, music and drum lessons and band practice and *takes a breath*…. it’s a lot.

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Too much, some might say, but here’s the thing: I want to give my kids the opportunity to explore their interests, try new things and meet new people. If I’m really honest, there’s also a part of me that wants to give them opportunities that I didn’t have. Plus, I think it’s fair to say that some kids are actually easier to manage when they’re occupied. Structured classes keep these kids engaged and off devices, which is a welcome relief for most parents.  


But I also don’t want to over-commit everyone. The kids also need time for homework and play and as a family, we’re trying to encourage more downtime and rest. As parents, it’d be nice to have spare time and sanity come the end of the week (LOL - I have three kids). 

Of course, it must be said that being able to participate in any extracurricular activities is a privilege, especially with the current cost of living. The NSW Government’s Active Kids and Creative Kids vouchers certainly go a long way in helping with this from a financial point of view. Similarly, our family wouldn’t be able to take on as much if my husband and I both didn’t have flexible work arrangements that allow us to share all the running around town that comes with it. 

I still wonder if we’ve got the balance right and how much is too much when it comes to kids’ extracurricular activities. 

I spoke to seven other parents plus a parenting expert to find out what they think. 

Here’s what they said:

1. Renee, mother of one, aged nine: “When I’m selecting extracurricular activities, I look at my daughter’s strengths, and also what areas she needs more support in. We try to keep to two extracurricular activities a term, anything more than that and my head would explode from the logistics. What I love about extracurricular classes is that she meets new kids, from different parts of Melbourne and it pops her out of her local school social bubble. Being an only child, she always goes to these classes alone and has to make friends there on the fly. I think that can be a little daunting, but I figure if she’s in the habit of going to extracurricular activities, it keeps her comfort zone bigger for trying new things.”


2. Anastasia*, mother of two, aged 15 and 12: “From a young age, we encouraged both of our girls to try different things. For my eldest daughter who is now a teen, her life got really busy really quickly with increasing school commitments (she’s in year nine), which made us realise we needed to review all after-school activities. While she is still keeping busy, productive and challenged, there is still plenty of time for her schoolwork and her social life, which is equally important at this age. Teen years are a time of big transitions, with lots of emotional and physical changes that happen in a very short period of time. Ensuring there’s a healthy balance between school work and extra activities while making time for family and friends is super important for a happy teenager.”

3. Eleanor, mother of two, aged 10 and eight: “We don't have any family around to help out (with pickups and drop offs), so I’ve recruited some semi-retired adults from our running group to help one afternoon a week. They get so much enjoyment in picking up the kids and taking them to their lessons. Affordability comes into it, but at the moment I feel like we are playing catch up from COVID, so maybe we have over-committed. I don't think you ever feel you have the balance right and it changes each term. I also made the change to be self-employed because of the desire to work flexibly and be there for the kids for their after-school activities.” 


4. Belinda, mother of four, aged 15, 13, nine and four: “The logistics are often difficult with the children being all different ages. Game time can range from 4.30pm to 8.30pm which means our four-year-old can often be in the car for hours going back and forwards for drop off and pick ups, which isn’t ideal. Representative sport (for two of our children) comes at a cost. We live in Orange and were required to attend carnivals in Sydney, Wagga, Nelson Bay and Griffith which meant time off work to get the kids there as well as the cost of accommodation, food, fuel etc. On review of the season, my husband and I both agreed that the investment was so worthwhile. It meant we were able to spend a lot of time together as a family. The kids were so fit and to watch their skills develop each week was a credit to themselves and their coaching staff. The friendships and memories they made were also beautiful to watch.”

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5. Marie, mother of two, aged 11 and eight: “We don't encourage extracurriculars at all, to be perfectly honest. It took us a decade of parenting to realise we don't have to say yes to absolutely everything. Of course, a lot of the activities depend on the child – we have one that wants to try absolutely everything, so he needs to choose just one thing a term. Our youngest doesn't want to have a bar of anything, he hates the commitment as much as we do. There’s a fine balance between wanting to encourage trying new things and what works for the family unit. When every waking moment that we're not working is spent running from one thing to another, that's when we decided it wasn't worth it. Spending family time doing something we all enjoy (God forbid my husband and I could enjoy our weekends!) wins in the end for us.”


6. Jane, mother of three, aged five, three and seven months: “I choose to squeeze more into the week than not, but I have two energetic and active boys and keeping them busy plays a part in the decision-making process. With a husband who travels most weeks, I also need to factor in what I can manage whilst flying solo. I feel that the balance is right with the activities as the schedule currently works, but my experience has its challenges. Take the baby out of the equation and it is all more than manageable, but getting a little baby in and out and in and out of the car and constantly thinking about timings of sleeping/feeding/overstimulation etc. is really exhausting and sometimes (read: often) I curse myself for taking on too much.”

7. Sally, mother of two, aged eight and four: “Our eldest child is neurodivergent and while we go through the diagnosis process we’re supporting her through activities that she’s good at and enjoys, helping build her confidence. So that means lots of sensory, water-based activities e.g. nippers, swimming, and surfing. She also does occupational therapy and she’s just started netball for winter. We value downtime and want our kids to know it’s okay to rest and switch off, that it’s good for the body and the brain. Our summers are often busy but winter is our season to restore and recharge, this means fewer activities for kids and less planning and running around for us. Extracurriculars don’t have to mean extra money. We helped start up a community garden, and that gets the kids out learning about food and nature, feeding worms and getting their hands dirty. It’s an activity that costs very little but gives us so much.”


According to Georgina Manning, educator, counsellor, psychotherapist and director of Wellbeing for Kids, extracurricular activities can offer kids lots of positives however where she sees them becoming problematic, is when they start leaving kids and families with little or no time for rest.

“Children need time to regulate and switch off their stress response – rest the brain, rest the body, rest the whole nervous system. We need this as adults and we definitely need this regularly as children,” says Georgina. 

And Georgina’s main advice for parents when it comes to extracurricular activities? 

“It all ties into this idea of allowing your children to be bored. If we can just allow children to be bored, they're going to find their thing pretty quickly, because they hate being bored. And this is where it comes back to screens and limiting screen time from a young age and being consistent with it. When those limits are set, then a lot of other things fall into place. If screens aren’t the thing they're going to, then they're going to find other things to play with and they will not feel that need to fill it with all these other activities.”


Finally, Georgina says instead of thinking about what we want our children to do and achieve each week we should consider how we want them to feel at the end of each week. 

“We’re actually stressing our children out by having too many activities. I think one or two activities a week is absolutely fine, anything more than that, I think is over the top. However, if screens are replacing the extracurricular, probably choose extracurricular over that – it’s all a piece of a puzzle.”

A puzzle – from what I've gathered – that fits together differently for every family. 

*While this person is known to Mamamia, their name has been changed for privacy reasons.

What are your thoughts on kids’ extracurricular activities? Tell us in the comments below. 

Emily McGrorey is a full-time reader, part-time procrastinator, freelance writer, casual Pilates student, and aspiring author. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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