Every parent wants their child to succeede, and sometimes that begins a cycle of lessons, camps, sports and more that can fill a family calendar to overflowing. But a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that it may be too much.
"It was crazy," says Jeri*, a Medford mother of three when recalling their family schedule several years ago. "We had school, story-time, basketball practice, soccer camp, all three kids were in an evening activity - we hardly had time to eat. When we were home, it was homework and practice time and it just never stopped." In part, she admits, it was keeping her children "on par" with their friends, and in part, it was the desire to give them every possible advantage as they grew up.
Jeri's situation is not unique. Parents feel they need to expose their children to many different activities and, usually with the best of intentions, fill their children's calendars. But it often keeps them from doing what kids do best - play.
"Free time is important," says Chrissy Anderson, a Medford-based counselor who works with youth in Medford and Grants Pass, "" - as long as it's directed." She laughs and adds, "Kids need time to explore and discover but not just sit around and let videos and media entertain them." Playing encourages skills like problem-solving, discovering personal skills or talents and developing social skills through interaction with siblings or friends.
While there is no magic number for how much play time each child needs, Anderson gives this guideline - "In everything, it's about balance." There are many benefits to extracurricular activities. Participation in sports teaches teamwork, releases pent-up energy and teaches how to accept winning and losing. Music is linked to better learning abilities. As Jeri points out, "There was always a good reason to sign up for one more activity." Anderson suggests that when choosing activities, the talents and interests of their children should guide parents. "I think kids need to do something to feel they are accomplishing a goal," she observes. So if they seem to naturally lean towards sports or music or drama, use that as a measure of what might be a wise choice. And, she cautions, parents shouldn't be driven by "their own desire for what they want their child to become."
For Jeri and her family, a natural change gave them the opportunity to reset their priorities. "We moved a few years ago and when we got here, we agreed that it would be one activity for each family member." While she admits that they've gone a bit beyond that and sometimes there is overlap, it has eased the pace of family living immensely. And, she admits, her kids don't seem to be suffering. "They are doing great at school, and we very rarely hear that they are bored. The first few times, we'd offer them chores and they always managed to find something to do."
"I believe parents understand their own children," says Anderson, pointing out that a more active child will entertain himself differently than one with a more laid-back approach. But no matter what their activities or play time, Anderson reminds, all of that needs to be balanced with time together as a family to really give your child the best start for their future.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.