By the time my kids were 2 — a time where their age can still reasonably be measured in months — I had people asking me what activities they were signed up for. Mommy and me yoga, languages classes, art classes, dance, gymnastics, swim. And it only got more insistent as they got older. T-ball, basketball, baseball, karate, cheerleading, horseback riding, coding, rock climbing, and even underwater basket-weaving. But my kids didn't start enjoying extracurricular activities until at least 4, and they only get one each. I just refuse to go overboard with my kids extracurricular activities. Not only am I not sorry, but I think it's a good move for our family.
And, hey, different strokes for different folks, right? Some people love to be busy, kids and adults alike. They thrive on a buzzing routine — Monday, Friday, Saturday for baseball; Tuesday for gymnastics; Wednesday and Sunday for soccer; what have you. They enjoy moving from activity to activity, like life is a cruise-ship and you're going to get every penny's worth. But, for many people, I fear the increasingly common jam-packed schedules are motivated less by a real desire to live this way, and more out of a sense that if you don't live like this you're doing something wrong or, worse, you're lazy or failing as a parent.
It's wonderful to provide our children with enriching, challenging activities. An extracurricular activity can build confidence, skill, and can be a lot of fun — and even when they're not there's value in learning that, too. (Michelle Obama famously made her daughters choose a sport they wanted to do and one she wanted them to do to learn about overcoming challenges and trying new things.) But, at least for me, there's a limit. At a certain point, the benefits are outweighed by how much it's taking from other areas of family life. So with that in mind, here's why I refuse to let our schedules be dominated by too many "extras":
Because Kids Need Time To Chill
I think extracurricular activities are great for a kid. They're fun, they broaden their horizons, and sometimes they even lead to a life-long passion or career. But sometimes even kids — with their boundless energy and ever-expanding minds — just need to chill for a bit. I'm not saying you should plunk them down in front of screens for hours at a time every day. But sometimes kids, just like adults, need to decompress. Quietly play with blocks, read a book, come up with games for their dolls, or, yeah, watch an episode of Sesame Street. I'm a firm believer in "decompression" time and think it should be built into every day.
Because Kids Should Learn How To Deal With Boredom
If you're constantly entertained or doing something, it can be hard to know what to do with yourself on your down time. And I think there are a lot of imagination-building skills that are born of boredom. You go outside and discover a new kind of bug and then learn about it. You invent a game with hula-hoops. You learn to play more cooperatively with a sibling. You take out some watercolor paints and go to town. At the very least you realize that it's not always up to the adult in the room to guide your play.
Because Unstructured Family Time Is Important
Some of the best times I've had as a parent are the games, conversations, and spur-of-the-moment day trips that have come up, randomly, when everyone is home. It just gives the family space to explore their interests and sense of play without feeling any pressure. I think there's value in knowing you have limited time (because sometimes you could use that reminder to motivate some really solid togetherness) but there's a balance there. Low-pressure fun is awesome.
Because You Should Have Some Weekends Available
I weep for my friends whose every single Saturday from January to July are back-to-back ballgames and meets. I'm sorry, but that's no way to live.
Because Why Even Have All These Toys?
For serious, folks. My kids basically live in a toy store, which is often what happens when you have four sets of grandparents. What's the point of having all these toys if they sit untouched because you're never, ever home to play with them? Come on, now. That's just wasteful.
Because I Don't Want To Focus Too Far On A Hypothetical Future
I know a lot of parents get their kids involved in activities because they see a future in it. They know that if their child is going to succeed in the sport/art/whatever they need to start in it early. And I don't disparage that, really, if the child is super interested and shows an aptitude. And when it works out for everyone it's either not really a sacrifice or the sacrifices you make in other areas of your life are worth it to everyone involved.
But, for us, it would be sacrificing a present for a hypothetical (and, let's face it, unlikely) future achievement. No thanks.
Because School Is The Most Important Thing
When extracurriculars are taking up about as much time as your "curriculars," I just worry it places school on the "one more thing we have to do" list instead of establishing it as the main thing.
Look, I think it would actually take a lot to get to this point for any family, but I just don't even want to begin down that road, you know?
Because This Is Supposed To Be Fun
I feel like if you're constantly bopping from thing to thing then some of the joy gets sucked out of it. That's not to say kids shouldn't take their extracurricular activities seriously (I will admit to getting annoyed when I catch my son lounging on the mat during gymnastics because why am I paying for you to do something you can do on the carpet at home?!) or that they should always be easy. Being challenged by something new is part of the benefit, to be sure. But if it's not at least kind of enjoyable after you've given it a fair shake... why? And it's not like you're going to keep doing all of these things throughout the rest of your life (probably). I want to give me kids the time and space to enjoy all the things they do.
I really don't know how some families do it. Each of my children do one thing a season and that's a pretty penny. The families who do three or four activities? (And ones that require more expensive equipment/fees than the ones we do?) HOW?!
Because There Are Opportunities I Want For Them Outside Of Such A Structured Schedule
Going to museums, spending time in state parks, meeting new kids on the playground, and, honestly, even just playing in the woods behind our house are all things that I think there's great value in when developing the mind and interests of a kid. I want to have time for all of these things, and too many sports/activities can really cut into those opportunities.
Because My Mental Health Counts, Too
We give up a lot as parents and I accept and embrace that, but we don't have to drive ourselves to exhaustion in the process when we can help it. It's OK to say no. And, even from a non-personal perspective, I think it's better for a kid to have a parent who isn't constantly crazed than to have a fourth extracurricular activity on their imaginary resume.