When I was pregnant with my son, I made a list. On a scrap piece of paper that was embedded in my pregnancy book was a record of everything I was excited for him to experience. It mentioned everything I could think of, including art classes, Summer camp, rock climbing, language classes, and a variety of sports. In my head, my son would magically be able to do all of these activities, and — of course — he'd be perfect at them all.
Before he was even born, I was falling into the trap that a lot of parents face: the desire to overschedule. Parents want what's best for their kids, and oftentimes this involves putting them into multiple activities at once. We have to stop and ask ourselves if this is really what's best for them.
Having experienced overscheduled students when I was a teacher, I've reached the conclusion that doing more than one activity at a time can lead to overtired and stressed-out kids. Even if the extracurricular activities are amazing, the negatives start to outweigh the positives.
Children should be given time to play. I know that to us it looks like they're just sitting outside talking nonsense with their friends, but what they're really doing is so valuable. They are learning how to think creatively and divergently and how to interact in a social, nonstructured environment. By removing the boundaries that are created by formal programs, children will grow to express themselves differently than they would have in a class.
Kids need downtime to think for themselves and to relax. If a child is in school, that means that their downtime is seriously limited once homework, commute times, chores, and dinner are taken into consideration. Equally important as rest is giving families a chance to interact together in a nonstructured environment.
Between making dinner and trying to stick to a schedule, parents, myself included, can lose track of free time to just "hang out" and play with children. This free time is invaluable to furthering bonding, establishing trust, and creating a sense of community. Families that play together, grow together.
Being overscheduled is stressful, especially for young kids who are learning about time management. As a teacher, I saw a fair number of kids who were unable to meet the demands of school, sports, clubs, and religious organizations. For a lot of kids, eventually one thing or another became too much to handle.
Of course, some kids cope with pressure much better than others, and ideally children's activities are things they enjoy doing. However, giving children an opportunity to grow and really focus on one thing at a time could end up with better results.
That one special activity will get the focus and attention that it deserves. Instead of doing five things at a mediocre level, consider picking one and letting that be the sole focus for the kiddos. Children will work harder and do better because it's something special in the week that they've been looking forward to.
Selfishly, enrolling children in more than one activity means that the parent is also overscheduled. Let's face it: they're adorable, but they're pretty helpless at a young age. Think of all the things you could be doing if you weren't shuffling the kids between sports and activities every day. There would be time for yourself, time to bond with the kids, and time for you to have your own activity.
I go back to that list that I made every so often, and while I'd love for my son to become a professional surfer, I have to remind myself to give him time to be a kid. Eventually, he can work his way down that list, but for now we're just going to stick to one thing at a time.