This week's topic is about over-scheduling our children. This one has been requested and is important to think about. I didn't have to worry about it as a parent because we were so low-income, we couldn't afford many lessons or extra-curricular activities. However, I have been a teacher for a long time and have seen disturbing changes in schools, families and neighborhoods. My children usually seemed more relaxed than their peers. They usually had one activity at a time that they were engaged in, some kind of sport, music lessons or dance classes. Their friends often didn't have time to play after school because they were rushing off to a class, lesson or sports event. I could see how difficult it was for them to go to school all day and then be involved in some other kind of learning most afternoons. When was their time to just be children?
The government has convinced us that our educational system is behind other countries, and now we're worried that our children are not getting enough enrichment. We've bought into the idea that the schools are not meeting their needs, so we're saddled with Common Core which takes away the teachers' abilities to really teach. It has taken away much of the free time children had to go outdoors or to socialize. Maybe the schools needed improvement, but children need time to grow into themselves, not be molded into what we want them to be or think they should be. Gone are the days when kids went out in their neighborhoods with gangs of other kids and played. There is so much value in learning through play. We learn cooperation and compromise. We learn to use our imaginations and how to problem-solve. They get very little of that in schools these days and not enough during their time at home.
When we over-schedule our children, we are teaching them to over-schedule themselves. Today, most families have two working parents out of necessity, but how many of us are overwhelmed with our lives? I know I was for a while until I realized that I could rearrange my priorities and make my life much easier. Now I work part-time hours and make more money than in the past. I have plenty of time to do the things I love, spend time with friends and family and still get my chores done. The amount of stress I created for myself made me tired and unmotivated. I was sabotaging my own life without even realizing it, always on the go and getting nowhere. Not everyone can do what I did, and I'm not suggesting it. I am suggesting that we look at our priorities, look at the amount of free time our children have and how much free time we have together. Every child needs time to explore. Every child needs time to think. Every child needs to learn to be comfortable with quiet and solitude. Many children are bored because they're constantly entertained. When they go to school, the teachers can't keep up that level of entertainment. Children who are swamped with activities when they are young often struggle with boredom as teens. Debilitating boredom is very painful.
So, how do we know if we're over-scheduling? I guess we have to evaluate our reasons for these activities. Are we in competition with other parents to have the smartest or best child? Are we living vicariously though our children? Or, do we need them engaged in activities because we can't be around all the time? If we need them in some kind of care-giving situation, why not have them learning something while they're there? It's a delicate balance. Of course we want them to learn to swim, play an instrument, dance, play sports, and the list goes on. But, do they need to do all of those things at once? How much time are you spending in your car driving them from place to place? How much time do you have at home to just be together and enjoy some child-led activities? I'm certainly not an expert on this topic and don't have all the answers. I just know that I've seen a huge shift in the way we raise our kids these days with more and more pressure put on them to perform, and I mourn the loss of childhood. Please share your thoughts on this issue. It is much debated by many experts. Here's a New York Times article I found that you might enjoy reading.
And another on how to gauge if your child is over-scheduled.
And here are some great ideas for playing with your child.
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