I've been meaning to write a post along these lines for some time now, but a conversation yesterday has prompted me to finally do so. The question asked was, "Are kids today overscheduled?". I admit my gut reaction to that is to say yes, which seeing as HRM Parent is so much about activities, events and classes for kids, may seem a little contradictory. Let me try to explain. There may be some rambling in this post, but I hope you will bear with me.
My son, who will be six next month, has only recently started enjoying organized activities. He took swimming lessons for the first time in September, which he loved. He has participated in two half-day, weeklong summer camps, and when he was two we did a gymnastics class that we stopped going to when he stopped enjoying it. I went to about two baby music classes with him when he was crawling. At the moment, he is taking a music class and a French class, and has a couple of other monthly programs he is involved in. We are homeschooling, so these are part of his 'school'. We have done a fair amount of drop-in, informal programs over the years, but when he was younger much of those were more for my benefit – getting out of the house and meeting other parents – than his. I remember a playgroup at Shambhala School that we attended when he was two. Sure, he had fun (when he wasn't feeling shy), but the main reason we kept going was for the wonderful friends we met there, many of whom are still a big part of our lives.
My point in telling you all this is to confess. You know all the classes, camps, programs and activities listed on HRM Parent? Yeah, we've never done most of them. And you know what? You and your kids don't need to either. I realize I may be a little biased, but Alex is a fantastic little kid (he is! he is!), despite the fact that we never did baby signing, never did parent and tot swims or skates, never did Kindermusik, never did dance classes – never did much of what is available to kids from the moment they leave the womb these days.
I definitely believe that there are children who thrive on participating in lots of organized activities. I know kids like this, I know their parents, and while I may look at their schedule and feel tired (and feel tired for the parents carting them around from one class to the next!), I know that this is what works for them. Sure, they may get to a point where the kid needs a break, or the parent does, but often they take the break and are then refreshed and ready for more. If this works for the family, is there a problem? Personally, and this is just an opinion of a mom with a website, I don't think there is a problem with that – if it *truly* works for them. But if the classes and activities come too much at the expense of sleep, family time, hanging out with friends, and having time to be bored (which I believe is important), then it seems to me that there is a problem. Even if the kids are loving the classes, the balance seems off, you know?
Many children live scheduled lives from an early age because of daycare, then school, and after-school care, etc. Add in a couple of classes a week, and boom, they have a schedule that overworked executives can sympathize with. "But my child loves her piano classes, and her rock climbing classes, and she needs to learn to swim, and…!", you may protest. I guess to that I'd say teaching priorities and moderation is a good thing? I really don't have any answers here, sorry. It's easy to preach about the benefits of an unscheduled or unhurried life when you have a kid that objects to schedules and who just prefers hanging out with friends and family and making up his own version of soccer with no interest in the 'real' one at this point. I get that. I also know Alex has learnt wonderful things from the few organized activities he's been involved in. I guess it's just about balance and following your kid's cues.
If your child does not want to go to gymnastics class, please don't make him. It's really OK for him not to go. Please don't feel pressure from HRM Parent or elsewhere that your child must do x, y and z or will fall behind and never catch up and be a social misfit and never ever learn how to kick a ball and you are a terrible parent because your kid is almost six and doesn't have a clue how to play hockey and you live in Canada now and he SHOULD know how to play hockey, shouldn't he? (OK that last bit was for my benefit.) Breathe. It will all work out. The information we provide here on HRM Parent is to help you find out what works best for your family, not make you feel guilty. There are a lot of really great programs and really great teachers out there that your kids can benefit from, if they want to. If your kid doesn't want to now, they may want to later. Or they may not. It's all good. And there is so much value and goodness to be found outside classes, stuff that can't be taught. Don't miss out on all that, OK?