We are up to my favorite chapter! Chapter Five, entitled “Schedules” is well-worth reading for yourself. I don’t believe parents in the United States intend to overschedule their children, yet that is where so many families are in reality, and this chapter offers a hard look at what we are doing, why we are doing it and what we could do differently.
This issue is not a new one. Kim John Payne points out that David Elkind’s book “The Hurried Child” first asked the question as to whether children were being pushed toward adulthood in the form of “super-competency” because parents lacked the time or interest for parenting. This was in the early 1980s. The latter half of the 1980’s saw a real focus on the child’s accomplishments and achievements. These trends are not new.
How do children spend their time? According to this chapter:
- Children ages 6 to 11 spend many hours in front of a television screen and a computer screen
- School takes 8 more hours than it did in 1981
- The amount of time in structured activities has doubled
- Time spent doing homework has also doubled – with the implementation of No Child Left Behind, students are averaging an hour and twenty minutes a night of homework.
- Children have 12 hours less free a week than they did – about 25 percent of a child’s day is “free” on average; in 1981 the average child had about 40 percent of his or her day free.
Kim John Payne points out that, “And it is really so bad to be busy? Why aren’t their busy kids seen as fulfilled rather than frantic? What is wrong with wanting your children to have as many opportunities as possible? I don’t think the central issue of “overscheduled” kids is motivation – either the parents’ or the kids’. Most parents are driven by good intentions…In wanting to provide for their children, here again parents act with generous motivations. But just as too many toys stifle creativity, too many scheduled activities may limit a child’s ability to direct themselves, fill up their own time, to find and follow their own path.”
Some children really do not know what to do with even moments of spare time because they are used to having every minute structured. Kim John Payne points out that interest in an activity can be real and sustained over time for children but that time, leisure and other interests often help a main interest to grow. Children need unstructured time. This is coming out in more and more studies and childhood psychology literature regarding the development of executive function in children – things such as working memory, mental flexibility, reasoning, judgment – are enhanced by non structured activities, not by structured ones.
Awareness is the first step in stepping off the overscheduled burden. Play happens in unstructured time and opening up schedules lends itself to spontaneous moments . If a child has fewer activities, then a parent’s schedule (who is often a driver) will also open up as well. This can impact the entire family in a positive way.
How do you simplify your outside activities? Does your family need help in this area or is the balance easy?
Because we homeschool, it is easier to not be overscheduled for an entire day. But I find that there are so many great things to do in our town, after school and for homeschoolers, that it is hard to say no. And, as my son gets older, more of his friends have scheduled outside activities. It is a difficult balance.
I agree with Mary Lynn that although it is easier not to be overscheduled because we homeschool, it is also hard to say no to the wonderful activities there are to do! I often have to remind myself, sometimes verbally and out loud, that my daughters will benefit more from unstructured play outside together than from this or that organized activity. It does get especially hard up here in the Pacific NW during the wet, rainy, dark, cold winter months. Of course we have rain gear and try to get out as much as possible in every kind of weather, but the kids just don’t want to spend the long hours outdoors that they do in the summer. And we do get cabin fever in our 800 sq. ft. house. So I try to keep the yearly rhythm in mind, too. Sunny warm days take us outside constantly while cold rainy days see us taking advantage of more activities out and about. That in-breath, out-breath rhythm of the year is quite pronounced for us here.
I so agree Carly! We live in Portland, OR and do not commit to anything structured in the summer because we are outside so, so, so much. But in the rainy months we do a morning walk, which can be quick if it’s pouring, and there’s a lot more time to consider committing to scheduled activities. I really struggle with finding the balance there. My daughter is requesting swim lessons for this fall and I’m trying to figure out if I want to be tied down by a twice-a-week swim lesson that takes Hurculean effort to get to (I have a toddler too) for just 30 minutes in the pool.