The Cost of Overscheduling Your Children

There was a very good post  recently over at “Becoming Minimalist” entitled “How To Slow Down Your Family’s Schedule” which did a great job in pointing out some of the problems with over-scheduling children in our world. I wrote a post some time ago about choosing time outside the home wisely.  In that article I mentioned several points, specifically in reference to the homeschooling community, where because children are not out at school all day, parents often feel the need to get their children out after homeschooling is done.  Here are a few of the discussion points:

  • I don’t think children under 12 need anything, although many parents of 11-12 year old girls have told me they felt their girls “needed something to do” whereas boys seemed to not care until age 14 or so.
  • Teens ages 13-15, somewhere in that time frame, really do seem to need something.  If you haven’t overloaded them with activities up until this point, then adding one or two activities may seem like enough to them.
  • Families with one child seem to vary on how they approach things – read the comments from the previous blog post.
  • Families with four or more children seem to pick activities where all children can participate at once, whereas families with one to three children seem to run around a lot more with the children all doing separate activities!
  • The DRIVER (parent) is often the one who is tired out!
  • Many parents noted they would love to stay home and have informal play with other children, but no children  are at  home in their neighborhood or they may live far out in the country and there are no children.  Children are interacting in structured activities these days, not in playing street games, tag and riding bikes like thirty years or so ago.

I think it could possibly take a full-on public health campaign in the United States to really change the perception of parents that there is value in UNSTRUCTURED play and to not sign their children up for every activity.  I am so glad to know so many of you are trendsetters and are pointing the way toward family being home!

If you want to pare down your schedule, here is a list of suggestions that other parents have told me works:

Discount activities that meet over the dinner hour.  Don’t be so willing to trade a structured, led by an adult outside your home for the benefits of the family dinner hour.  (and there are many benefits; there have been studies).

Let each child pick ONE thing per semester.  Many things now, at least in the United States, seem to run all year round, but see what you can find.

Delay the starting ages for doing activities outside the home.  “In our family, you get to pick an activity to do outside the home when you are “X” years old.”

Figure out when is YOUR day with your children if you are really busy with activities.  How many days do YOU need to be home to feel happy, to have the house the way you want it, etc.

You can try my method:  I put a big X over certain days of the week and do not allow myself to schedule anything on those days.  I have talked about this is in back posts.

Can you let go of guilt?  Every article, including the “Becoming Minimalist” post above, mentions how wonderful free, unstructured play with other children is, yet most parents say there are no children to play with!  Can you feel okay with your child playing by themselves or with their siblings for many days of the week?

The reality is that most homeschooling parents, at least most Waldorf or holistic homeschooling parents, do not want to be out every day and see the value in being home.  They see the value in space and time for development.

I think part of the problem is that most parents are working, and therefore no one is home and the child has to be somewhere.  Also, the ending time of school can vary and take away the down time of the afternoon.  For example, the middle school (grades 6-8) in my area get home around 5 PM, at which time they must eat and do homework.  So, part of this question I think becomes what do we do until economics – attitudes- amount of homework changes? A  tall social order!

Love to hear your thoughts and your thoughts on the “Becoming Minimalist” blog post.


6 thoughts on “The Cost of Overscheduling Your Children

  1. SO important! I like how you X out days on your calendar. I do that too. In fact, sometimes I X out a whole week and don’t schedule any extra appointments, playdates, etc.

  2. This is such a relevant topic right now, as we work on planning for the coming school year, and in my case, summer activities and even end-of-current-year lessons. I think your bullet points and those in the Becoming Minimalist article are right on. What popped into my mind was (at least for me) how easy it is, even for a Waldorf inspired, conscious, simply family, to get pulled into too many activities. We had a bumpy year as a result of trying to find the right balance of activities for each of us and more importantly the rhythm of those activities!

  3. Yes! Like you, I believe that preserving the time, space and value of deep play will take nothing less than a cultural revolution. I love Kim Payne’s crop rotation metaphor; in the Simplicity Parenting classes I teach, this metaphor really helps parents understand the importance to unscheduled time. I wrote a blog post last week about this very topic:

    • Excellent, Lisa! I will pass your link along on The Parenting Passageway’s Facebook page!
      Thank you,

  4. Thanks for this! I commented in that recent post about trying to resist activities for my 2 and 5 year old. I’m continuing to cut things out — even buying our staple food items bulk so I can cut out our errand day in town. One thing I still struggle with though is HOW to encourage free play at home. My two kids are hit and miss on this. Generally they are used to quiet time at home and certainly don’t treat it like some problem. But there are days (sometimes it feels like days on end) when they don’t seem to ever hit a groove playing together, and I am called upon constantly to intervene or come up with activities. I find the energy of these days to be pretty maddening. I love staying home with the kids doing quiet things, as long as I know I will get a few blocks of time when they are independent of me. The days when they seem to need constant engagement are just exhausting!!!! (Of course, even on these days, when my husband takes over, they’ll just run off and play. Is this a mom thing?) We’ve got a good rhythm to our days for the most part, and I build in natural times of engagement (I think of these as “breathing in”) throughout the day — times when we read together or play games or go on a bike ride. But I also really need them to breathe out and run off to build mud castles or whatever too!!!! I guess my big challenge is that my oldest (5.5 yo boy) has definitely been one of Those Boys who comes to social stuff slowly — we went through many years of aggression. It’s much better, but he still has days when he gets frustrated and listless and bored, and those are definitely days when he is WAY more likely to bite or hit, which ends play quickly. So I don’t feel like I can just push them outside the way some of my friends do. I do have to wait until they are happily engaged with each other (or independent things) before I feel like I can disengage and go write in my notebook or cook or whatnot. Do you have any thoughts on how to encourage play in a positive way?

  5. Pingback: October Beauty | The Parenting Passageway

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