Soccer Moms and Dance Dads: Balancing After-school Activities
While academics usually take priority, parents want their kids to be well-rounded. Sports, music classes, civic organizations, and more can quickly fill up the family monthly calendar. For parents with multiple children, it can definitely feel like a juggling act trying to get each child to one or more practices and meetings a week. How do families encourage after-school involvement without sacrificing their sanity and family time? Many local families place clear limits on the amount of activities each child may participate in throughout the year. Other families split up the duties of drop-offs and pick-ups between each parent or other family members, or even carpool with other parents. It also seems like most families strive for a “less is more” strategy, although schedules can rapidly become out of hand. One common theme is that parents and their active kids are constantly reassessing if the current activities are bringing joy to the family as a whole.
Activities With Less Time Commitment
Some activities, especially sports, require multiple meetings a week between practices and games. Even with little league ball, it is not unusual to need three days a week for one sport. If parents with multiple children of different ages are playing one of these sports, they may find themselves practically living at the ball field. While this may be enjoyable for some families, other families need to think about the time commitment carefully and not only consider the number of activities a child enrolls in but how many nights a week or month will be needed to dedicate to this pursuit. Many after-school activities only require one evening a week, such as music lessons, art classes, gymnastics, or girl and boy scout meetings with other nights needed periodically for special events. Selecting an activity other than a sport, at least for young children, may be more appealing for parents for this reason.
Lacey Conaway, mother of three, says that their family tries to limit each child to one activity. She says, “With three kids we felt like we had to limit early because once they are all involved it would be too crazy to do more than one per kid.” ICC instructor Ashley Armstrong realizes with her two kids it was important to find activities that are scheduled at convenient times, which for their family is right after school. When activities do not begin until later in the evening, it disrupts their family schedule. Knowing both the amount of required weekly meetings and the time of day that they take place are important for families trying to decide on after-school activities.
Different seasons both within the year and the child’s life can account for different activities and the number of activities. Demi Roberts of Baldwyn, an educator and mother of two, says her children only did one activity each when they were both in elementary school, although this activity could change from season to season with onesport in the winter months and another in the spring. Summers were left open for family time and not filled with weekly scheduled activities.
Emily Davis, a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi, states that she remembers only choosing one activity when she was in early elementary, then taking a break for a few years throughout middle school, only to then pick up three or four different extra-curriculars once in high school. The number of activities can increase with the student’s age and responsibility, but many parents and older students agree that starting off with one or two is best.
How To Avoid Burn Out
After-school activities have many positive effects; however, it is not uncommon for kids to become tired of an activity that they originally showed a lot of enthusiasm in doing. Sometimes there is no way of fully knowing if the students will enjoy the activities after they’ve signed up for them. A summer sports or music camp that lets kids try out multiple sports/instruments at a time can be beneficial in helping a child pick the right activity from the start. In addition to choosing the activity that is right for a child, knowing when to take a break is also important. Encouraging after-school activities is often most difficult for parents with multiple children, especially when they are spread out in ages. Holly Gaytan, mother of three daughters ranging from a teen to a preschooler, says that her girls have tried several types of activities but currently are not interested in any. She has decided to not force the issue, but she knows she is willing to resume activities if they find something that they feel passionate about.
Faith Larson, a homeschooling mom, has found one thing that works with her three children, encouraging them to participate in the same activity. Larson admits this was easier when the kids were younger but has still found a way to make it work. Currently, community theatre is her two younger children’s passion, and while one loves the stage another enjoys working behind the scenes. To make sure that their busy schedules do not take away from family time, they make eating dinner together a daily priority and reserve the weekends for family activities. If afterschool activities begin to take away from quality family time or put unnecessary stress on the student or parents, then families should consider adjusting their schedules.
After-school activities are enriching and provide students with new skills, help them develop talents, and encourage socialization. Even with positive effects it is necessary to find a healthy balance between never trying something new and signing up for every possible activity. When parents and kids work together to create a family schedule that is interesting but not overwhelming everyone benefits.
Heather Gausline Tate is a freelance writer, private tutor, and travel agent. She lives in Guntown with her husband Logan and their two sons London (age 5) and Christian (9 months). London takes part in weekly storytime and has also been involved in Kindermusik.