THURSDAY THOUGHTS

After school activities: when is it too much?

After school activities

After school activities can be great for keeping your kids active and entertained beyond the school day. They can encourage your children to hone skills they might not necessarily have the chance to practice in school, and it can be a wonderful opportunity for kids to make new friends outside of their classroom. However, having too many after school commitments can become tiresome and stressful, it can get in the way of quality family time, and can even do more harm than good!

We recently received the following question from a reader, a mother of three in California…

In the States, the after-school routine can be all-consuming especially with multiple children. I have taken a more relaxed approach than many in my community but am constantly struggling with how to provide an enriching and confidence building environment for my kids, while being sensitive to over scheduling and the stress it causes for the entire family. I would love to know your approach as well as any cultural differences that stand out.

I thought it was such an interesting question, and it really did make me wonder what sort of cultural differences there are surrounding this topic.

For example, when we lived in London, after school activities were very common. (I always felt like our family had way fewer activities compared to our friends and the children’s classmates.) I had several friends whose children had a lesson or scheduled activity literally every single day after school. It was even more noticeable in the winter when the days were short and cold — parents would organise all sorts of indoor activities for fear of keeping their kids cooped up at home every afternoon (which I totally understand).  While here in Australia where the weather is milder, scheduled activities are much less common.  It seems like kids tend to have one or two scheduled activities each week, and then more free time to head to the beach. So perhaps weather plays a part?  I also think maybe it’s a difference between living in a city, where there are more options and therefore more hype and pressure, than living in smaller towns?

Another interesting aspect is the age of the children. My three eldest children (12, 10 and 8) play tennis on Mondays after school, and on Wednesdays they have a drama class after school, which they love. Thankfully we live in town and the kids can just walk home after their drama class, so it doesn’t require any extra driving or coordinating on my part. Marlow, who is 5, doesn’t currently have any extra curricular activities, as I think school is already tiring for her, and I think it’s important for her to be able to have unstructured time at home in the afternoons.  She’s lucky she has plenty of siblings to play with, so she is very rarely alone or bored.

But this is the thing, I guess: boredom! It seems parents nowadays are trying to do everything they can to keep their kids from becoming too bored. But boredom is actually a good thing. It’s always when my kids are home, feeling bored, with nothing to do that they end up playing in the most imaginative, creative ways. Giving our kids unstructured time can be so beneficial for their imaginations and also for their sibling relationships. I really feel like my kids are so close because we give them plenty of time to play together, which of course is more important to me than anything else.

So let’s talk after school activities. How old are your kids and how many structured activities do they have? Do you feel the pressure to have more or less? Please share below.

Courtney x

p.s. A past post about preventing sibling rivalry, and my thoughts on electronics.


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Comments (29)

Laura
February 15, 2018

Our son (11) plays soccer, so there is soccer practice twice a week and at least one match at the weekends. So he is pretty entertained with this. He doesn´t have time after homeworks and soccer for any other after school activities. When he plays at home or with friends we always try to keep the electronics away, but when he wants to listen to music or audio books (he really loves them), he gets his I pad. We are very strict about to much electronic ( mobile phone, tablet, x box, tv), but sadly that is not normal in Germany, you can see that those electronics are often their after school activities. When we see our son playing with his legos or with his different kind of balls (he has o lot), he is more relaxed ( and he uses his imagination, even when he is bored at the first point) and not stressed out like when he plays games on a elektronic device.


Laura
February 15, 2018

I love that you have choosen this topic to talk about, since it’s so diverse to handle this. We have to create the environment for our children, which also involves handling a schedule for them, that works for their age and needs.

We live in South of Germany, so the weather is at least half of the year not too inviting to spend much time outside. Since our children went to a Waldorf Kindergarden where they spend a big amount of time outside (no matter what the weather was) we’re lucky they literally demand to go outside even when is’s mudy and rainy.

It is common for the children here to have something planned every afternoon from early on. I think it’s only important to start them around the age of 8 and even then, to have one or two activities at the most.

Our children are at a all-day-primary school that ends four days at four in the afternoon. I feel bad about it since I think it’s too long for them, but if I want to keep my business running I need this school for them. We do have three free afternoons together during the school week and I want to keep it that way. We worship this time.

I love the days when they get bored and then their creativity unfolds. Like you said, they start having the best ideas. We also try to plan our holidays with lots of free time. We usually rent a place with a big garden, close to a lake where the children can just play all day in their pajamas without much planned ahead.

I think it’s important for children to have time to unwind and catch up with everything they see and learn and to just live in the moment. I often get asked if our children play together since they are close aged, but girl and boy. They are very close to each other, they love to play together and I think the reason for that is, that we to give them a lot of time to bond.


Ashley
February 15, 2018

I completely do not want to over-schedule my kids or myself! The only problem I find is that there are so many fun and intresting activities out there for them that it’s quite hard to resist the temptation!


Fiona
February 15, 2018

I completely agree with you about the important of unstructured time for children to be bored and just “be”. As a primary school teacher here in Ireland I find children need to be entertained at all times and just don’t know what to do with themselves when they don’t have electronics to entertain them. I love your post on electronics from a few years ago. My children never play on electronics and rarely watch TV but find as my daughter is getting older it is more difficult to keep this up especially when all her friends have tablets etc.. Do you feel any more pressure from your son or in general or do you still have the same rules?


Kim H
February 15, 2018

My daughter is 10 years old, and an only child. She has a scheduled one hour guitar lesson one afternoon a week, and a horseback riding lesson as well. She also spends an hour a week with a tutor, which gives her an added boost of confidence with her studies. We live in the Southeast United States. The rest of the week and weekends, she plays with her friends outside in our neighborhood,


Courtney in Australia
February 16, 2018

It sounds like you guys have found a wonderful balance! How nice that she can play outside in your neighbourhood. And how cool she’s learning to pay guitar! My son is interested in playing guitar too. x


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Sara
February 15, 2018

We live in West of Ireland in a small town. Where we lived before was very rural and had barely any activities for children apart from playing outside. Which is fantatic and which we did do lots, but the Irish weather can sometimes ve a bit too much no matter how you’re dressed up in water resistent gear 😀

Since we moved here to this town a little over a year ago we felt so smoiled for choise for all the things there is to offer for after school! Our eldest is 8 and last year he took up Taekwondo, basketball and gaelic football. Our middle on, who is 6, does basket ball and gaelic football too and an after school class at school once a week. And our littlest 5, who is at play school 3h / day goes to gymnastics once a week. The schedule is pretty hectic, but I’m careful to make sure the days off are literally days off. They play lots together and any given chance they’re outside being super active. So far so good. If I ever heard a complain of being tired of hobbies I would totally review the situation.

Courtney I would love to hear has your toughts on the elctronics changed at all since Easton went to secondary school? Your last post resonated with me a good bit, even though our kids get to watch telly on weekend mornings and get to play ipad every Sunday for 20min after they’ve tidied up their rooms. We feel like we’re being super strickt on screentime compared to everybody else 😀 But I’m surprised how much their schools use electronics for learning and am wondering is this happening over there too?


Courtney in Australia
February 16, 2018

Hi Sara,
Thanks for your comment and question.
Regarding electronics, our views have remained the same since writing that post a few years ago. In fact, since writing that post we haven’t even owned a television and we haven’t missed it at all. We are quite lucky that our eldest two (nearly 13 and nearly 11) have shown no interest in iPhones or electronics. Sometimes my eldest asks if he can use my phone to look up the surf reports or occasionally he’ll ask to watch surf videos on my computer, but apart from that, he has remained uninterested in phones or computers. We are lucky to live in a place where the community of parents have a similar approach to electronics — it doesn’t feel like there is much peer pressure for our kids to have electronics because most of their friends still don’t have them. We also send them to a school where iPhones and other electronics aren’t allowed, which I think helps to keep it all manageable. Of course the time will eventually come where our kids would like to have a phone, but we hope to put that off for another few years at least.
For us it doesn’t feel like we are depriving our kids of electronics or being ‘too strict’ with them. Instead, it feels like we are all on the same page and instead of watching TV, we enjoy lots of other activities together that keep us happy and engaged. x


Sara
February 16, 2018

That sounds lovely! Like Fiona said there above, in Ireland ipads, playstations etc. are like a norm these days! It’s really frustrating trying at the same time limit screen time, but not be unreasonable about it as it feel like all their friends have no boundaries on that front and as I said the schools use ipads and also tv, if the weather is too bad to go out. I think we’ve found a happy medium and I long for better and warmer weather when we’re out and about any given time, tv is forgotten for weeks. For now we have to settle for dready wet winter and dream away 🙂


Jenn
February 15, 2018

Couldn’t agree more with you regarding the topic of boredom! I can see when my kids (5 and 3) start getting into that space where they need to think of something fun to do themselves or boredom will hit for sure! Never happens, I don’t think we ever have a dull moment in our house. Mine are also in one activity after school, very rarely a second one will be added but it needs to be something they like, they do get bored more with these scheduled activities if it’s not up their street! We forget they are still little and they need to play, play and play some more after school. Yes, their learning is important and creating a routine where school work fits in nicely is great and incredibly important. But I think is also very important to let them be kids while they can. Good piece, will share it for sure!


Rachel
February 15, 2018

Mine are almost 6 and almost 2. Both my husband and I work full time so after school activities are a must for us. But my daughter loves her after school classes – art, dance, drama, cooking, games etc. We prefer to do activities in the week so weekends are free for us to spend as a family together. At the beach, walking, outdoors. The children spend a lot of time playing together in our garden when it is light and in their playroom when it is not. So I think there is a happy medium. In my experience after school activities are dictated by parental work and parental income. After school clubs can be a great way for children with limited family opportunities and a safe quiet space for homework which they might not have at home. They also offer space for play which for whatever reason children do not have access to at home.


Nika
February 15, 2018

Hi
I am a mother of a 13 month old boy and he still has no extra activities apart from his nursery (8am-4pm), but our intention is to keep him free from extra activities until he goes to school (and by then he will I guess have at least one sibling if not 2), because as Courtney mentioned I think that this free nonstructured play is essential for childs development. What we will keep still while he is in the nursery is our spanish teacher that come to our house and plays with our kid. (as we are from Croatia and croatian is not widely spoken so we think it’s wise for him to start learning young).

Best wishes to all mumas around our amazing 🌍
Nika


Ines
February 15, 2018

Great topic! I totally identify myself with your approach to unstructured time. However, there might be another factor to weight in… the parents’ work schedules. We are both working parents with more traditional employers (meaning we have to go to an office every morning and come back home at the end of the day). We also live abroad, so no relatives around for a helping hand. As much as I would like my children to have a more “slower” childhood, I feel that, as my eldest will start pre kinder next year, enrolling him in the after school activities will be a way to make both our school and work schedules more compatible…


Courtney in Australia
February 16, 2018

Hi Ines,
Thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I should have raised this point as well. Of course it depends on the parents’ work schedules and whether they are available after school, etc. I completely understand your need to find activities for them after school — and because this is your normal, I would imagine your kids thrive this way. Maybe, in your situation, weekends are more laid-back and there is plenty of time for them to have unstructured time?


Rebecca
February 15, 2018

What I’m consistently surprised about is how young this can start – my son is nearly 3 years old, so nowhere near school age, but he already has friends going to ballet, football, swimming, language and music lessons! Most of them are also watching tv, playing games on tablets, phones etc. regularly too… We are strongly in the minority (in London) having nothing like this in our son’s world yet – I can imagine the difference will only get more exaggerated as he gets older. What I’ve noticed with him so far is that he’ll already play imaginary games for ages and entertain himself very easily, he seems to have a long attention span for his age and is very articulate, curious, creative and focused. Of course this could be personality and I’m certainly not judging parents who fill their kid’s days with interesting activities, it just works for us keeping it unstructured and simple.


Deanna Friel
February 15, 2018

I completely agree with you about the important of unstructured time for children to be bored and just “be”. As a primary school teacher here in Ireland I find children need to be entertained at all times and just don’t know what to do with themselves when they don’t have electronics to entertain them. I love your post on electronics from a few years ago. If you interested to know more information please visit our site http://onedaytop.com/veteran-fairfax-columnist-michael-gordon-kicks-dead/


MA
February 15, 2018

Interesting topic. Of course, socioeconomics plays a big role. We live in a middle class neighborhood in a small city with literally hundreds of kids in our immediate vicinity. My children are lucky to have so many kids so close by, but due to scheduled activities, very few kids are often available to play. And there is an unspoken agreement that parents do not let their kids roam the neighborhood. Its really frustrating. But what can you do? Other than sign your kid up for another activity so they can see some friends…


Vikki
February 15, 2018

My 5 year old daughter does one activity each week – swimming. As she spends all week at school I feel this is plenty for her, plus she is still little. When she is older and decides there are particular activities she would like to do then we may consider her doing more. It’s important for her to also understand that clubs cost money and it is not possible for her to do so many due to the cost.


Anna
February 15, 2018

Live in Israel with 2 girls age 7 and 11. Weather here is 90% sun and kids are with friends at the pool often. My kids do football and an arts and craft club after school. I think 2 or 3 after school clubs is enough. Originally from the uk too and know that there there are many options. Also financially it can be hard. Interesting topic thanks for the thoughts


Karen
February 15, 2018

Interesting that the tone of your post suggests that you felt influenced by what the other parents around you did. I’m from London and have only ever signed my children up for activities they wanted to do. I have three children, my eldest is extremely sporty with lots of energy and would regularly do several sports a week, still does as a teen, but this is his choice. My last child does one activity after school. I’ve never felt peer pressure to sign them up for a class each day. If peer pressure for the parent does exist it wears off as your child gets older, maybe that is the difference you’re feeling, you’re a bit more experienced and relaxed as a mum rather than a cultural difference ? I know many of my fellow mums only do after school activities because it is a cheaper form of child minding than an actual nanny and is more stimulating for a child than a nanny. I would add that multiple after school activities is a very middle class thing, these activities are not cheap in London! I doubt it is the norm across the country and suspect the vast majority of UK children are at home entertaining themselves reading, watching tv, playing electronics or playing and hanging out with friends.


Steph
February 16, 2018

It’s a tricky balance! I find that I need the no pressure, unscheduled time myself just as much as the kids. That down time is a much needed recharge button for myself.
We are in the Pacific Nw of the US. Right now both kids are in swim once a week (ages 4 and 6) and will soon add t-ball for one and dance for the other this spring. That’s the max for us I think.
Another thing I consider aside from needed down time is cost. With multiple kids it adds up quick!


Amanda Baird
February 16, 2018

We live in northern Minnesota where its cold most of the year it seems and the days seem to drag on with being inside so much. Right now my oldest two are both in basketball so that takes up every Saturday either with practice or games. My youngest daughter is in a 4h engineering program once a week after school as well. We live in an area where there isn’t a lot if activities available so I try to let them do anything they are interested in but also having a toddler and a spouse who works long hours I have to manage my time well or its too much for me. I do have a rule though that if grades start to fall because they don’t have enough time to focus on schooling then I pull them out of activities. As much as I want them to have fun I want them to succeed in school. I also like to choose activities that incorporate some sort of learning into them. My oldest participated in a robotics program earlier this year and loved it! She can’t wait for next year.


Ev
February 16, 2018

Boredom stretches the imagination x


Janelle
February 16, 2018

I love reading all of these perspectives! It is so interesting to hear what other families do and helps to shed light on the variety of approaches that work for everyone. Courtney – you have all three of your children in the same activities, which I’m sure helps to simplify family life as well as provides some comfort for your children to have one another. Here in California, we often look to activities as a way to meet the “needs” or interests of each individual child. Something that I think is often exaggerated as we parents think that we might have the next star basketball player or concert pianist on our hands. This is such a helpful post, thank you for writing about this and sharing your insight!


Amy
February 17, 2018

I have two children, my daughter ( early teen) can entertain herself for hours, crafting or being outside or playing with the dig ir cat, my son (11) has Adhd & it is a real juggling act to keep him off electronics & balance enough activities: he loves drama, football & parkour, so that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed & tired. He hates school & homework, so his activities are crucial to keeping him happy. Any tips/ ideas from other Mums of boys most welcome.


Joana
February 17, 2018

my kids have swimming lessons once a week and that’s it. living in Portugal and have plenty of beaches and swimming pools around us made swimming lessons a priority for our family. for now until they learn how to swim it will be the only extra activity. later we will see but I would love they found a sport they truly enjoy.


Jenny
February 17, 2018

Such an interesting topic and one I struggle to find the balance. My daughter is 4 years old, she is in nursery 5 mornings a week. We live in Scotland in a city so most of the year can be cold. She is very creative and we have lots of open ended toys at home for the afternoons but we live in a tiny flat with no garden and children don’t play out in the street unless older and the summer.

She also has no siblings yet and I do feel at times that means I have to take part often in crafts and shows which is fine normally but I have been unwell in pregnancy and find my energy levels low and I feel sick lots. She attends a tumble class once a week and if I am honest I was looking at some other options as a temporary option so she has a change of scene and some active fun. If I felt 100% I think I would stick to one extra activity a week.


Paloma
February 19, 2018

The problem is that most parents cannot spend their afternoons with the kids because they are at work. Structured activities give them the sense that the caretaker is doing something with the kids and not just looking at his/her phone – as parents would probably (and maybe guiltily) do if they were to spend their afternons with the kids. For those who have free time it is often easier to drive kids to activities and wait outside in your car having some “me” time – calling friends, reading the news, checking Instagram. When I was a kid indeed most adults didn’t have the time or will to spend much time with children, it’s just that there were many of us and life was different so we would go outside and play together while being kind of watched by each other.


Ania
March 8, 2018

My daughter 11 and son 9 have only on two Saturdays pet month scouting meeting and son has also once a week gymnastics with physiotherapist, and daughter has once a week German lesson. In Poland it is very common to have many activities after school. But my kids love to have a lot of free time!


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