Is your child overburdened with activities?

The practice of enrolling children in after-school classes is gaining strong ground, but every parent has to take a call on where to draw the line.

Most kids I know in the age group of 6 year onwards attend at least two after-school activities in a week, be it sports, music, dance or drawing. Some attend four. Many activity classes are held twice a week, which leaves kids with precious little time for free, unstructured play.

Are we over-scheduling our children’s lives? Leaving them with little time for unstructured free play?

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It’s a dilemma faced by many moms, including me. Our generation didn’t exactly spend most evenings in tennis, ballet or basketball classes or our summers in swimming or science camps. Extracurricular activities have always been recommended for children. These can teach our kids about working as a team, about patience and hard work and give them skills that could come handy at some point in life. But what we probably need to watch out for is whether it is stressing our kids out and leaving them with little time to relax.

How much is too much? Most moms I spoke to have wondered about this. Some believe you need to expose your child to different activities, as there are amazing options out there and then see what suits your child the best. Many moms would not want to be seen as pushy but don’t want their child to be missing out on something that most of their peer group is doing either. And as all moms I speak to remind me, it’s a different world than ours was.

"Myra (name changed) goes for piano once a week, drawing class on Saturday and Karate twice a week," says her mom, S. She thinks her daughter could drop one of the classes (drawing, says mom; piano, says the daughter) to make the load lighter as school assignments and homework increase after Class II.

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"I’d like to see her continue piano. Her instructor thinks she is doing well and we know she enjoys playing the instrument," says the mom. The classes take up Myra’s Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, leaving only Wednesday and Friday free during the week, something S feels guilty about. "But I look at it this way, that she’s learning a skill and I haven’t forced her to learn any of these," she says.

Mridula (name changed), mom to a bright 8-year-old-boy agrees that she too often wonders if she’s set aside very little free time for her son who is learning drums, basketball and keyboard. She offers another take: "Once kids are in higher classes, there’s the pressure of studies and it’s difficult for them to pursue all these activities. They have the time now and I feel not only are they learning a skill, it (music and sports) is also an outlet that will enable them to relieve their stress and relax in later years."

I also talk to some moms who believe in the ‘less is more’ mantra. Nitu says the only class her 10-year-old daughter is attending after school is French, which she loves. "I’d rather not waste her and my time pushing her in a direction she isn’t interested in, just because all her friends are doing it."

H, another mom says she took her daughter out of all after-school classes last year as the child never wanted to attend those. "Now she wants to rejoin some, as her friends are there; so, maybe I’ll let her. That won’t be burdening her."

Most mothers I talk to seem to think the same way. The general consensus is that after-school activities are great as long as it is something your child enjoys doing and which does not tire or stress him out. As for the over-scheduling part, one child may be able to handle four classes a week but for another one activity a week may be enough! So every mom, including me, has a different take on that.

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