Our neighborhood park is an integral part of my life. I take at least one walk to and around the park every day, enjoying the gorgeous views of Mt. San Jacinto. I’ve walked countless miles around the park for years.
When the kids were young, I’d meet several other moms at the park and we’d sit on blankets on the grass while we watched our kids swing, climb and slide. The park is where we’d go when our kids would get some sort of flying gift like a simple glider, kite or a remote control plane or rocket. When the kids had friends over, they’d go to the park to play ultimate frisbee.
With my daughter at home for Christmas break with her 16-month-old pug Waffles, I’ve learned something new about our park. It’s a great place to meet other dog owners. In fact, we found a group who gather in the afternoons and let their little dogs play. Waffles, who is not at all shy, is trying to take over the group and loves chasing and being chased.
I’m not sure he’s all that welcome in this exclusive club, except by the two lady pugs, Mona and Sadie. The highlight yesterday was a surprise visit by Santa. Waffles, who thinks he’s a media star, thought all the pictures with Santa should include him. My daughter had to pull him out of other puppy pics more than once.
Ballet recital for my daughter in royal blue before swimming took over their lives.
I read a question from a mom wondering what to do because her eight-year-old doesn’t love swim practice as much as the other activities she’s doing. She wondered if anyone else had experienced this and what she should do. She also mentioned that her daughter is really good at swimming, wins ribbons, and also has tons of other activities.
How many activities are too much for a child? From CNN several years ago I read “Overscheduled kids, anxious parents” by Josh Levs:
“Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being,” said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they’re not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
“As parents, we’ve got to get over our anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter.”
As kids get older, they’ll show you more and more what they’re interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
“As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, ‘Oh my parents never let me play piano,’ or some other activity. It’s going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important.”
When my kids were little, I kept them really busy. We didn’t have a neighborhood where they could go out the door and play. We had to schedule playdates. Then we got into signing them up with their friends for countless activities like tennis, golf, ballet and swimming lessons. One mom would say she heard about an activity and wanted to sign her child up if mine did, too. Pretty soon, my kids didn’t have a night after school without a scheduled activity.
When I was a kid, I’d go home after school and after 30 minutes to an hour of homework, I didn’t have too much to do. I think a lot of downtime allowed me to be creative, reflective and of course, hit that list of chores that Mom always left us to do.
What did we do without structured activities? Sometimes, my brother and I would fight. But mostly we made forts in the woods, whacked out trails with machetes through blackberry brambles, and rode bikes around a three-mile loop. We were pretty active and unsupervised with our imaginations running wild.
Advice for the mom of the eight-year-old? I think eight years old is pretty young to be committed to one sport—especially if she’s not wildly passionate about it and wants to do something else. Let her experience a variety of activities. Maybe swim seasonally or take a break and go back to it. We can’t want it more than our kids.
There’s plenty of time at eight-years-old for a child to be a child. There’s plenty of time for a year-round commitment in the years ahead. And maybe it won’t be in swimming.
Here’s a list from Kidspot from Bron Maxabella from an article called “How many extra-curricular activities should kids do?”
Signs the kids have too much on:
However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:
The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.
Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!
My kids did have time to play super heroes.
How many days a week should kids have activities and how do you determine what is too much?
I saw a blogger on TV talk about “banishing the play-date.”You can read his post here.
I reminisced about my childhood. I played in and out of neighbors’ backyards, rode bikes from dawn to dusk — with no adults bothering me.
When I had kids, I found they didn’t have freedom like we did.
I went to Mommy and Me with my son Robert at the Palm Springs Pavilion. We learned to sing songs together and play “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” with a dozen other moms and babies that apparently needed the coaching.Each week, we took turns bringing snacks of grapes or string cheese. I look back at this as a training ground for the proverbial play-date.
Play-dates developed from the Mommy and Me group. We had a park day, which was actually fun and healthy. Moms sat together on quilts on the grass and talked for hours while our kids played on the now-banned steel playground equipment — a super tall, steep slide, a merry-go-round, and a stagecoach that they could climb into, on top of and jump off of. Sometime during their early childhood years, our city tore out the dated, dangerous equipment and put in rubber ground and safe equipment. My kids never liked to play on the brightly-colored equipment and our park play-dates vanished.
One day, I got a phone call from a friend. She homeschooled her daughter and hand-picked her friends for a weekly Friday Play-Date. She hired a teacher to run play-group, and each week included a lesson, a theme, craft and snack, followed by 10 minutes of unsupervised play on her backyard swing set.
I felt honored to be in the select group. My kids had made their mark. Months later, she took me to lunch at CPK and told me she had some big news. She was uninviting one of the boys. I hardly saw this is earth shattering, but perhaps there was more to this luncheon. Maybe it was a warning!
Years later, when my kids were in high school, they reconnected with friends from play-group. NOTE: This wasn’t just a play-date, it was play-group. They remembered it as if they were fellow Mouseketeers, having survived a bizarre childhood experience.
By 7th grade, I was homeschooling my daughter. Every Wednesday, I picked up her best friend from school, and brought her to my house to play until her mom got off work. This was another sort of play-date. We moms thought it was an ideal way to keep their friendship going. Since my daughter loved arts and crafts — homeschooling allowed her to try ceramics, mosaics, and quilting — I said that the two girls could do an art project each week.
But that didn’t happen. I was tired from supervising my daughter’s activities to the half hour, and my daughter just wanted to hang out with her friend. So, I retired to my room and left them alone. After a few weeks, the friend didn’t want to come over anymore. She said she was promised an art activity and she was disappointed that they weren’t doing anything.
That makes me think about our kids and their overly structured lives. I love having quiet time. I hope my kids do, too. We need to unplug, unschedule, and let our kids regain their creativity and inner peace. They need us to leave them alone and let them be kids.