With so many opportunities available to our children it is easy to get caught up in over-scheduling them, leaving no time for them to play. Both play and work are important to a child's development. Because physical movement is not emphasized in most schools it is important to make sure your child is involved in some extracurricular activity that involves movement. Popular options are soccer, dance, or martial arts. Of course, these classes take time on top of the school day and homework load. How do you make sure your child is getting everything they need without overwhelming them?
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" - author unknown appears as early as 1659
Be Intentional When You Add Activities
The best way to avoid over-scheduling is to first be aware of everything that is already on your child's schedule. Keep in mind they will need time for homework and chores, and put unstructured playtime on their schedule. Putting free time on the schedule keeps you from filling up every empty space in the day. Why is free playtime important? According to Vincent Ianelli, MD, "Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth."
In fact, playtime is so important to healthy child development that the United Nations now considers playing a basic human right for children. But we must balance the different types of play. Put a limit on how much screen time your child is allowed allowed each day and stick to it. This will force them to engage in the off-screen type of play that their bodies and brains need.
Keep in Mind 3 Areas of Development When Assessing Your Child's Schedule
1. Intellectual Development
Academics feed intellectual development. This is where school, homework, and possibly after-school tutoring help children succeed. This is also the most overused development. Many parents sacrifice physical and emotional development for intellectual development. Remember your child needs all three to succeed and putting more emphasis on one does not necessarily mean that one will get stronger. In fact, in many cases it will back fire and your child might get burned out ending up resenting academics.
2. Physical Development
Physical exercise also feeds the mind and when your child is struggling with academics you need to make sure they are moving enough. Researchers found the neural connections develop at an optimum rate during voluntary, cross-lateral physical movement. Most any activity will include this type of movement, but the key was that it be voluntary. This means that it is important for your child to enjoy what they are doing, whether it is soccer, dance, martial arts, or any of the other numerous options, they will benefit much more if they enjoy what they are doing. In addition to helping their brain, physical exercise will help their body grow and develop in a healthy and balanced way.
3. Emotional Development
The third area to keep in mind is their emotional health. Activities that nurture this part of their development are good stories and music. Make sure you leave time for them to read good books and help them find stories they love. When they are young putting on music they can sing-along with may be enough but as they get older you should help them explore different instruments and choose one they love to practice daily. Get them involved in the school band, local musical theatre, or a choir.
Keeping these areas of child development in mind will help ensure that you are creating a balanced schedule for them. It can also help you decide what activity can be cut if their schedule is too full.
Listen to Your Child
You should always listen to your child when adding activities to their schedule. Sometimes, as the parent, you know what they need. However, if your child is feeling overwhelmed or too busy and complaining they have no time to play, that is your cue to sit down with them and talk about where to cut back. Sometimes children just need more free time for a season and then they are ready to go back to more activities. Other times all they need is a little help with organization. Did they receive homework on Tuesday, but not start on it until Thursday, even though Thursday they are not home until late in the evening? On the evenings they are home, help them get ahead on their homework so that they don't end up with a large pile of work to be completed on the same night they have evening activities.
If your child is asking to do more activities, look at the areas above to think about what type of activities they would most benefit from adding, then give them several options to pursue within those areas. Children need to be able to make choices and explore. Don't force them to continue with a sport or instrument they don't enjoy long-term. Get them through the season to follow through on their original commitment and then let them try something new. Exploration is how children find out what they love and there is nothing wrong if they try a lot of different things before sticking to something.
The biggest danger of over-scheduling is that it leaves no time for free play which is essential to healthy child development. Everyone needs time to relax and unwind, including our kids.