Best of the Forum: How Many Activities Is Too Many?

Best of the Forum

Obviously this is a very individual thing, with some kids thriving on tons of extra classes, and others resisting one or two, but how many do you think is too many for a 1st grader?

My hubby loves that we have so many options around here and has signed up our son for something every afternoon of the week and weekend! Help! Personally I think 2-3 per week is enough, and my son definitely doesn’t want to go somewhere every day. That said, he always likes it once he gets there.

  • We have a rising second grader and an almost–4-year-old. We started our older child in violin at 3. And then she was allowed to pick one other physical activity (dance, gymnastics, karate, sport, etc). It seems to work out well. Our second child is going to be on the same path: one activity that we require (the music) and one that is of their choice. That choice changes every semester or so, and I am okay with that.I just feel like too much more is a lot to ask of them. And of us!
    Something every day for two kids is a lot of driving around for us and leaves no time for them to be kids and play outside in the yard. Plus music practice several times a week at home. Phew.
  • I limit it based mainly on what I personally can handle.I can’t stand to have to run around all the time, so I am really careful not to overschedule because it makes me stressed.My kids are in 1st and 3rd grade, and until now they have basically been doing one thing (a sport) at a time. And, in fact, I have them pick 2 out of 3 seasons (baseball, basketball, soccer) and take one season off.We are just now adding a music lesson to that, and I am hoping it doesn’t get too crazy. Two things does not sound like much, but with 2 kids that is really 4 things. And soccer, for example, is about to start, and there are 2 practices a week plus a game on Saturdays. It gets busy fast.So that is my philosophy—less is better.
  • In my experience, getting out of the house is harder on me than it is on my now 3-year-old daughter. I’m a thrill-seeker, so we were always heading out on hiking adventures, encounters with animals, and later on classes. From age 2, every morning she would ask, “Where are we going today?” Now with a baby in tow, the amount of prep required to make sure everyone stays well fed, well rested, and unrushed is almost overwhelming. I will keep at it for as long as I can (i.e., daily preschool + Mandarin enrichment + 1 weekly swim class), but I am on the hunt for a regular caregiver to potentially offload the baby when I’m just driving big sis around. Last year, when preschool was only 2 days a week, Dad was gracious in taking the preschooler to soccer and swim class. It was a great arrangement for the whole family.
  • Here’s another viewpoint: You could make the answer, “ONE is too many activities,” ifyou work to make your home and neighborhood life interesting. Conversely, if you put next to no time into making your home and neighborhood life interesting, your kids may well want to be scheduled to the max.My point is that home and neighborhood life compete with “activities” for kids’ attention, and the fundamental reason they usually lose around here in Palo Alto and Menlo Park is because most parents don’t invest in their homes and neighborhoods to make them interesting to their kids.When I say “invest,” I’m talking about time *and* money. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money—making your yard an interesting and fun place can cost a *lot* less than years of after school programs and summer camps. Here are a few articles I’ve written on this:A Great Neighborhood Life for Kids: It’s a Lot of Work, and it Begins When Kids are ToddlersOur Front Yard Family RoomOur Back Yard: Open and Playful in a Land of Fences
  • I have an incoming 5th grader and an incoming 9th grader, so I have fought this battle for many years now. It’s always tempting to sign them up for all the great opportunities—at our school they offer everything from chess, languages and Legos to golf, flag football and lacrosse, with many other options in between, and that doesn’t include off-campus lessons and teams—but your kids have to learn from you how to exercise discipline, balance these choices and make reasonable commitments.The cons to signing up for a different activity every day are 1) your child could get burned out pretty quickly and become resistant to participating in ANY activity, even the ones he enjoys (I’ve seen it happen with a friend’s son). 2) your child will not have any flexibility for playdates or other
    impromptu social opportunities, an important part of their social and emotional growth at this age. 3) it will actually make it more difficult for your son to figure out what activities he really enjoys. Not only will he have to focus on a different activity each day, he’ll only be able to skim the surface of each activity since he’ll have to focus on something else the next day. If he finds something he really enjoys, he won’t have the extra time to delve into that activity, because he’ll be “booked” doing something else every other day. 4) Maybe not in first grade, but homework will soon start creeping up and will become a big part of each afternoon/evening. You could soon find that your child isn’t getting home from school until 4:00 or later because of his activities, then has to devote 1 or 2 hours to homework every evening. The extra time for homework will have to come from somewhere, and generally what suffers is the time you would be spending together as a family.Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with participating in some activities. You just have to choose what’s right for your entire family as well as your child. for instance, my son (10 yrs.) is super-athletic and is allowed one sport per season. (Of course, each sport has 1 or 2 practices per week and 1 or 2 games per week, so that’s 3 or 4 days a week devoted to that sport.) If he had his way, he would participate in 2 (or more) sports per season, but we just can’t allow his activities to hijack the entire family’s schedule.My daughter (14 yrs.) has enjoyed many different activities over the years. She’s been more interested in experimenting with different options than my “all sports, all the time” son. It’s been really interesting to see how her interests have evolved over the years. After having tried so many things—drama, chorus, running, science, baseball, dancing, Girl Scouts, etc.—now that she’s entering high school she’s most interested in photography and speech/debate. Go figure. At least I know that she’s had plenty of time and opportunity to explore her interests and find things she’s excited about, as well as figure out what she’s not interested in—but I still limited her to a maximum of two activities per season. (Since her activities usually consisted of one class per week, they took up less time than a sports team.)Remember, first grade is just the beginning. There’s plenty of time to try everything!
  • I think kids have to have some down time to learn how to entertain themselves without an adult telling them what to do. When my kids were in first grade they only had one after-school activity. Now they are older and we limit it to two, which they get to choose.
  • At this age, my daughter had a hard time understanding why certain activities fell into defined time periods. For example she wanted to learn how to play soccer, but she didn’t understand why soccer was played on Tuesdays from 3pm to 4pm. Sometimes she wanted to play on Monday or Thursday, and sometimes she was too tired when the scheduled time arrived on Tuesdays.One thing we’ve found that worked well for our kids at this age was to find a few activities that can be done with a more flexible schedule such as tennis, swimming, biking, golf (miniature or driving range), even jumping rope. We enrolled them in a few classes with a short longitudinal time committment (4-5 classes over 1 month) in order to learn some basic skills (1 type of class at a time). Then we continue to play with them and help them develop new skills at a flexible time that suits their interest and energy level. At this age they seem to benefit even more from spending time playing with family and friends compared to structured time in a class.

 

How do you balance engaging your little one with activities versus maintaining good naps and enjoying family time at home? I have an almost 1-year-old and the lure of one enriching activity after another is hard to resist. Obviously the answer to this is different for every family and child, but I’m interested in how others with babies and toddlers handle the activities question.

  • For organized activities for little ones, my rules:* Nothing that interferes with nap time, ever.
    * Nothing that delays bedtime, ever.
    * Nothing that is structured beyond appropriateness for age, which at younger than 2 means essentially no structure.
    * Nothing that lasts more than 45 minutes.
    * No more than 2 per week.Most of the activities that we engaged in were reading, playing at the park, hikes/walks and art at home. We did parent/child swimming class once a week and Music Together once a week (with breaks between sessions). Anything more than the 2 things per week took away valuable time for free exploration, nature and him/her choosing how and what to play with at home.
  • I think the classes for babies are more for saving the sanity of the moms. If you feel you need to get out of the house, then sign up for a class, but I think babies don’t “NEED” any activities other then going for a walk or to the park and just being together with the mom/caregiver. My 4- and 6-year-old kids do much better if there is no pressure to be somewhere at a specific time. They are very happy just to be home and play Legos all afternoon, or to play in our garden. What I am saying is that if your house/garden is interesting, kids don’t want to leave. We do no more than 1 activity/week for each child.

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