Kid Activities: Enrichment Or Frenzy?
How to determine whether a good activity is best for your kid.
Everyone’s signing up for activities: soccer, piano lessons, ballet, gymnastics…the list goes on. Does my child need these to be well-rounded and happy? They seem good, and all our friends are doing them.
When does the good become the enemy of the best?
Hi, I’m Madia. I have eleven children and one of the greatest privileges of my life was to know Dr. Leila Denmark. She practiced pediatrics for over 75 years and was my mentor for 32 years.
I can hardly express how much she helped me, both with the children’s medical issues and family life challenges. I would love to share what she taught me with you.
Can you afford the time?
Time is one of our most precious commodities. It’s limited. We cannot really save it or store it away. If we choose to spend our time (or our child’s time) one way, then we have less time for other things.
What’s most important: the activity, or what could be happening in its place?
Dr. Denmark: “Extracurricular activities are great, but they shouldn’t interfere with family relationships. I’m all for sports, but many children involved in them don’t eat supper with the family. I knew one little girl whose activities almost wrecked her. She was taking violin, organ and dancing lessons. That child never had a chance to play or have quiet times at home. She never had time to go into her room and be creative.”
Can you afford it financially?
So many of these activities are expensive, especially when one considers hidden costs.
· Lesson fees
· Costume fees
· Extra fuel costs
· Extra food costs (mom had to pick up fast food for everyone because there wasn’t time to fix dinner)
· Potential doc bills for injuries and exposure to sick children
Don’t be guilt-tripped into overextending your finances. You can still be a good parent, even if you are not paying for extracurricular activities.
Many activities require multiple trips a week or driving long distances. It might be better to choose once-a-week lessons which can be followed up at home rather than activities which require multiple group practices a week. Some teachers are willing to come to your home for lessons. We found that music lessons, such as Esther’s once-a-week flute instruction and Joseph’s voice lessons were far easier to manage logistically than multiple sports activities for each child.
Would this activity draw you together as a family?
Strong family relationships are far more critical in the life of a child than learning to play a particular sport. Why not choose an activity which includes the whole family? Leisurely conversation is essential in developing close relationships with other people. Does your family have time for talking together, or are you too busy rushing off to the next activity?
Would you choose this because your friends are doing it?
Children aren’t the only ones who are “peer pressured”. Every family and every child is different.
What seems to be good for one child or family may not good for another. Don't be unduly influenced by your friends' choices or your desire for peer approval. What are your particular family priorities?
Carefully consider the unique gifts of your child.
Is this activity vital for the future of your child, considering his particular set of talents? Does he or she really need to go out of the home to hone those talents, or can your child learn necessary skills in the context of your home.
Are you considering this activity because your kids act desperate for it?
Who has the maturity to make the wisest choices, you or your child? We all want our children to be happy over activities that are fun. All parents like to see smiles on their children’s faces. But remember that even good kids seldom see beyond what is exciting for the moment. They cannot envision the big picture. That’s one big reason why children need parents – to provide guidance. Also, it’s not in a child's best interest for parents to feed an entitlement attitude.
Are your children “addicted” to entertainment, distractions (screens) and activities?
More and more research is indicating that excessive screen time is negatively impacting brain development in children. Some seem addicted to outside activities as well. What has happened to brain-and-relationship-enhancing activities such as: taking walks, reading books together, playing baseball in the back yard, singing together, baking a special dessert, crafts, planting a garden, biking, doing chores, or raising animals?
Are you considering character development?
Long-term, character development is far more important in the life of your child than a variety of amusing skills or even scholastic achievement. Maybe that community service project, Bible study, or family prayer time should take precedence over temporal enrichment.
Mom, would this activity pinch your time and cause you undue stress?
“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Be realistic about your energy level. It’s far better to have a home atmosphere where you are smiling, than you be over-extended, exhausted and short tempered. Be sensible in your commitments.
From Dr. Denmark:
“I don’t remember my mother ever being in a hurry or raising her voice at any one of us. [She had twelve children]. My mother never made us feel we were working her to death, and I never heard her say, 'You children are wearing me out!’ The harmony in our home created a sense of security and well-being… Everyone will give a mother advice. She should listen carefully, respectfully to all and then do what she thinks is best.”
For more common sense tips on family life, read Dr. Denmark Said It!