by Sarah Vander Schaaff

How do we keep from over-scheduling our children this school year? The first step, one I believe many of us only half-heartedly embrace, is that we have to want to keep from over-scheduling our children.

When you look around the Internet, there are many posts suggesting tips for limiting activities and over-commitment. But a prevalent undercurrent behind much of the discussion is: here’s what you can do; we all fail, but it’s a noble effort.

So, I was happy to find one piece that might make it easier to succeed in the goal of doing less. The website, Family Education, featured advice from David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child, and professor of child development at Tufts University.

“Children ages nine and under don’t have a clear sense yet of what kinds of activities they will like. Elkind believes “it’s fine for them to give it up” if they don’t appear to be enjoying an activity. Quitting probably represents no more than a feeling of “this isn’t fun for me.”
Elkind says parents should be relieved to know there is no evidence of “transfer of training.” In other words, just because a child quits hockey doesn’t mean he’ll grow up to quit every job he has. Conversely, “Children in a Montessori preschool may learn to put their toys away after playing in a classroom, but we know from research that it doesn’t transfer over to their house!” ”

But if you want to know how much is too much, a 2011 American study featured in The Daily Mail (Too Many Extra Curriculars Can Harm Children’s Prospects) points to a tipping point when it comes to overscheduling, at least for teens.

The story stated:

“Jennifer Fredricks, associate director of human development at Connecticut College found that the positive effects of one to 13 hours of weekly extracurricular activities were clear in children’s exam performance.

But for students taking part in more than 17 hours of lessons, clubs and classes outside school, their grades and overall wellbeing notably dropped.”

I am not sure many of us tally the number of hours our children spend on extracurriculars each week. For that matter, we may not tally the number of hours they spend on homework. And, certainly, as with many things, the nature of one’s individual family and child, are unique. But if our desire is to prevent mental and physical fatigue, maybe counting the number of hours a child needs for sleep, down time, and rejuvenation should be the first place to start when we begin to plan our calendars this fall.

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