Are Extracurricular Activities Enriching or Distracting?

by ParentCo. August 14, 2016

As we head back into the school year there's a sense of new beginnings and achievable aspirations. It’s easy to be swept away by high pressure, busy communities and enroll our children in any and every after-school activity. However, there's a fine line between enriching extracurricular activities and distracting obligations.

I consider myself the antithesis of a helicopter parent. I encourage my children to engage in their own activities and play. Fortunately, they are three creative and autonomous individuals. But, I also worry that I’m not involving them in enough structured activities. Societal pressures lead us to believe that the more organized activities our children participate in, the more well-rounded they are, and the better parents we are. I beg to differ. Being cognizant of how we fill our time is key.

School-aged children are already inundated with responsibilities before the introduction of after-school activities. CNN reported on a study from the American Journal of Family Therapy on students and homework. Their findings showed that early elementary students get significantly more homework than the amount recommended by education leaders.

Kindergarten students should not have homework and the National Education Association and the Parent-Teacher Association suggest 10 minutes per grade level per night. If there are recommendations limiting homework, perhaps there should also be limits on structured extracurricular activities. Thus allowing for kids to be kids, free to explore, play outside, imagine, and dream.

Often when I express how hard it is juggling three little ones, my friends with older children say they feel like chauffeurs driving their kids from one activity to the next. Do we want to remember our children’s youth with thoughts of rushing, traffic, and stress? Or do we want to slow down and take time to relish the moments in between our busy scheduled activities. These moments when everyone piles on the bed for tickles and cuddles before bedtime or the lazy weekend mornings eating pancakes, faces and fingers sticky with syrup. We need to make more time for these in-between moments.

These in-between moments are bursting with value and significance. They’re the moments worth remembering. In a Washington Post interview, University of Houston professor and renowned author Brené Brown explains, “'Crazy-busy' is a great armor, and it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we're feeling and what we really need can't catch up with us.”

This quote is specifically aimed at adult behavior but I fear that there’s a trickle-down effect impacting our children. Unlike many European cultures, where siesta or pausa are cultural norms, we value being busy. But what if our busy status and our children’s busy schedules are actually a form of escapism, robbing us of being present and mindful in our every day life? What if our children’s multitude of activities is actually detracting from their ability to achieve their goals as opposed to enhancing them?

Rearing our children in such a way that encourages them to reach their dreams is a profound responsibility. In John Lennon’s song "Beautiful Boy" he sings, “Before you cross the street, take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” This quote makes two important points. First, we figuratively and literally hold our children’s hands. We are their guides, ensuring they are safe and leading them to paths of greatness. We strive to make smart choices for them, exposing them to wonderful opportunities and enriching experiences.

Secondly, life is short and we must work hard to stay present and appreciate the humdrum of it all. Otherwise we may blink and miss our children’s youth. Scheduling after-school play dates, driving our kids from sport’s practice, to tutoring, to scouts is all peripheral noise, drowning out what matters. The serenity of downtime is where connections are made and creativity is unearthed. The raw spontaneous moments are truly the building blocks of life.

Spontaneity may not sit well with many. I’m an organized person and therefore schedules and plans are my preferred modus operandi. I love to organize; it helps me attempt to control the ambiguity of life. Marie Kondo, the New York Times Best Selling Author of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" teaches how to de-clutter and organize. She believes that de-cluttering your belongings can transform your life.

I propose that de-cluttering our schedules, including after-school activities, can enhance our lives. I’m not suggesting your children abstain from the activities they love. Extracurricular activities are as important as school. But, to borrow Ms. Kondo’s words, “We must ask ourselves, does it spark joy?” This simple reminder is useful in gaging the worthiness of our chosen extra curricular activities.

I believe in simplifying parenting and I’m constantly striving to be mindful of the organic moments in life. Children are inquisitive, insightful, and eager to learn. As parents, let’s remember to learn from them and listen to what they need. Staying busy to the point of distraction is harmful to adults and just as detrimental to our children.




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