Our children spend at least six hours every day in school. We expect them to sit down in a classroom from an early age and learn. And once the school day finishes, the clubs begin.
Why do we do it?
To put it simply, it’s about getting their bums off seats. Sports activities allow our children to let off steam and learn new skills in a safe, structured environment. Social groups, like the Scout movement, encourage independence and ingenuity outside the home.
How much is too much?
Recently, I realised that after-school clubs were starting to dominate our lives. Like a lot families, we’d started off with just one activity per child each week. But this had started to creep up, until we only had Mondays and Fridays free each week. The balance felt wrong.
A quick straw poll amongst my friends told me that we all feel the same. Our older children are doing 2-3 activities per week, our youngest 1-2.
Is that too much? Maybe not if your children are doing their activities at the same time, in the same place. But what if they’re all in different places, at different times? That could mean 4 or 5 different seperate activities to get to each week. It’s a lot of rushing about, not to mention expensive.
Is that ok?
The answer is different for everyone.
For our family, three afternoons full of activities and clubs were too much. We were neglecting some of the other important things in life: meals eaten at the same table, time to read together and complete homework. Calm bedtimes. And most important of all: the chance to relax and just be.
How to do you find a balance?
First, prioritise your children’s activities.
Do they really love them all, or is there a sense of obligation? It’s good to teach your children commitment, but equally it’s also nice to allow them room to breathe. Is there one activity where everyone always drags their heels, but you feel you ought to do? Talk about it and reach a compromise.
For us, that was swimming. It’s an important life skill that they need, but they never want to go. We now go on a Sunday morning. I’ve always fought against clubs at weekends, but we’ve all agreed this won’t be forever. Once they’ve learned to swim confidently, they can choose to stop if they like. It eats into the weekend, but we all go together and combine it with a nice lunch in town. They’re learning, but we’re also getting to spend time together as a family – much better than rushed afternoons at the pool.
Remember that clubs get more serious as time goes on
Lots of activities require more commitment from your child as they get older. Football, martial arts and dance often start small, but become full-scale commitments over time. If your child has a passion for something, encourage them, but remember, that other things may have to fall by the wayside.
Team up with other parents
If your children desperately wants to do something, but you can’t make it work with your schedule, team up with other parents. Share lifts, or take it turns to look after younger siblings. If you need to keep costs down, how about meeting up for more informal activities with friends? Football or a scavenger hunt in the park.
Don’t worry about keeping up with the neighbours
Try not to be influenced by what so-and-so’s child is doing. Some families relish being busy all the time, others don’t. Do what works for you as a family, and no one else. If this means teaching your children to swim yourself at weekends, or restricting sports to a casual kick about in the park, then so be it.
Remember that down-time is an important activity in its own right
Never forget that. We expect a lot from our children. It’s essential that they have some time to themselves too. Time to just drift and do exactly what they want (even if that’s nothing). We shouldn’t be micro-managing every aspect of our children’s lives. They have the rest of their lives to be weighed down by schedules and commitments. Give them opportunities, but also give them the precious gift of freedom!
So, what’s your magic number? I’d love to hear how you make it work.