Few things are cuter than watching your child experience new activities, sports, arts, etc. Am I right? I mean, come on… little kids attempting ballet? Or preschoolers all running in one massive blob at the same soccer ball? Or the jubilant look on your child’s face when they turn to look at you, after conquering their face-in-the-water fear at swim lessons? Magic! All of it!
Know what else is magical? Having a non over-scheduled family! The feeling is beautifully freeing.
As parents, we’re constantly being bombarded with the next great activity for our littles, whether that child is 9 months old or 9 years old. Music classes, story times, gym classes, then we move into soccer, t-ball, swimming lessons, flag football, chess clubs (yes! Even for young children!), dance classes, gymnastics, cheer, and on, and on, and on.
It’s mind boggling the number of activities available to our children now. What happened to just going in the backyard, and playing with sticks and mud with your siblings and friends? That’s what I did, and I turned out OK! I think.
While it seems pretty rare (at least in my circles) for families with early childhood age children to be overscheduled, it definitely is common for that to spiral down once your children (even just your oldest) gets into elementary school. I don’t think most families even realize what;s happening, until it feels too late. My family of 6 (kids age 8, 8, 8, and 5) has managed to not be overscheduled thus far. We’re a rarity, and if I’m honest with you, this was probably a happy little mistake.
When my triplets were toddlers, the idea of getting them out of the house for some structured activity sounded heavenly! Not only would I not have to play referee (hopefully) for that 45 minutes, but I’d also get to have micro conversations with other adults! Sold!
Oh, but wait, many of these activities cost money. That money really adds up times three, so shoot – budget does not allow for the music class, gym class or tiny tot sports. I was one bummed out SAHM, but settled for the one freebie I could find – story time!
As our boys got older and a little more interested in sports, we found a league nearby that was affordable and didn’t seem terribly competitive. They have loved playing sports over the last few years! They play basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring. That’s it. Really! You know why? Because they’re 8, and one sport at a time, for a few months at a time (not year round), is enough. They participate in the mid-week program at church, and once a year or so we’ll enroll them in a session of swimming lessons. They’re content, and as well-rounded as 8 year olds need to be.
Our daughter (age 5) hasn’t ventured into the sports world yet, but did a week of dance camp last summer to try that out (jury is still out – I don’t know if she loved the dancing or just that her Aunt Laura was the teacher), and has loved swimming lessons in the winter. My girl is still most content when coloring at the kitchen table, or playing with her dolls and stuffed animals in her room, and we are more than happy to let her continue that way.
Here’s the thing – when you have a taste of what some serious margin in your schedule feels like, you hold onto that margin tightly. It is gloriously freeing to look at your spouse late on a Friday night and say, “what should we do tomorrow? We don’t have to be anywhere until 5 p.m.”
On the flip side of that, when your child has been in activities since before he or she was even in preschool, they (and you) become so accustomed to always doing something, or being somewhere, that it’s easy to continue to add things to the list.
You know what the margin in our schedules allows us to do? Eat dinner around our table, all 6 of us, 5 nights a week on average, and on the 6th day it’s 5 of us around that table together.
Study after study has been done about the benefits of eating dinner as a family (not in front of the TV). That chance to sit together, hear about our children’s days, talk about how many dislike whatever gross veggie I’m trying to shove down their throats that evening, and hearing one of my 8 year olds say “So, Mommy, tell me about your day!” – it’s all so very precious. This time is precious (and you may have heard time really flies when your kids enter elementary school – holy moly, so very true)!
The margin in our schedule allows us more opportunities to say “yes” to time with family and friends at the last minute, “yes” to serving together in and with our church, and “yes” to the downtime our children’s (and, let’s be honest, adult) brains so desperately need.
So parents of littles, I encourage you to think twice before signing up for the next great activity that landed in your in-box, mail box, Facebook newsfeed or was mentioned at the last playdate. If you get control of the margin now, when they’re little, it’ll be easier to maintain once they hit elementary school.
This spiral is so gradual, and before you know it, you may not have time for the things you would really enjoy; get togethers with friends, nightly dinner as a family, a chance to just sit at home and let the kids play with the million toys they own but rarely touch (or play with sticks and mud in the backyard), church or a day with nothing scheduled.
Letting your children try new activities and sports is great, but better on a rotation instead of three to four (or more) things at a time. A family schedule with lots of margin is a beautiful thing, and once you try it you’ll never want to go back.