Too Much or Not Enough: Overscheduled Kids

A mom confronts the after-school-activities problem

Too Much or Not Enough: Overscheduled Kids

A mom confronts the after-school-activities problem.

-Carrie Vining Spanier

Boy with sports gear

As a three-year-old, I went to nursery school a few days a week for two hours a day. That was basically it. I can’t remember for sure, but I think I spent the rest of my time playing or watching Sesame Street or The Electric Company.

Fast forward thirty-something years; my older son was about to turn one, and already I was feeling the scheduling pressure. “You are only doing one class with him?” a friend asked incredulously. “I have John in three!” Hello, they’re a year old! Was I missing something? I was beginning to think I was. Reluctant to give in to this new kind of peer pressure, I stood my ground and kept my sweet little guy in only one class.

Now that Jake, my little man, is three, he goes to preschool five mornings a week. So while he is getting his fill of socialization, play-doh and other fun things, he still has lunch with mommy and (I thought) has the afternoon to be, well, a kid. I figured being in school five mornings a week was plenty.

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But as with everything else in my life, I’m super competitive. “Emily is playing soccer, and dancing,” my friend Stephanie (not her real name) told me when I asked about her child’s after-school activities. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Why wasn’t my son playing soccer? He likes to kick a ball around. Am I keeping him from something he could love because of what I think it means to be a kid? Will he miss out on some development opportunities? Probably not, but nonetheless he’s now playing soccer once a week.

And I have to admit that Jake isn’t the only one who’s benefiting from his busier schedule. I’ve been through many afternoons of yelling at him (which doesn’t make for a nice environment!) for annoying me to no end. Bored kids can get themselves into trouble for sure. I’m not the only mother who feels that way. Jill Backlin, a mom of two, admits, “I would prefer my kids to be busy, and some days I just don’t have enough in me to give them the stimulation they need.”

Some mothers also think that even if kids have too much to do, they still flourish with a heavy schedule. Says Allison Brandt, mom of two, “My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter is admittedly overscheduled. However, I know she thrives on the activity. I certainly don’t put pressure on her. As long as she enjoys the activities, I’ll keep her in them.”

Other moms talk about walking the line between giving a kid too little to do or too. Beth Kimless Greene, mother of two, points out, “It’s all about balance and knowing your kid.” And Jenny Hoffman, mom of two, with a third on the way, agrees. “The key is finding the right balance for each kid. Too much stuff can cause kids to get over-stimulated. Too little and you may have a couch potato.”

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I agree with all of them. Each child is different, and some kids can handle a rigorous schedule. I’m not sure Jake is one of them. So he’s underscheduled, even though, in my keeping-up-with-the-Joneses way, I sometimes wish I could schedule more activities or lessons for him.

But I’m sticking to my plan for now, even though I’m the first to admit, it’s hard at times (okay, at lots of times) to find the patience to actively engage with Jake. Certainly it’s easier for me to put on a movie for him and get some moments of sanity for myself. But having a reasonably busy kid who gets out of the house can provide “me time” and benefit him, too. Since he’s only playing soccer and not racing from one activity to the next, I still get to hang out with him during this relatively short period of time when he’s little. Ultimately, that’s why I decided to be a stay-at-home mom.

So is being overscheduled a bad thing? I’m still not sure. While I think about it, I’ll go turn off the movie to play trains with my son.

Carrie Vining Spanier lives in New York, is a mother of two and has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education.

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