Are We Over-Scheduling Kids? Is It All Work and No Play?

Over-Scheduling kids may cause stress.  Are you over-scheduling your children? Is it all work and no play in your home? Free play vs scheduled activities for children: is there a happy medium? Listen to the wishes of any of your adult friends. What do you hear most often? How they are too busy or too overwhelmed or how life is too hectic and how they are looking forward to a vacation or long weekend to relax and recharge their batteries.  Now listen to your kids, tweens or teens. Listen to your special needs child.  Do they feel the same way?

Parents would be surprised to know that all those after school activities their hard earned cash pays for are perhaps not what their child really wants or needs. When I was teaching I often overheard the same pleas for ‘nothing to do’ coming from my young students. Are we over-scheduling our youths and causing them stress in our rush and zeal to give our children what we think they need and want? Do your children have time for unstructured play every day?

What Experts Are Saying About Over-Scheduling Kids

Read a few paragraphs in an article titled, “Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?” by Vicki Abeles, the author of “Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation,” and director and producer of the documentaries “Race to Nowhere” and “Beyond Measure.”

Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life. Children living in poverty who aspire to college face the same daunting admissions arms race, as well as the burden of competing for scholarships, with less support than their privileged peers. Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.

Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.

Happy, Carefree Childhood…have we done away with it?

Over-Scheduling KidsRemember when you went to school and the bell rang to end the day? For my sisters and me, we walked home with the other kids from our neighbourhood.  And after a quick snack and chat with our mom we rushed outdoors to play with all the other neighborhood children until supper time and we often did the same thing after supper until dark.

No play dates, no planned activities, all just spur of the moment activities that the majority wanted to do. We played ball, built camps, collected frogs, flew kites, played cops and robbers, skipped rope and never ran out of ideas to make every moment spent playing enjoyable.

Now when I babysit my grandchildren nothing is left to chance. Play dates are arranged the evening or days before because so many children have dance lessons, swimming lessons, piano lessons, etc. Special needs children have doctors and therapy appointments. Parents must schedule time to find two children FREE to play at the same time!

Now with fewer children in each family, play mates live miles from each other and must be driven to their friend’s house. This causes another problem. When we played a few minutes from our home, we could run back there for any number of reasons and know our mom was there to comfort, advise, encourage or if we were tired we would just go home.  Now the rules of play have all changed because when a play date is arranged it is for a set amount of time and often with one child exclusively.  Many times when the day for the play date arrives, the young child may not even feel that he wants to play with that particular child.

Now children who are anxious when away from home  have these play dates taking them away and bringing on more anxiety. The child who has difficulty and stress fitting in at school has that multiplied waiting for a ‘play date invitation’.

Are We Over-Scheduling Kids? Is It All Work and No Play?A careful selection of after school and weekend activities are beneficial for most children but for some it is a source of stress.  Parents must plan a realistic schedule that includes time for “free play”. Parents must see that their child has unscheduled time to play, to relax, to use his imagination and invent games, to draw, to read his choice of books and yes, to do nothing that seems important but is so important.  Unscheduled time allows a child to get to know himself, his wants, his needs, his skills and he learns to rely on himself to find enjoyment in life.

Parents and caregivers must help their child recognize the effects of stress, talk with their child to find out the causes of stress and they should teach their child coping strategies. Moreover if all they do is not enough and their young child still has a lot of anxiety and has problems at home and or in school, parents must seek professional help.

Caregivers, educators and professionals working with children should strive to make childhood once more a happy, carefree part of life.  Start by making sure you are not over-scheduling kids so they have time to simply play and be kids.

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