With the beginning of a new school year comes the barrage of extracurricular activities. Talent show. Science projects. Homework. Dance class. Basketball practice. Violin recitals. Book reports. When is enough too much?
A friend of mine once told me of her 15-year-old daughter who had insisted on participating in almost every extracurricular activity that came down the pipe. "She has become snippy with her siblings and looks tired. I think she knows that she took a large bite this time. She seems irritated that her free TV watching time has been replaced by schoolwork." What's a parent to do? Is there a tactful way of dealing with this issue without squashing your child's interests or enthusiasm?
Here are a few tips that may help your child ease into a comfort zone fit for both of you.
What to Consider
Janet has chosen four activities that she would like to participate in after school: basketball, dance, ceramics, and drama club. In order to determine whether or not this is doable without experiencing overload, first you must figure out if:
- she will have ample time for homework and special school projects
- it will affect her family or religious obligations
- it will interfere with her private time alone or with friends
How much time does it take Janet to get her homework done each night? Is she the type of child that finishes her homework in study hall and on the bus ride home, or does she dawdle for hours at night, just to rush and get it done the following morning while eating breakfast?
Does she have prior commitments through her church or other family obligations that may prevent or deter an activity she has chosen? Will Janet have enough time to watch television and relax or chat on the phone wit her friends?
All of these questions should be addressed before deciding on which activities to choose.
Putting it Down on Paper
Once you have assessed the amount of time needed for schoolwork and other commitments, it's time to lay the activities out on the table.
Begin with those activities Janet finds most rewarding. Write the chosen activities down on a piece of paper and ask her to number them by importance, number one being most important and number four the least.
It's time to label each activity with approximate commitment times. For example, if Janet chose dance as her most rewarding choice, you will need to label the amount of time that this will require. Most activities provide a schedule for the duration of the season. If you don't have one, ask the instructor or coach.
Let's say that dance requires two practices per week after school at one hour each and a recital every other Saturday for one hour. Don't forget commute time! You've determined that for each one-hour session you will need to arrive 15 minutes early for warm-ups and it takes 15 minutes to get there and 15 minutes to get home. So you've rounded each one-hour session up to two hours of committed time.
2 hrs x 2 times per week = 4 hrs/week
plus two Saturdays per month at 2 hrs each
Do this simple exercise for each activity. Don't get too detailed; keep it fairly simple and round up instead of down on your times. This will allow for extra time if you need it, and we usually do!
What to Eliminate
You've determined the following from the above exercises:
Homework: Janet is an academic child and usually has the bulk of her homework done before she gets home from school. Whatever isn't done is usually finished before dinner is put on the table.
Family/Religion: Janet has commitments at her place of worship once per week for hour. She also baby-sits her little brother every Friday night for her parents.
Private time: Janet likes to spend time with her friends at least two times per week after school just hanging out. Sometimes she likes to Rollerblade or just watch television. She has decided that she would like to slot a few hours twice per week just for herself.
Dance: This activity, as illustrated above will require a commitment of 4 - 6 hours per week, including commute time.
Basketball: This was Janet's second choice. Though this activity also takes up a lot of time, it is seasonal and does not last all year.
Drama club: This is something that Janet truly enjoys, but she has determined that her private time and her family time are more important to her, so she has decided not to take it this year.
Ceramics: Though this was last on Janet's list of most rewarding activities, she chose it over drama because it only requires one hour per week after school.
Our children look to us for guidance. If we decide to be the "bad guy" and tell our children whether or not they may participate in an activity, we create a negative atmosphere. By allowing our children to be part of the decision-making process, we have taught a lesson in responsibility that will help carry them into a more productive adulthood. By allowing Janet to be part of the final decision, rather than being the "bad guy" yourself, you have created a win/win situation for both you and your child.
Source: "EA Report Brown Bagger" September 2002, by Amanda Formaro