After-School Activities

Dear Sharon,

I am planning on signing my 7 year old up for an after school activity that meets once a week, and he also will be playing soccer on Saturdays. There’s a lot of controversy about parents “overbooking” kids these days. What are your thoughts on this topic?


Dear Barbara,

” Overbooking” a child with activities can keep them from much needed time to relax, learn through unstructured play, pursue interests they might discover in their free time or spend quality time with their parents. I believe it is important for children to have time to have fun that springs from their own unique ideas and interests.
Saturday soccer and one day a week in after school is a comparatively small number of activities for a child to attend. BUT there are many factors to consider when you are sorting through your child’s schedule. Here are some things to keep in mind as you join the countless parents thinking through decisions like yours this fall.

1. Parents work life is often a big factor in determining a child’s schedule. If you work part time you might have flexibility and more time to spend with your child. If you work full time you probably need to consider using after school activities for childcare. As a rule of thumb I think mixing after school activities with one on one time with a babysitter, parent or caring adult gives children more opportunity to relax and process long school days and homework. I often recommend that children have one or more after school days when they get some one on one unstructured attention from an older, caring person. If a parent is able to be home and available that is good, but it can be wonderful to have a teenager’s help. Some teens love to have after school jobs and there is often no one who can offer more fun and interesting perspectives to a child.

2. The interests and personality of your child is also important to keep in mind. No two children are alike, that is a very good thing. If your child is happiest when they are joining teams and taking classes then you probably will be signing them up for lots of things and trying very hard to spend some weekly one on one with them. This over enthusiastic joiner may need to be around relaxed adults who do not put a lot of emphasis on how well any one person can do. (Of course when you are looking at many different options the cost could be more than many parents can afford. Remember, there are also excellent affordable activities offered by churches, synagogues and community groups. Start asking people in your neighborhood for ideas that are within your financial reach). If your child likes nothing better than to come home and crash on the couch for a couple of hours then you will be spending some time finding one or two things that will be interesting and fun for them. This “couch potato” might benefit from some gentle and fun physical activity. Whatever the case you will need to pick activities that combine the things that make your child happy with your sense of what might develop self esteem and potential long-term interests.>

3. It is also very important to look carefully at the adults leading the activity. Having the chance to learn a new skill can be wonderful but if the person teaching it is not compatible with your child’s personality it can create a negative association with the activity that can last a long time.

4. See what works for your child. If you are concerned that your child is “doing too many things” look for signs of stress. Do they continue to do well in school? Are they making friends and developing skills in their activities? Is their self-esteem improved? Are they as happy and energetic as they were in their less booked up routine? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I would take a good look at changing your child’s schedule.

Good luck figuring out your son’s schedule now and in the years ahead. Sorting it all through is a lot of work but you will reap the benefits of your care in the long run.