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Under pressure: How many extracurriculars do you have?

Everett_ballet_shoes In August, we signed Everett up for two after-school activities: ballet, which he'd been doing for several months, and Do Jump, which I knew he'd love. So the first week of school he went to ballet on Saturday morning and acrobatics on Tuesday afternoon. The following weekend, we went to his grandma's house and read a new-to-us Berenstain Bears book called Too Much Pressure. Brother and Sister discover they're doing too many activities, and at the end they agree to only do two each. Brother picks computer club and soccer.

Simultaneously, we began having trouble with Everett's behavior, and called in some heavy -- and expensive -- hitters to help us figure out how to fix it. Ballet went out the window immediately, at least for the next few months: the balance of the year's substantial tuition just couldn't fit in the budget along with therapy. Then yesterday, we had a blow-up in Do Jump and I began to question the intelligence of doing that (we've already paid through November). I told Everett I was thinking about cutting it out of his schedule.

"That's ok," he said. "I want to do computer club!"

*Sigh* That wasn't exactly my point (but at least his reading comprehension is good!). Now I'm wondering, how many activities are right for children once they start preschool or kindergarten? Especially when you're having trouble acclimating? Is "zero" the right number for a five-year-old? What works for you -- and if your children are older, when did the time seem right?

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Ha! I love this one. As a teacher, I have always felt that children are doing way to much. As soon as I became a parent, I jumped right on the doing too way much bandwagon along with everyone else. Of course I just picked things that are really cool, and felt that they somehow didn't count as too much. Now Fionn's teachers, and my friends who are teachers and know us well are saying SLOW DOWN. It doesn't matter if the little girl accross the street is in Penguin, or my friend's son is thriving in Do Jump, or the most awesome music teacher in the world just started teaching private banjo lessons for kindergartners. We have to do very, very little. Almost nothing. He'll have his whole life for after school activities.

I heard this amazing speaker at PWS a couple weeks ago talk about American children being over stimulated and over-booked. He told us what his approach is with his own school aged children: They can only have one or two activites going on at a time, which they can choose, and they have to have a fallow season. Like on a farm, they have a season for growth and vibrant activity, a season for deep nurturing and regeneration, and a season for rest. I hope that makes sense...It made total sense to me at the time and I'm going to try the same thing with Fionn. Only he's 5 so he only gets one activity at a time.

Sarah, I love it that our boys are both 5 so we always have similar things going on! Good luck, and let us know what you figure out.

Apparently I am doing so much that I can't spell..."way too much." Ha!

I read this fantastic book about a year ago about just this issue:

http://www.amazon.com/Over-Scheduled-Child-Avoiding-Hyper-Parenting-Trap/dp/0312263392

Not only did it give me permission to relax and enjoy my daughter's childhood in the moment and, in doing so, let her do the same, but it also pointed out that, in attempting to create the most educational, stimulating, and structured schedule for our children, we are in fact robbing them of the very thing that promotes the most creative and constructive thinking and growth; boredom. I know that I can say that when I think back on my childhood, the parts I remember as being the most magical, most memorable and the most missed as I matured, were not agonizing over dance recitals or practicing phrases in French. I remember being alone in the woods next to my grandparents house out in the country, making turtle traps and picnics, pretending the forest was enchanted and just being a kid with nothing but time.

I have made a rule with my daughter (more for myself than for her) that we only have one weekly class at a time. Right now, that one class is gymnastics. She's only three, so when she gets to five, we might be ready to up it to two. For the time being, I think the best gift I have to give her is the ability to be spontaneous in whatever free time we have outside of my work and preschool and errands etc.

Seriously, read this book. It's fantastic.

Here is another great book about over-scheduling and the pressure on parents to produce well-rounded (albiet ulcered) children.

http://www.amazon.com/Blessing-Skinned-Knee-Teachings-Self-Reliant/dp/0142196002/ref=pd_bbs_2/002-3605151-1662420?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1190848886&sr=8-2

You do not need to be Jewish to read it. I am not a religious person, but I have found some great ideas in this book. I am not looking forward to the pressure I have heard of, or that I feel sometimes when talking to moms of older kids. It's so easy when they are 2!

My 7yo doesn't do any afterschool activities (except in the spring when he gets involved in the school musical). We keep afterschool for playing with friends, biking up and down the street, hanging out at home doing legos, etc.

I'm not a fan of the highly scheduled set-up for myself, and I certainly don't want him to start feeling like life is all about rush-rush-rush here and there at such a young age. I want him to have a leisurely childhood, like I did.

First of all, I think it's great that you're getting some help from professionals when you find yourself in over your head! Seriously--I'm impressed.

Second, isn't it hard to cut back when there are so many AMAZING activities out there? Ones you just know your kids would enjoy, would learn from, would excel at? I have a really hard time resisting this temptation.

And third, my experience with kindergarten (an all-day program) was that my son couldn't handle anything after school except free time to run around on the playground, completely unstructured. We had to drop activities that he'd previously enjoyed (Little Kickers and Parks and Rec gymnastics) and withdraw from SUN school classes he wanted to sign up for. He was just done after a day of school. We still did one weekend activity (Mighty Mites soccer), but everything else fell by the wayside.

And now? My son is 8 and in third grade. We do one sport at a time (soccer, basketball, baseball) which usually means practice two nights a week plus a weekend game. He signs up for no more than two SUN school classes, and I'd prefer if he stuck to one. That schedule makes life pretty busy, but I try to keep it from going over the line to hectic. And we still stay on the playground every day after school (as long as the weather is half-way decent) to run around with friends.

So piano lessons and chess club and everything else will have to wait, as hard as that is for me. He's happy and not so tired at the end of the day that he's whiny or arguing. That seems to be a good measure for us.

The only worry I have with too much unscheduled time is that many kids don't get enough exercise as it is and organized sports is their only time to run around, but somehow I don't think that's likely to be a problem for Everett!

My daughter is in the same Do Jump class and I was in the waiting area when blow-up happened. I agree that it is great that your family is getting help. We have friends that were in a similar situation and I really respect what they were willing to do for their son. They really looked at the behaviors of the entire family and how to work together to help each other. They have now made it through what they refer to as the "dark period". I think you will too.

My thought when Everett was trying to escape the Do Jump lobby was "Is this kid ready for parent leave activities?" Your post makes me think this might be part of the issue. I am assuming that the professionals are helping you to get the tools to help him. The Do Jump staff (who I think do a wonderful job) do not necessarily have these tools or skills. They were trying to put him in a time out. Is that even an effective way to help him?

I am not trying to put blame on you or over burden you. I know you have a lot on your plate. I just wonder if you are asking the right questions for the situation. It might not be is he overscheduled but maybe the question should be is he in environments that are helpful to him?

Our friends found that there son has an incredible talent and being able to work on that talent has helped him a lot. Some might call him overscheduled. For him they found the right thing and structure and he is thriving. It is one piece of what is helping him thrive today.

Add to it the fact that Everett is willing to walk away from Do Jump without a fight makes me wonder if this is the right fit for him.

I'm just glad to hear that others are struggling with this issue as well. I have been wondering if I'm over-analyzing our lives. My biggest surprise as a parent was that this started before my oldest turned 3. She was asking for ballet, gymnastics and soccer classes in addition to her preschool and weekly music class. She does well at extra activities but we all end up feeling over-scheduled. We have ebbed and flowed through the years: 3 classes at a time then none for a while. Now we are sticking to school and only one class no matter how hard it is to resist the tumbling class that she's currently asking for. I find that it is easy to find outings to occupy free-time during those weeks that extra activities would fit. We just do the park, library, playdates, errands (etc.) instead. That works while she's young but I expect to struggle with this for years to come. One thing that has helped us is buying/borrowing books about her current subject of interest i.e. ballet, soccer. Also watching videos on UTube and finding opportunities to practice these activities on our own has allowed us to fufill her curiosity without the stress of having to be in yet another place at a designated time. I remember being 5 years old and telling my mom that I hated ballet and wanted to quit when really it was only because I wanted to be home on Saturday mornings. My oldest does love to be home with her things, in her space and so do I! Thanks to all of you for sharing.

Cafemama (or anyone!): can you recommend the name of whomever you're getting help from? Not sure if it'd be a good fit, but I'm dealing with some behavior issues of our own (2 yr-old, just started preschool) and am looking for some guidance. Actually what I'm looking for is someone to help me learn how to parent better in general -- i.e. be more patient, better understand my daughter's needs, behaviors, etc.

It's hard to know what activities kids will even like at the different stages of their youth. What may look to them like the ultimate adventure may lose its enticement after a few class sessions. To save myself money, time, and sanity, we limit our kids to one class type at a time. We always start with Portland Parks classes, which are cheaper and shorter in length than other options we've found. If they are still interested and want more after taking a class there, then we'll look into other options.

There are a couple of people who are helping! One is Tracey Johnson (http://www.practicalparenting2.blogspot.com) -- her contact info is on the web site. Another, Hillary Klump, is more freelance; I'll email you privately about her.

We're also seeing a couples counsellor who deals in parenting issues and has worked with troubled children in residential treatment facilities so she's got a good depth of experience. She's Carrie Conte, and her web site is http://www.cclmft.com/.

For us, Carrie is on insurance. Tracey and Hillary aren't. Tracey also recommended Lael Petersen, LMFT -- I think she's in Hillsboro.

I wonder a lot about what the right balance of extracurriculars also. As a child, I was over, over programmed, even by age 7 -- piano, soccer, tap dance, ballet, ice skating. There was something every night, and very little time to just be home and hang out and play.

I have a colleague with 3 girls aged 6 and 7, and I sometimes get insecure hearing about his girls' schedule when my 7-yr old has so few structured activities. He tells me about T-ball, soccer, dance, gymnastics, and more and more.

We have resisted enrolling in a bunch of classes, even if her former preschool and her current elementary school is littered with info chess club, cooking class, gymnastics, piano, violin. I think we have wanted to see what she really loves and maybe nurture that.

We dabbled in piano in the spring and took a break over the summer, but for a 2 weeklong camps at Ethos (Piano and Hip Hop). These camps were awesome and they refueled Philly's interest in music, rhythm, and dance. Her morning movement this term at her school is dance, and they have been choreographing some moves. So, we will go back to piano, as it provides great structure and theory for many things musical for the future.

One thing we kept up with last year was swimming from summer through winter and into spring and back to summer. She has improved so much and she loves to swim. She has opted not to swim this fall/winter, as much as I wish she could perfect her side-breathing. Instead, she and a couple of friends decided to sign up for basketball via PPR at Dishman.

If it were up to Philly, she would be ice skating, swimming, playing basketball, biking, rollerblading, and dancing all day every day. I have a hard time really figuring out what we should let her pursue through a structured class. When we're home, she we will play basketball, bike, rollerblade and dance, and it's completely unstructure and free.

So, for the fall for our 7-yr old Philly, looks like she'll be taking some piano lessons and learning some bball skills on Saturdays. For us, that's more than enough extracurricular activity!

I've been wondering about this, too. We have a two year old. We have activity options available to us almost every afternoon, and it's such a personal challenge to me to hear her say that she just wants to stay home and play. Honestly, I'm coming to the realization that I'm happier as a parent - that it's easier for me to deal with her - when we're out doing activities. Shouldn't I have learned that it's not all about me by now?!?

So for now we're going by her cues. Since she's in a "stay home" mode right now, we're staying home. Even though sometimes I'm bored stiff.

Yeah, good point Allison. We can often create the pace in our children's lives that we are accustomed to in our own lives...even if we don't love it. Then they emulate us and demand constant activity, even though it's not really healthy to be always going with no time to rest. If you (like me) are addicted to constant motion, it might be helpful to ask yourself: Why can't I slow down? What is so scary about being boerd? What am I running from...or to? This may or may not relate to you. I already know my problem when it comes to "activities" - it's keeping up with the Joneses! Those damn Jonses and their banjo playing, French speaking, underwater swimming, tap dancing children. Ack. Oh well. We'll have to be the new Joneses- with nap taking, day dreaming, game playing, easel painting, floor rolling, grass lounging, story reading children! They can play the banjo later.

Julie,

We went to an amazing woman in NW Portland -- her name is Monne Smith and she takes a variety of insurance programs. She was able to figure out what we needed within the first 10 minutes and she's done an incredible job making us better, and happier, parents. We have only gone to her a few times because she's so good, we walk away with a very packed emotional toolkit. Her number is (503) 730-7935.

Sarah, thank you for being so open about the struggles you're working through at home. I know that you've just added another baby to the mix, and although you've talked about Everett's challenging behavior before, I'm sure at least some of what is going on is because of the new baby in the house. I often times think we are not open enough about how horribly difficult it can be on everyone to have a new baby in the house. There are lots of jokes about lack of sleep, weight gain, etc. but very rarely do people talk about how seriously hard it can be on a marraige/partnership, especially when your parenting styles or coping strategies dont mesh. We have a new baby at home too, and I'll be the first to admit that although I think things are going as well as they possibly can, we are very much in "survival mode" around here! My husband and I are so happy to have some perspective this time around, that these days are numbered, and it wont always be this hard, but it doesnt change the fact that it's not easy. Good for you for recognizing that you need help and getting it and thanks for sharing.

I also echo what Leah says about you Sarah. I love the fact that you share so candidly your trials and tribulations. It makes it easier for the rest of us who are a bit shy about sharing our daily struggles!

As for extracurriculars, Carter has had some swimming lessons and that's about it for him. But, our schedules are generally packed with after-work events and activities. Carter's getting into the habit of asking me where we are going or what we are doing after I pick him up. I'm thankful for the summer ending so that we can slow down and enjoy the evenings again at home.

We do almost nothing class-wise. We did ballet for a few weeks at the rec center but slow and graceful were not really Clara's idea of fun back then. She did Balls, Balls Bonanza with her dad, but often the teacher didn't show and it seemed a waste to pay to essentially play at the public park.

Clara is now in preschool 3 days a week and that's plenty of socializing and structure for her. When she's home with our part-time nanny they're off to the park or coloring at the kitchen table. All Iris wants to do is play outside and follow the other kids around. And sort cups.

We're lucky that we have lots of kids on our street and many opportunities to just hang out and play. Sometimes we make it to a puppet show, or the library. And we go to the park or to special events. But our lives are full and busy and we like to rest!

It is such a difficult balance--enriching extracurricular activity vs. enough down time to just "be". As with everything that is parenting, it is probably best to take our cues from our kids.

In our situation, our little guy is taking one-on-one ukelele lessons at Ethos (LOVE ETHOS)!!!

However, we really want him to play a team sport--only child that he is--but he absolutely does not want to play.

He has a tons of school friends and neighborhood friends, so he works on his team work there (or so I tell myself). He has done great in two years of preschool and now kindergarten. No problem with sharing, etc... I just don't want to push him into something because of MY issues with him being an only child rather than HIS issues being an only child.

Does any of that make sense?

My 4yo is just starting preschool, and she really wants to take ballet (1/2-hour class) and tap (1/2-hour class), and I really want her to take swimming (1/2-hour class). These would all be done on the same day, and I think it will be OK.

My 11yo just has soccer, but it's 2 practices (1 1/2 hours each) per week, plus games on the weekend. I really don't think she or I could handle any more than this, although she really wants to take volleyball.

I think how many activities a kid and parent can handle depends a lot on commuting time and frequency of classes and, of course, the individual kid.

I agree wholeheartedly with not overscheduling, but I also feel the need to supplement since almost all but core classes have been cut from school. We have the two at a time thing going, but I have two kids doing two different things each so it seems like a whole lot. What to do if they aren't getting music at school and PE has been cut in half and they only get a short time in art class with 27 other kids?

One of the main reasons we don't over-schedule our kids is that I personally feel over-stressed when there is too much to do. Even if they were fine with it, which I'm certain they wouldn't be, I'm not! I hate rushing around and I hate being late and when I stress its not fair to them. I took me a while to figure this out and my oldest probably didn't get a fair shake at first because of that. But, lesson learned.

He's in 3rd grade and does one after-school club a week, at school, 45 minutes long. That's it. The rest is playing and being kids.

I do feel pressure sometimes from other parents when they talk about soccer this and piano that, but when I say we prefer to have free time together as a family they seem to appreciate that notion. Our kids are young - they have time to figure out their interest and we will always support them in that endeavor.

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