I have my three-year-old involved in several after-school activities each week and am worried I overdid it. Let me be clear: I did NOT sign her up for these classes to get her into schools or improve her “skill set” or something absurd like that. I was simply concerned that her long seven-hour post-school stretch at home (waiting around while sibling napped) would be tedious and boring for both of us. She still gets plenty of time to hang around the house and amuse herself. I think she is really good at entertaining herself and finding inner resources when she is bored. So I don’t think these classes are turning her into the kind of kid who needs constant external stimulation or planned activities to survive. For a while things went okay, but lately she seems very tired and grumpy and less excited about going to the activities (except ballet and the gym, which she always wants to do). Not sure if she is just going through a rough patch or if she is one of those oft-cited “over-scheduled kids.” I think kids do not need all these classes for any reason except fun.
Our schedule: She goes to pre-K every day 9-12, comes home for lunch and a rest. (She doesn’t nap anymore. She spends this time hanging out with me or alone, very mellow.)
Afternoons: Monday: Nothing. Tuesday: A very laid-back music class (no instrument, just music and fun) at school (a block away, so no carpooling, rushing in traffic, carseats, etc.). Wed: Informal, unstructured playgroup with friends (and me and little sis) at a local indoor gym. No teacher, very free form. Thurs: A nice short painting class, also at school down the block Friday: Ballet, which she begged and begged for. The ballet class is very sweet and quite close, though it does involve a drive. – Overdoing it in DC?
Dear Overdoing It,
It’s ironic that a spate of best-selling books and articles about over-scheduling, hyper-parenting, helicopter-ing and hovering has created a generation of parents who are now so worried they are doing too much, they are over-thinking exactly how little they should be doing.
The labels of Big Parenting Trends get thrown around a lot: the fear of being “one of those” mothers can be terrifying. It can make you question your motives each time you so much tend to your child’s basic needs. Am I over-indulging him? Am I stealing her childhood away? Is she never going to be able to think for herself???
The core concept of “over-scheduling” brings up some valid points. It’s important that parents know that their kids can be “enriched” by downtime as well as planned time. It’s important that kids learn how to be bored. And that childhood is seen as more than an opportunity to pad out a future college resume. But you have a very little girl and a lot of long winter afternoons ahead of you.
A lot of the over-scheduling arguments are more applicable to older kids. You can’t expect your daughter, at age three, to entertain herself for too long. From the sound of it, you both seem to be able to kill quite a bit of time without a “plan,” which is great. But she is pretty young, and most young kids do benefit from some structure and attention.
She is also probably pretty interested in other kids at this stage. It seems appropriate to give her a safe place with other kids and adults where she can be creative and socialize. The classes you describe sound very relaxed and informal. And since they’re so close to home and school, there’s a nice familiarity and flow to the whole thing.
Often when people talk about a generation of over-scheduled kids they refer back to the idyllic times of previous generations – and perhaps romanticize it a little. Back in the unstructured past, kids were just running wild in the neighborhood, having all kinds of pivotal moral dilemmas down in the woods behind Mr. McCreedy’s. Today’s children, with their packed afterschool schedules, don’t have such character-building episodes.
But things have changed. The “woods,” if they still exist, are usually considered too dangerous for the wanderings of dilemma-seeking bike riders. All this is to say that it’s not just classes that are keeping our kids from the loosey-goosey lives of yesteryear.
Still, there is a way that the old school “unstructured” model does apply to you right now. In the past, kids were often a part of an extended family or neighborhood community. A pre-schooler may not have gone to “tumbling class,” but she might have been rolling around on Grandma’s big rug with a few cousins or kids from the block at the same time every week.
Some of us are lucky enough to live in an actual community – where family and neighbors share in childcare and chores – but often parents have to seek out some approximation. Local classes or groups are a pretty good substitute: they can at least give a child some regular contact with a group of kids. They may even provide some of that genuinely important sense of community. Keep in mind that the real goal of a lot of these programs is for everyone to be able to hang out together and not go bonkers in isolation: and this applies to the parent’s mental health as much as the kid’s!
You seem very sensitive to what’s going on with your daughter and aware of not going too far in the over-scheduling / “hurried child” direction. Trust your instincts. If you feel like this semester was a bit much in terms of the social play, then pull back a little this summer. If not, continue in whatever way seems to make the most sense for both of you as you go. As your child gets older and can play alone or with her sibling more, you can let them duke it out on long weekends with nary a planned activity in sight. For now, kick back and enjoy your daughter’s (scheduled) somersaults.
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