Teaching Kids About Overscheduling

March 7th, 2014 by Comment button No Comments »

Dear Kids,

March Break is here! I’m sure you’re looking forward to a few days off school. Sorry we’re not getting out of town this year – if I’d known the winter would be this cold we might have held off that trip to Mexico last October.

So – especially in the case where we grownups can’t get the whole week off work – what to do? I’ll bet you’d love nothing better than to sleep in and watch cartoons all day, but that doesn’t sit well with us grownups. We want you out in the world doing activities, developing life skills and social integration. Whole industries have developed around kids’ activities. There’s the usual sports camps and arts & crafts, but there are now even more and stranger options. I just saw an ad for a camp in Financial Management – and here those kids thought they were getting time away from Math class.

Hopefully we’ll be able to fit the March Break activities around your usual sports leagues / cheerleading practice / music lessons / tutoring sessions, since they usually take time off too. But then maybe we could get you into some extra goalie training / gymnastics / guitar intensives / real estate seminars to fill in the gaps and keep your skills sharp.

You may be sensing what I’m getting at here. I don’t believe idle hands are the Devil’s playthings, but I do believe in the value of structured activity. At the same time, I grew up in an era when parents were more likely to kick us out of the house for the day, and we had to make up our own activities. Kids don’t roam the neighbourhoods as much these days, so we feel like we have to give you stuff to do to keep your bodies and minds active.

But, whether it’s parents pushing too hard, or merely over-indulging an active kid’s every interest, overscheduling is a real risk. When we take on too many things, even if they’re all meant to be fun, we create stress, which eventually leads to bigger problems. And then that stuff doesn’t seem to be so fun anymore. I remember a night, not too long ago, when after several days of project work, school basketball, football camp, and hockey league, you voluntarily went to bed early, grumbling about a sore back. That might be the best argument against overscheduling: there’s something wrong when a kid starts to behave like an old man.

But we old people have to think about what this is doing to us, too. Already stretched as we are, we’re replacing our precious family time with rushed meals and a constant battle to get to the next thing. We’re handing our lives over to the clock and calendar, losing our individuality as we pile yet again into cars and parental observation areas. When more than half our time is spent rushing home from work to stuff a quick sandwich in you and shuttle you off to ballet, it becomes as if we’re living our lives through you. Of course we do it all out of love, but in the long run I’m not sure that’s the best thing, for us or for you.

I’m not saying that genuine talent shouldn’t be encouraged, or that we should keep you from exploring interesting activities. I just think we need to remember that there is also value in downtime, and even in boredom. Nothing teaches patience and creativity better than having nothing to do. And those are probably the biggest life skills of all.

So this year, maybe we’ll use some March Break time to just relax and hang out. Reconnect over a family dinner or a game of cards. Drive in the car for no other reason than to look at some beautiful scenery. Just take some time to let the buzzing in our ears go away. And maybe once the Break is over, we’ll think about some ways to keep that rolling. Maybe your hands shouldn’t be too idle, but they should at least get a regular chance to rest.


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About the author: David Raitt

David Raitt is a writer and lover of pop culture. He lives in Oakville. He has also worked as an actor for The Second City, and has written, produced and performed his own sketch comedy, including the Canadian Comedy Award-nominated ALL THE RAGE. Semi-retired from performing, he still teaches improv and communications skills to students and corporate groups through his association with The Second City. Check out Dave's website at http://davidraitt.com or on Twitter @3rdraitt.

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