Are Your Kids Over Scheduled?

Are Your Kids Over Scheduled?
Tell Us What You Think.

Ballet, football, gymnastics, swimming, music lessons… Do you feel like you might have over scheduled kids?

Are you shuffling them around from various clubs and activities to the point you’re exhausted and not even sure if they’re enjoying it anymore?

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post by Dr. Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist and mother of three.

She says that while some families thrive on a lot of activities, others don’t. It’s important to pause and have a proper think about it, rather than continue on auto-pilot.

Dr. Rodman gives The EASY Method to Figure Out Which Activities To Do – and what to drop.

In a tight nutshell (using the EASY acronym):

E = Enrich

Does the activity enrich the majority of your family members lives? (I love how she points out that an activity may adversely affect siblings if they’re lugged along, or left behind. And what about the effects on you, the chauffeur?)

A = Ask

As in, ask your child whether or not they want to do the activity. Sometimes we forget to do this, or we neglect to do it because we want them to do it.

S = Skip

If your child seems anxious or stressed, try skipping an activity for a week or two to see if it makes a difference to them or your overall family atmosphere.

Y = Why

Think about why your child is participating in each activity and make sure you’re happy with the answer.

Here’s the story of what happened back when I had VERY over scheduled kids. We were constantly on the go from one thing to the next, but the crazy thing is, I didn’t even think about doing it any differently because everyone I knew was doing the same thing. We’d have a moan about it at any opportunity, but it seemed like part and parcel to having active kids.

Then (thankfully) something happened that inspired a change and got our family off of that crazy hamster wheel.

My boys were five and eight and we had a particularly laid-back summer family holiday. We’d bonded over long, lazy days on the beach and blissful freedom busy schedules and running around.

I arrived back home with a bump. It was chilly and raining, we had no food in the fridge, and on the kitchen counter I spotted the kids’ registration forms for the Autumn term’s swimming and tennis lessons which I’d neglected to send off before I left.

Arghh! If they didn’t get their usual slots it would screw up all of the rest of their extracurricular schedules.

One did karate, the other loved an after-school cooking club. They both took piano lessons and I also wanted them to try a kids Spanish language club I’d heard about.

Visualising what my afternoons were about to return to filled me with dread. Dashing out the door with tennis shoes, rackets or the swimming bags, plus snacks for them and a book for my inevitable waiting times.

I longed to be back on holiday, away from this self-inflicted madness. We’d spent a lot of our summer talking and laughing. My older son was beginning to ask me very profound questions about the meaning of life and I enjoyed exploring it with him.

Suddenly it occurred to me.

There are clubs for every sport, hobby, interest and activity – but what about one that promotes good ethics and values? A club where kids can learn about themselves and their relationship to the world around them? What if this club took place in the comfort of our home… No registration forms or fees, no fighting traffic or searching for parking. Snacks and drinks straight out of our kitchen.

I decided right there and then to create our own club, just the three of us.

We went through their choices of activities and I was surprised at the ones they wanted to keep (piano, tennis) and the ones they were happy to drop (karate, cookery).

This free’d up Tuesday afternoons to be our Special Day.

I created three themes to rotate through weekly:

  • Family
  • Community
  • The World

For Family day, they’d make cards to send their grandmothers who lived far away. One day when dad was home sick, they made him funny cards and vouchers so they could be his slaves for the afternoon and bring him whatever he wanted in bed.

For Community day, we went to the local park and picked up litter. We baked banana bread for our elderly neighbour, or collected wood for her fire.

For World day, we sponsored a child in Ghana via ActionAid and drew her pictures and wrote letters about our life.

Some days we’d just hang out and read. We became attracted to books aimed at kids about recycling and ecology which inspired a Walk to School campaign to raise money for local wildlife preservation.

We discovered wonderful children’s books by Dr. Wayne Dyer that explored self-esteem and feelings and another called The Family Virtues Guide, which I’ll always treasure, along with A School Like Mine, showing what the lives of school children are like in other parts of the world.

Our Special Day club gave us the opportunity to bond in ways we weren’t doing with me shoving snacks at them in the car while stressing about being late.

Now that they’re teenagers, I can see the long lasting effects too. They have a deep awareness of their place in the family, community and the world. They’ve got strong ethics and values and good self-esteem.

When we moved to Madrid, the transition was seamless. They picked up the language easier than I did and made a smooth adjustment into their new school and culture. Even without the Spanish club I never did sign them up for!

They joined me at my volunteer job in a Madrid soup kitchen and when my eldest heard there was a shortage of lentils, he organised a ‘bring a bag of lentils to school’ day.

He took on extra opportunities and won the Middle School Leadership Award. The following year the school chose him to represent them in a national leadership competition. He was able to talk about the Walk to School Week, sponsoring a child in Ghana, working in a soup kitchen amongst many other things, and he won the competition, along with a $500 prize.

Both boys are members of the Model United Nations, travelling to other European cities for mock debates and my elder son dreams of working for the real United Nations one day.

I don’t think those extra karate classes they didn’t even like would have ever led to this. 

I spent so much time chauffeuring my kids from one activity to the other with the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Yet now it’s clear how just one hour a week spent at home, bonding over a shared project has had the biggest impact on their lives. And mine.

I’m thrilled that Melissa Hood of The Parent Practice has included the story of our Special Day in her new book, Real Parenting for Real Kids.

I’m probably one of the least judgemental people you’ll ever meet, so if your kids are in a lot of activities and it suits them and you, then go for it! But if it’s all feeling a bit craze-balls, then give the EASY method above a whirl to assess what changes you may want to try.

In the comments below please share your thoughts. How many activities do your kids do each week? Does it feel like a good balance? What do you think about our Special Day? I’d love to hear from you.

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Kelly Pietrangeli

Kelly Pietrangeli

Mama Motivator at Project Me
Kelly Pietrangeli is the creator of Project Me for Busy Mothers, helping women find a happier balance between the kids - and everything else.

Mixing practicality with self-awareness, Kelly helps mothers get on top of their endless to-do’s, set goals and improve their lives one small step at a time.

Grab her free Life Wheel Tool for discovering what needs your focus first.
Kelly Pietrangeli

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23 Responses to Are Your Kids Over Scheduled?

  1. Emma says:

    Once again you are in my head! Do you have secret cameras aimed at my house and car? I was just thinking about all of this last week. I love this and will run our activities (4 kids, you can imagine) through that test and see what we can get rid of. Your special day is wonderful and I feel very inspired. Thank you Kelly!

  2. Cathy says:

    I am inspired too. I will check out those books as I love the sound of all of those. Although I have only one child, he is in danger of being overscheduled because there are so many great sounding things out there and I want him to have opportunities to try many things. I can see from your boys that sometimes the best ‘club’ is being at home and bonding that way. I have been wanting to sponsor a child too, so thank you for this link. xx

    • Charissa says:

      Agreed! In my head as well as literally today I signed my eldest up for vocal lessons and was wondering if I was making the right choice. Thankfully the coach is a friend and a singer herself with a crazy schedule and we agreed it would probably be a class every 2 weeks!!
      Will definitely adopt your special day especially since my kids are the exact age of yours when you decided to start it! Thanks for yet another life hack!

    • I totally get how we want our kids to try lots of things so we know what they’re talented at or passionate about. It’s important to keep monitoring it so you aren’t just doing it for the sake of it, but because they genuinely enjoy it.

      Yes – do check out that ActionAid link above as sponsoring a child doesn’t cost that much and brings so much positivity to your family and theirs. 🙂

  3. ErikaJ says:

    Last year i went through the same frenetic after school activities overbooking. Then this year my girls said “Mommy, we just want to PLAY.” So we pulled back completely, my 7 year old kept one actuvity (soccer) and my 5 year old does nothing except play. We got bikes and we take bike rides afterschool. They are more relaxed and I am too! I love the special day ideas with the three areas of influence–and will implement that. Thanks Kelly!

  4. Gabrielle says:

    Such a beautiful idee to create a Special Day! Love it.
    I have already ordered the books you mentioned!
    Thank you so much for sharing such loving tips for our kids! ❤️❤️❤️

  5. Rajeshree Shah says:

    Hi Kelly

    I love the idea of a Special day between you and the kids. I have a four year old and I’m just getting him into activities and I will definitely aiming to implement the themes you have stated.

    As he’s my first child, every stage of his life feels like its a new PhD I have to acquire, so your advise and insights are very helpful and useful.

    Thanks

    • I love that PhD analogy Rajeshree! It does feel like that sometimes, doesn’t it? How fun for you and your son to begin little activities that follow the themes of Family, Community and the World. It’s great to help kids learn where they fit into the bigger scheme of things. 🙂

  6. Mariah says:

    What a great idea to have a “Special Day!” As our kids get older, I realize how we’re separating more as a family…simply because our girls are becoming more autonomous and doing more with their friends.

    Thanks for the tip. Will certainly get going on this 🙂

    Mariah

    • You’re welcome Mariah! It doesn’t have to be a big production – even ordering some great books and sitting together and discussing the themes without anyone checking their phones. Or going to the park to pick up litter. Giving it a name and putting it into the diary helps to make it happen. Keep it loose and natural and don’t expect that older kids are going to eat up the idea immediately. Over time they’ll appreciate this special time with you though, as long as you keep it all relaxed and without expectations. Let me know how you get on 🙂

  7. Sam says:

    Overscheduling is a worry of mine. And something we do discuss a lot.

    I will have a good think if a special day would work for us. Do I have enough energy after a full day’s work & travel to commit to this during the week? If I restructure my working week to enable this kind of evening, would it be appreciated? Is this the right time for this? Or can we do this at a weekend instead of afterschool?

    How does everyone else decide what stays and what goes? What’s an opportunity not to be missed? What’s a priority?

    For example, my son is about 6 months away from being ready to grade for his black belt in martial arts, he has worked very hard to get this far and enjoys the classes. Our philosophy is once a black belt always a black belt, so whilst he continues to benefit & enjoy it, this should stay.
    Then we have Cubs – which isn’t working out as we’d expected, it’s a hassle, he doesn’t appear to have fun. Maybe this one goes or he changes groups….

    • It sounds like this post has given you some great food for thought Sam and I love how you wrote out the questions you want to ask yourself and discuss with your family. My brain does the same thing when I want to ponder and figure things out. The answers can only come after we’ve asked the questions.

      If you get stuck, grab a piece of paper and write it all down. Keep stating the challenge and brainstorming the possible solutions. The answers will come to you! And bear in mind that there is no definitive right or wrong. You can try something, and then try something else until things flow easier. Wishing you well Sam! x

  8. Nicola says:

    This is brilliant Kelly and something I’ve become really conscious of over the last year. My daughter loves ‘organised fun’. She would have an after school activity every day if she could….. but I realised that my son was losing out as he was spending a lot of time ‘waiting’ for her in very boring places!

    Also, if you haven’t watched it already, you will like this: https://www.ted.com/talks/julie_lythcott_haims_how_to_raise_successful_kids_without_over_parenting?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread#t-408924

    • Yes, I thought Dr. Rodman’s point about considering how after school activities affects siblings was a good one to consider. Perhaps with some forethought that boring waiting time could be made more special by taking along some of the books mentioned above or a pack of FINK communication cards to inspire some thoughtful dialogue (see this post for inspiration: http://myprojectme.com/4-tips-for-building-close-communication-with-your-child/)

      And I love that TedTalk Nicola! I’ve read her book and agree that we do too much for our kids and don’t prepare them well enough to live their lives without us. Thanks so much for sharing this link here 🙂

  9. Paola says:

    I’m so glad to be reading this now, my children are still small, so not much going on after school, but I do think that since I’ve become a mother I started having this feeling of missing out. I see all friends posting stuff of FB about all the fantastic activities and things their children do and start wondering what shall I do.
    Now I’m inspired and know what to do…so relevant to me right now. My son last week end when I asked if what he wanted to do, maybe go to a new park, ride the bike, he replied sit down on the mat and play with me all day!

    • I’m happy this caught you now BEFORE you jumped onto the crazy FOMO band wagon Paola. There will be activities in the future that he’ll want to try or you’ll want him to try and it’s good to see what fits and drop what doesn’t. 🙂

  10. sophie bjorkenstam says:

    You are such an inspiration Kelly. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I constantly have that inner dialogue with myself about how much my kids should / shouldn’t be doing after school and you’ve just provided me with a sense of calm as well as ideas of what else I could be doing with my kids at home. THANK YOU x

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