How Many Activities is Too Many?

Kids: How many activities is too many?

We have a child who likes to do ALL THE THINGS. I’m not sure where he comes from, except Jason and I were both there when he entered this world, so we’re fairly certain he’s ours. When he was younger, he would bound downstairs like a ten-ton gazelle, leaping but somehow thundering with each step as if he were fifty times his 30-pound frame. It would be Saturday morning, and I would be settling into the couch to enjoy my coffee, staring out the window, and the quiet beginnings of a blissfully unscheduled day. Jack would ask, impatient with expectation…

“So what are we doing today?”

“Well, *yawn* I’m going to sit here and drink my coffee.”

“Then what?”

“I’m gonna read some.”

“For how long?”

“Until I feel like being done.”

“But what are we going to DO today?”

“I don’t know! Sheesh, I’m not the activities director.”

All the Activities

Jack wanted a SCHEDULE. Not a suggestion, not a list, but activity bullet points complete with times down to the minute. Now in 8th grade, he has manifested this desire in diving headlong into 80 percent of the extracurricular activities offered to him. He sometimes starts the day at 7am with clarinet sectionals and schleps home at 9pm after school, football and soccer.

That amount of activity for me would, at any point in my life, have quickly sent me into an overwhelmed tearful meltdown. But as much as he looks like me, he isn’t a clone. He thrives on his busy schedule. He revels in the challenge and the physical activity. I am amazed.

One of the Activities

Our younger kiddo is in his last year of elementary school, and he hesitatingly committed to play select soccer this year. It is his only activity besides school. It is enough, and occasionally, even that one thing feels like too much. I don’t know what Gage will decide to do when he gets to middle school, but it’s hard to imagine him reveling in a fourteen-hour day the way his older brother does. Gage comes home from soccer in an upbeat mood. Then, he disappears into his room for several hours to rest, watch videos and play with his bearded dragon.

What I Thought I Knew

I had these ideas about parenting before I had kids (oh, didn’t we all) — about what the “right” amount of activities was. I never would’ve approved of Jack’s dizzying schedule. But I also thought that, in order to show support for my kids’ interests, I should sign them up for classes or clubs related to their fascinations with sports or lizards or art. Both of these ideas are valid. There is such a thing as too much or too little structure in a kids’ life. And signing a kid up for a pottery class if they’re interested can be a good thing.

What I Learned After Becoming a Parent

  1. There is a wide range of “the right amount of activities,” and it is largely dictated by the kiddo’s personality.
  2. That right amount will change from year to year.
  3. It’s possible to ruin a kid’s interest in something by turning it into an “activity.”

Why Those Three Things Are Important

I’m a firm believer that all kids (and adults) need SOME free time — to rest, reflect, let their mind wander, discover what happens when they get bored. But maybe one person needs a few minutes while the other needs days.

Age matters, of course. It’s never a good idea to fill a three-year-old’s day, from waking to sleeping, with adult-directed activities. The older kids are, the more they can handle…if they want to.

There are other ways to support a kid’s interests than signing them up for classes. This is one I am working on now. I recently saw Jack dribbling a ball in the driveway and asked,

“Do you want me to sign you up for basketball camp?”

“No, Mom. I just wanna shoot hoops on my own.”

Even Jack has a limit. Turns out, he uses driveway basketball to wind down after a long day; it’s meditative to him — the rhythmic sound of rubber bouncing on cement, the clang and swoosh of the hoop. I support that interest by moving the car out of the way and hanging out on the driveway with him. He’ll occasionally tell me about school or friends as he shoots, or he’ll throw me the ball so I can bounce it off the rim into the neighbor’s yard. Basketball doesn’t need to be an organized social activity. Thank god.

Gage is in love with snorkeling right now. He talks about our trip to Belize two years ago almost daily. This is a hard thing to turn into a regular activity in Central Texas. So I order him books about it and, more importantly, listen to him talk about diving and practicing holding his breath. I respect his interest, letting him know that being a snorkel guide and living a simple life by the sea would be awesome if it makes him happy. Gage mostly prefers to explore his interests on his own, outside a scheduled, directed class. And he has come to know himself:

Mom, I really don’t want to do any activity that’s gonna go on for more than two hours.

It’s Their Path to Walk.

Above all, I try not to compare my kids to each other. (Though sometimes it’s hard — they live in the same house, attend the same schools and have had some of the same teachers and coaches.) I tell myself daily, each of them is walking his own path. No matter what characteristics they share with each other or with us, their parents, they will not make the same choices. I can’t choose for them any more than I can save them from the heartache they’ll experience along the way (much as I’d be tempted to if it were possible).

More and more, as the kids get older, I find myself not in the driver’s seat but simply along for the ride. I follow their curiosities, their interests. I support, I mentor, I listen, I comfort. I sign them up for the things they ask for and allow them to move on if that interest proves fleeting. I offer advice sparingly. More often than not, at this point, the world provides consequences for their actions, and I don’t need to. I don’t know exactly who they will become as adults, what their roads will look like. I’m just happy to be a part of the journey.