Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you — kids have a lot of energy. This is most likely why the inside of your house looks like it was hit by a tornado on a regular basis. Your little ones love to be active, which is why many parents are eager to enroll their kids in as many extracurricular activities as they can from an early age. From soccer leagues and science clubs to dance and horseback riding classes, there are a ton of options to choose from to keep your little balls of energy entertained for hours and hours. But is it possible for kids to have too much of a good thing? How many extracurriculars should kids have? Experts suggest it could be beneficial to set some limits.
A study published in the journal Sport, Education and Society found that scheduling too many organized activities could put unnecessary pressure on a child and ultimately cause strain on the entire family unit. Researchers, who interviewed close to 50 families from 12 different primary schools in the United Kingdom, found that 88 percent of kids attended anywhere from four to five extracurriculars every week. As a result, families with jam-packed schedules end up spending less quality time together, thereby putting a strain on their relationships with one another.
So, are extracurriculars a good thing?
Yes, absolutely. Extracurriculars can have many benefits, like providing kids with physical and mental stimulation, encouraging exercise and social interactions, and allowing them to practice working as a team. Plus, it can just be a lot of fun! But based on the study’s findings, it’s also important to keep everything in moderation so that it doesn’t overwhelm you, your kid, or the entire family.
“A busy organized activity schedule can put considerable strain on parents’ resources and families’ relationships, as well as potentially harm children’s development and well-being,” lead author of the study, Dr. Sharon Wheeler, explained, as per PsychCentral.com. “Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good.”
So, what’s the best course of action? Select a couple of activities your kid shows interest in and keep an open flow of communication about how it’s going and adjust accordingly. Don’t worry about what other parents are doing or stress that your kid isn’t in as many groups or clubs as others. As long as your kiddo is happy with the end result, the rest doesn’t matter.
At what age should kids start extracurriculars?
Like with most things when it comes to parenting, there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Every kid is different and wonderfully unique. But as a general guideline, Randy McCoy, senior executive of product leadership at The Little Gym, told Romper that between the ages of 2 and 3 years old is probably the best time to kick things off. “Children at this age are establishing independence and developing an interest and abilities in social interaction,” McCoy stated. “As most extracurricular activities will involve a social element, a 2- to 3-year-old child may experience many developmental benefits.”
Is it bad to let your kid quit extracurriculars before they finish?
Obviously, you don’t want your kid to get into the habit of automatically quitting something before giving it a real chance. However, they need to know it is an option if the activity they’re participating in honestly makes them unhappy. No one wants to feel trapped or forced into doing something, especially if that something is supposed to be fun. And while quitting has a lot of negative (and unfair) connotations tied to it, it can actually prove to be beneficial in some ways.
As funny as it may sound, it’s good for your child to be bored sometimes because it forces them to find creative ways to keep themselves entertained rather than relying on others to do it for them. It also frees up their schedule for three things that could prove crucial to their successful upbringing: playtime, downtime, and family time.
Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, believes these three things, which she’s dubbed as “PDF,” are vital for every child’s well-being. “Every kid needs PDF every day,” Pope stated in an interview with KQED’s Forum in 2019, adding that saddling kids with a never-ending array of extracurriculars is “to the detriment of what we know kids need for healthy development, which is free, unstructured playtime.”
TL; DR: Extracurriculars can be great — just make sure they don’t end up dominating your life (and the lives of your kids) in the process. As the age-old saying goes, sometimes less is more.