We are near the finish line of elementary school. I still remember my son running into his kindergarten classroom. He never looked back and never saw me cry. Soon after, came the array of kids’ activities and sports.
Our kids are literally inundated with so many opportunities that psychologists write about the risks of the over-scheduled child. As parents, we’ve seen it and felt it.
Alvin Rosenfeld, author of “The Over-Scheduled Child” warns of the possible consequences of accounting for too many minutes of your child’s day. These consequences can include depression, anxiety and a lack of creativity and problem solving skills.
At a young age, our son rattled off a long list of activities. But added, “I want 3 nights off a week.” “Nights off? How so?” I asked. “Well, I want to be Free-Off.” I think he meant a combination of Free-Time and Time-Off. No commitments. Time to play outside. Time to be a kid. After this conversation, I realized he was on to something. He recognized the need for margin even before I did.
A standard 1-inch margin is 37% of the page. It might seem like a lot of empty space and yet critical to create a visually appealing document. Margin also gives our lives breathing room. But leaving margin in your schedule is easier said than done.
- Exhausted/Difficult to wake up in the morning
- Eating more meals in the car than the table
- Everyone is irritated
- Change in grades
- No downtime to just play a board game
To combat this, we discuss trade-offs. We budget our resources, both time and money. My son’s request for 3 weeknights off and 10 activities did not work for schedule or budget!
Not all kids ask for time off. They get caught up in the excitement of joining their friends for sports. As parents, it’s up to us to guard their schedules and help make these decisions. Our best days are when we’re “Free-Off” with room for spontaneity.
Here’s some ideas to avoid over-scheduling
Create Family Values and Priorities
If you’ve never done this, try it. Feel free to read mine but yours will be different. Then compare them to your calendar. Church activities are non-negotiables in our family. Worship is offered 4 times on Sunday and online. And we strive to keep it a day of rest. We set the example for our son by living out these values.
Start Each School Year or Season with a Clean Slate
Before you rush to register for a bunch of activities, write down all the options. Fill out a mock-calendar with the practices and games. Don’t forget school and work. Get a real sense for how full the calendar will be before you commit. Make sure the entire family understands the commitment of time and money. Discuss how saying yes to these activities means saying no to something else. And you may not know what that is yet. But a packed schedule leaves little room to accept future invites.
Every summer, we sit down to evaluate the fall schedule and ask the following:
- Are there any new activities we’d like to try?
- Which ones should we continue/stop?
- Are there new places we want to travel?
- New experiences we want to share?
- How will the sports and activity schedule affect these plans?
Consider everyone’s schedules…Mom, Dad and the kids. Everyone gets a say. Mom and dad work. Kids go to school. Church is a given. Dad likes to golf and mom loves book club. As a family we look forward to game nights, hanging out with the neighbors and travel. Keep family activities a priority.
Schedule Nights Off First
How many nights off do your kids want? Ask them. How many nights do you want? Have a conversation and really listen to what every family member is saying and how they feel.
Take A Day Off
Years ago, I read Minimalist Parenting. I highly recommend the entire book. The chapter on activities offers sage advice about the importance of free time for creativity. Boredom is good for our kids, really. It emphasizes how much our children learn from unstructured time.
When it comes to activities, the author gives her kids some control over their schedule which they appreciate. We apply her approach to my son’s sports schedule and allow him to choose one day per month to take a break. I get it…sometimes I want a day off too! We plan it in advance and communicate with his coach. Then, he gets to choose something fun or do nothing at all.
What keeps you from having more free-time? If you said no to an activity, what could you finally say yes to?
Free-Off is a phrase we have come to love in our family. I hope you’ll try it!
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