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Choosing Activities for Your Kids' Schedule

Don't let your kids' schedule get out of control, choose wisely.

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The tendency of parents to over schedule kids is the subject of many a parenting books these days. But how much is too much--essentially what should be on your kid’s schedule--is a personal decision for each family.

Some families thrive on a family schedule of enriching activities that leaves little downtime for anyone. However, others feel pushed to the edge of insanity by an ever-ballooning kids’ schedule. Whatever your family’s inclination, set up your kids' schedules in a thoughtful, conscious way--not simply adding activities to your family's calendar until you’ve reached the breaking point--and your family will enjoy themselves with less stress.

Consider the following with each new activity:

Interest/Benefit

Not all activities are created equal. A kid's schedule should reflect his or her interests. Everyone in the household will be happier about devoting time and energy to an activity that truly inspires a child. But a kid's schedule that's full of activities of only marginal interest doesn't allow time for a child to find his or her passion. Also, while it can be convenient to have two kids in the same activity, be sure they both are interested and will benefit from it.

Since you really can't know if you like something until you try it, inevitably there will ones they want to quit. Have a policy for how long a child must give an activity a try before quitting.

Conflicts (Current and Future)

It’s easy enough to spot the obvious conflicts in a kid’s schedule, i.e. dance class is at the same time as T-ball. But keep an eye out for less obvious conflicts: monthly or biweekly activities, games or other activities that change times from week to week, vacations and holidays, siblings' or parents' commitments, etc.

Plus consider the at-home practice time needed for many activities such as sports or music lessons. Will this cut into homework or family time? Don't be afraid to declare something a conflict because it leaves too little time for relaxation or it would just make your kid's schedule too crazy.

Duration

Always know the duration of any recurring activity before you put it on the family schedule. Will it last the whole summer or school year? Is it a certain number of weeks? Keep in mind that some activities (martial arts, dance, etc.) may be extended indefinitely as children continually advance to higher levels.

Frequency

Once a week is the typical time frame for kids’ activities, making those that are every other week or monthly more difficult to remember. Activities that are more than once per week will have a greater impact on the family.

Sports and performance-oriented activities may have varying numbers of meetings per week. Remember in addition to the regular class or practice there may be additional practices, regular games, makeup games, performances, costume fittings and dress rehearsals.

Time/Day of Week

The time of an activity on a kid’s schedule is often more of a concern on weekdays. Will this activity cut into family dinner? Will it mean your child is up late finishing homework?

Day of the week, on the other hand, is something that may be more of an issue on weekends. Activities with a fairly short duration (8 weeks, one semester, etc.) may be fine for a Saturday or Sunday. But for activities that last the school year, consider if you really want to commit every weekend to it.

Age and Temperament of Child

Even if you’re the on-the-go-type who is not bothered by a full schedule, your child may not be the same. And the younger the child, the fewer activities they can handle. And don't forget to consider the younger sibling who is carted around from activity to activity. Be aware of how much is too much for everyone in the family.

Cost

The cost of kids’ activities can add up. Be sure you look beyond registration fees to the cost of uniforms, materials, field trips and transportation as you decide whether to put an activity on your kid's schedule.

On the flip side, don’t sign your child up for something simply because it is free, if they aren’t truly interested. It is still costing you something in terms of time and transportation. And your child’s time is valuable too. Don’t have them spend it on something they don’t enjoy.

Transportation

Transportation time should be factored into the equation from the start. A one-hour activity that is a half hour from your home is in fact a two-hour activity, unless you can carpool. Check to see if you child's school offers an activity as an after-school program before committing to a far-flung activity.

Parental Time and Involvement

Is this a drop-off activity or do parents need to stay for the duration? Will there be fund raising, coaching, or volunteering expected from the parents? If so, which parents will be involved? (If you expect it will be your spouse, be sure you discuss these expectations.)

Need more help keeping your schedule in order?

Check out these time management tips for moms.
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