Extra-Curricular Overload

photo credit: 
Ben Francis on flickr
When it's time to say 'no' to after-school activities

School is opening and with it comes the barrage of extra curricular activities. Talent shows. Science projects. Homework. Dance class. Basketball practice. Violin recitals. Book reports. When is enough too much?

A friend of mine tells me her 15-year-old daughter has insisted on participating in almost every extra cirricular activity that came down the pipe. She has become snippy with her siblings and looks tired. I think she knows that she took a large bite this time.

What's a parent to do? Is there a tactful way of dealing with this issue without squashing your child's interests or enthusiasm? Here are a few tips that may help your child ease into a comfort zone fit for both of you.

Introducing our example kid: Janet
Janet has chosen four activities that she would like to participate in after school: basketball, dance, ceramics and drama club. In order to determine whether or not this is doable without experiencing overload, first she and her family must figure out if:

  1. She will have ample time for homework and special school projects
  2. It will affect her family or religious obligations
  3. They will interfere with her private time alone or with friends

How much time does it take Janet to get her homework done each night? Is she the type of child that finishes her homework in studyhall and on the bus ride home or does she dawdle for hours at night, just to rush and get it done the following morning while eating her breakfast?

Does she have prior commitments through her church or other family obligations that may prevent or deter an activity she has chosen? Will Janet have enough time to watch television and relax or chat on the phone with her friends?

All of these questions should be addressed before she and her family decide which activities to choose.

Putting it down on paper
Once Janet and her family have assessed the amount of time needed for schoolwork and other commitments, it's time to lay the activities out on the table.

Janet's family begins with the activities she finds most rewarding. As you move through this process with your child, write the chosen activities down on a piece of paper and ask your child to number them by importance, number one being most important and number four the least.

Then label each activity with approximate commitment times. For example, if Janet chooses dance as her most rewarding choice, she will need to label the amount of time that this activity will require. Most activities provide a schedule for the duration of the season. If you don't have one, ask the instructor or coach.

Let's say that dance requires two practices per week after school at one hour each and a recital every other Saturday for one hour. Don't forget commute time! For each one hour session she will need to arrive 15 minutes early for warm ups and it takes 15 minutes to get there and 15 minutes to get home. So each one hour session is in reality up to two hours of committed time.

2 hrs x 2 times per week = 4 hrs/week plus two Saturdays per month at 2 hrs each

Do this simple exercise for each activity. Don't get too detailed, keep it fairly simple and round up instead of down on your times. This will allow for extra time if you need it, and we usually do!

What to eliminate
Janet and her family have determined the following from the above exercises:

Homework--Janet excels academically and usually has the bulk of her homework done before she gets home from school. Whatever isn't done is usually finished before dinner is put on the table.

Family/religion--Janet has commitments at her place of worship once per week for one hour. She also baby-sits her little brother every Friday night for her parents.

Private time--Janet likes to spend time with her friends at least two times per week after school just hanging out. Sometimes she likes to roller blade or just watch television. She has decided that she would like to slot a few hours twice per week just for herself.

Dance--This activity, as illustrated above, will need a commitment of 4-6 hours per week, including commute time.

Basketball--This was Janet's second choice. Though this activity also takes up a lot of time, it is seasonal and does not last all year.

Drama club--This is something that Janet truly enjoys, but she has determined that her private time and her family time are more important to her, so she has decided not to take it this year.

Ceramics--Though this was last on Janet's list of most rewarding activities, she chose it over drama because it only requires one hour per week after school.

Make the decisions together
Our children look to us for guidance. If we decide to be the bad guy and tell our children whether or not they may participate in an activity, we create a negative atmosphere. By allowing your children to be part of the decision making process, we have taught a lesson in responsibility that will help carry them into a more productive adulthood, and create a win/win situation for both you and your child.

Amanda Formaro is the mother of four children. She and her husband live in southeastern Wisconsin. She is the owner of The Family Corner.com website.