Parents are under constant pressure to do the “right thing” for their children. In this article, I want to explore a bit about the pros and cons of young children doing multiple out of school activities, and looking at the available alternatives.
Don’t fear that this will be one of those judgmental articles that leave you feeling bad for not teaching your child to knit or spending a minimum of three hours in fresh air per day!
We feel that no parent should be judged for simply trying to do their best! We have our own schedules to work around and obviously, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all-list of “Best After School Activities”. Every child will have their own specific needs and interests, and every family has its own limitations with time and money, but I enjoyed spending some time thinking about how we could make the most of the time our children have after school, and I hope that you find some of it helpful too.
Children Starting School
I remember when Anna first started school, I wanted to wrap her up and do anything I could to make her feel safe and secure when she got home. In her world, this meant having a “treat” to eat and being allowed to watch TV! So this is what we did every day to begin with, but it wasn’t long before I started to worry that this might not be the right thing in the sense it’s not a particularly wholesome or healthy habit to have!
Should there be some kind of “After School Routine”? I remember googling “what do kids do after school”?! I just found a few chats from MumsNet and nothing very helpful. Gradually play-dates after school became a regular thing, and with the introduction of a few organised activities, I didn’t really have to worry about what to do anymore. The days just passed and we did what felt right at the time!
I guess the best thing is to trust your instincts, and follow what seems to work for your own child. Other children that we know, go to after school clubs every day, but I just don’t feel that would be right for us. As a family, all four of us do enjoy having plenty of relaxed time at home, and I now feel comfortable letting the children watch some TV, although it has to be limited!
It is most important not to fall into that trap of comparing with other families and their children. Comparing to what we liked ourselves as children doesn’t really work either! They don’t always like the things we liked ourselves, and pushing them into things might have the reverse effect by putting them off! If anything, I would encourage people to relax and spend more chill time at home. But it’s a game of juggling isn’t it? And trying to balance activities that they really love around school, play dates and down-time can be tricky!
Over scheduling children has become the latest Parent Sin!
I have heard this term in the media, or words to the effect that we are doing “too many activities” with children, and it seems to be yet more negativity directed at parents of today! I don’t want to put up a case for, or against this, because things are so incredibly different these days, and the world of the internet and media now pose another huge threat to our children.
Is a little over-scheduling preferable to children spending hours on screens!! Which is better?! There is an argument that screen time can be good for kids, and I agree that it can sometimes prove educational in a positive way. I suppose the obvious answer is balance. Wherever you turn, it can seem that there is a potential risk of some kind! Nobody ever said being a parent was easy, right?!
With regard to children’s schedules, I recognise that having enough free time to feel bored can be a good thing, and we can’t access our creative mind well without a little space to think! But let’s just quit with the accusations please?!
I am sure there are indeed some cases where children are in fact doing way too much, and this research by Sharon Wheeler and Ken Green (2018), does suggest that when children are taking part in too many activities, it can have a negative impact on them and the rest of the family too! Factors that are mentioned include exhaustion, lack of free time and financial stress.
In an effort to share some facts about what children are doing activity-wise, I thought I would share our own children’s current schedule!!
These basic charts show the ratio of time out of school that our 6 year old girl, and 4 year old boy, are spending doing activities versus activity free days
Please excuse the gender biasing with colour choices.
I feel like we have this ratio just right for our two at the moment. Anna has only just started the Sunday Netball, and I feel it is giving her a bit of social interaction and exercise on an otherwise chilled weekend. Henry has recently dropped two activities as he is now at school full-time, and while he would like to do more, my protective nature and instinct tells me to wait a few more months. He is still incredibly tired after a day at school!
Over-stimulating Children Vs Down-time
So we’ve looked at the paid out-of-school activities, what about the rest of the time?
I was recently involved in a conversation with other Mums, about our children, and how some of them do find it difficult to get to sleep after school etc. It was suggested that one girl was not so much being “worn-out” by the number of activities that she was doing outside school, but perhaps was being over-stimulated, and finding it hard to settle down at bed time. I found this idea quite interesting, as the poor mum had been trying her best to think of more and more activities to use up all of her daughter’s energy, and it hadn’t appeared to be working.
I found myself thinking, what actually is “Down-Time for Children”. Since we know, there are also dangers of over-stimulation via TV screens, and other devices, what is the best way for children to wind down?!
I know, that our own children seem to have a kind of optimum threshold for TV time! (or any screen). If they have this amount it seems to work well as a way of relaxing, and forgetting about school, but if they watch more, it seems to almost tip them over the edge and they are even more drained of energy than before.
If they watch more than an hour for example, they are more likely to put up a dramatic show of protest, and try every trick in the book to watch more TV, than if it had been switched off at the right time! I have heard people say that the screens almost “suck you in” and I couldn’t agree more! We call the children “zombies” when they are watching TV, as they have huge, eyes, sit motionless and completely dead to the rest of the world around them!
Alternative activities do require some more planning and sometimes more effort, and more engagement with parents (or any care-giver) and sometimes this is really difficult to juggle.
Our After-School “Routine”
We have a fairly regimented after school routine now, which I sometimes try to change, but I have overall accepted as my children are happy with it! We walk home from school together which is lovely, most of the time, but as soon as the front door is opened, any conversation is stopped in its tracks and the shoes are thrown off in a rush. Honestly, its comedic! Before I have even looked around from hanging up my door keys, the children are parking themselves in front of the TV and settling onto the sofa with a remote control in hand. Sometimes the living room door is slammed, shutting me out before I even manage to ask “Would you like a drink”?!
So it’s become our Chill Time. I make their dinner, get myself a cup of tea and by the time dinner is ready, they are happy (ish) to turn off the TV and come and chat with me while they eat.
Usually, if we are not going to a club/ activity then they go and play together. I don’t really have to construct activities for them, they are quite happy playing side by side or getting into some role-play… Long may this last!!
When we have a friend over to play, the balance is tipped. The other sibling may get left out or need some more engagement from me, otherwise the TV takes over again. This is when I might consult my imaginary store cupboard of wonderful activities to help children after school! Desperate to think of something good, quickly before the TV is on and we have to have an argument, I would quickly produce something like play-doh, and then often regret it as the child is in fact, too tired to be bothered and I’m just left with more clearing up to do!!! Reading together sometimes does work, especially if I stop clearing up, and come and sit down to give them my full attention for a while.
Activities that have been suggested as good wind-down activities for children are colouring, puzzles, painting (we like the magic painting books as you only need some water and a brush then the pages turn into beautiful colourful scenes), making scrap books, hama or aqua beads, stories, baking (but quite frankly this can be messy to deal with after school!), playing ball in the garden, dancing/ singing to music, board games and my kids also love it when I get on the floor with them and we do “yoga” which basically involved them climbing on my, cuddling and maybe some balancing. Actually it has been ages since we’ve done that, and it’s lovely! I will do it tonight!
If you want to get some more ideas for these kinds of activities, have a look at our review here.
Many of us would love to know, how to help your child succeed in school, and in life generally!! I don’t honestly know, what “succeed” does or should mean in this instance, but I prefer to let the children do their own thing at school! They are very young still, and I am just happy to see them coping with going to school daily, and all it entails.
I help with the homework, help with school-related activities wherever I can, and above all I try to make sure that their home is a safe and happy place to be. My children definitely seem to need a balance between doing scheduled activities, and relaxed time to play freely, and I guess the same could probably be said about all of us!
It seems the immeasurable work-life balance begins at school age!
If you have any thoughts about this subject, we’d love to hear from you so go ahead and leave some comments below.