Why are our kids so over scheduled? Are all of these extracurricular activities really making them better & brighter or starting them off earlier than necessary on a life of never-ending multi-tasked activities and responsibilities that cause a vicious cycle of stress and exhaustion? Can you tell what my position on this matter is??
Read on to see how I've tried to simplify things for my 3.5 and 5 year old (and myself of course).
Young children's needs are pretty basic and clear. Our ambitions, desires, fears and schedules are, on the other hand, way more complex. We as adults are constantly complaining about being tired and not having enough down time or play time or me-time or alone-time or funtime or sleep-time. Unfortunately, as opposed to simplifying things for our selves, our families and our children, we are overcomplicating matters by letting our own issues and complexities cloud our judgement when it comes to managing our children's time.
Children need to sleep. Children need to play. Children need to have some rules and structure in their lives. Children need opportunities to socialize and learn things. But most importantly, these days, children need the opportunity to just chill-ax and entertain themselves (without an iPad).
If your child is in a good preschool...you have already given them a huge gift. They are learning, socialising, learning rules and developing in an ideal environment. Ours is a full-day preschool for 3+ year olds and we are truly lucky to have found a great all around school in which children literally blossom in front of your eyes.
My problem is not with full-day preschool programs. My problem is with the dozen or so "activities", "classes" and "camps" we are trying to schedule into our kids lives. Even if your children love all of these extra-curricular activities, you as a parent have to slow things down and simplify things for them.
Let's take a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as it applies to young children...
Children before the age of 6 (and even a while thereafter) NEED 10-12 hours of solid sleep a night. This should be priority number one. If your child wakes up at 7am to get ready for school then they need to be in bed SLEEPING by 8pm-ish. That does not mean 9:30ish or 10ish. If you stretch bedtime to 9:00, they will sleep by about 9:30, 10pm...which is way too late. A 7:30 bed time and 8:00pm fall-asleep time is ideal...even if this means they don't spend time with daddy or mommy who comes home late. How can a four-yearold who has a different activity three or four days a week get sufficient sleep? They can't. How can a five-yearold who needs to learn to entertain themselves find time to PLAY...just PLAY...jump around...dance...misbehave...let it loose...if they have tons of structured activities all the time? They can't.
Here is what an ideal, typical, simple day looks like...in my opinion
7:00 Wake-up and breakfast with the family
8:00 Leave for school
16:00 Come-back from school, snack, decompress
16:30 Play, go outside, run, jump
19:30 Play with mom-dad-read-homework
But what about gymnastics, drama, french, tennis, swimming, fencing, horse-back riding, golf lessons?? They can wait. If they are a must, these activities can take place on the weekend. One or two of them...max. If only weekdays are available for these activities then these can take place once a week instead of play and TV/screen time. My rule of thumb here is that an activity should not interfere with SLEEP schedules and or unstructured (especially physical) play.
Don't worry if your child doesn't speak Chinese. They will not be left out of the global economy. Just running after a basketball or playing hopscotch or playing tag in the pool are enough as far as activities which make preschoolers happy and healthy. Don't worry your children will not fare better than you...we started them in really good preschools at age 2 for god sake!
Here is what I aim for in terms of allocation of hours for different activities...maybe you'll agree...maybe you won't...either way, I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter of crazy over-scheduling of young kids in urban very upwardly mobile families...
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