By Keri Kao
As the kids head back to the classroom parents must be cautious not to overload children’s schedules
As summer comes to an end, us working moms often have different perspectives on the start of a new school year. Some of us can’t wait to get the kids back in school, and some of us are sad to see summer holidays end.
I put myself in the second group, as I am always sad to see summer end. I love that my children can stay home all day, sleep in, swim, play with their friends, and do whatever they wish.
As a home-based business owner, I have the luxury of being able to work full-time in the summer as well as also being home all day with my children. And they don’t fight (too much) so I’m not at home pulling my hair out either, which is a plus. They never want summer holidays to end and for the most part, they have never been children who look forward to back-to-school.
I love warm weather, and I do not like the cold seemingly never-ending winter that we get here in this province. I must admit, the 30 degree temps can be a little warm for me at times, but it certainly makes for great outdoor swimming weather.
However, these hot summer days will soon be behind us, and cooler September days and evenings will come along in no time.
With September comes the return to school, earlier bedtimes, and the return to a busy schedule of activities. I always find the back-to-school routine takes quite a bit of adjustment for all of us –myself and the children. Getting up early, packing lunches (blah!) and shuffling the children off to school and their various activities. However, sometimes children’s schedules can be overloaded with activities and I think it is important to find the correct balance.
I don’t believe children need to be in everything, but in things that both challenge and interest them. Through trial and error and trying different activities over the years, I have realized that music lessons and soccer are where my two sons’ interests lie. They have tried other things, but these things are what they truly enjoy.
Over-scheduling can be a real issue with some families today. As a private music teacher, I see that children today are often over-scheduled and have very little downtime, so they either don’t have enough free time, or don’t want to spend the little free time they do have by practicing.
I know from speaking to parents and children that many families spend most of their afternoons and evenings carting everyone around to their various activities, and often eating meals on the run. Many parents complain about having no time to do homework, so I would imagine music practice becomes even less of a priority in these cases.
More than 70 per cent of parents polled in a recent Global News survey say it’s important to keep children as busy as possible with structured activities. At the same time more than half of the same parents also said extracurricular activities can take up too much of children’s schedules. Over-scheduling can also lead to stressed-out children, which we know is definitely not a good thing. A poll by Health America (2013) revealed that out of 882 children, 41 per cent between the ages of nine and 13 felt stressed all or most of the time, because they have too much to do. Of those same children surveyed, 78 per cent wished they had more free time.
Another article from Global News Canada discusses the stress and anxiety plaguing Canadian youth of today. Young Canadians are suffering from rising levels of anxiety, stress and depression. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that the total number of 12 to 19 year olds at risk of depression is a staggering 3.2 million. Although well-intentioned by parents, over-scheduling can add to increased pressure and stress levels for our children.
Another area of importance when it comes to children’s afterschool habits is the over-use of technology and too much screen time. It is startling to note that according to Participaction.com, Canadian children spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of screens each day. Students in grades nine to 12 in Canada spend an average of 8.2 hours per day in screen-based sedentary behaviour. These numbers are shockingly high. Screen time is taking over children’s lives, is taking away play time, as well as time which could be better spent at more productive activities such as doing homework, playing outside, or practicing for a music lesson.
It has been shown that children with unstructured free time have more time to process activities and learning. They are more creative, self-driven, and independent. Unstructured play time with friends can also lead to better social skills. Since every child is different, finding a balance that works for your child is the key to success.
So as we enter a new school year, let’s keep the carefree days of summer in our minds and try not to overload our children, and not to overload ourselves. And remember: “Balance is not something we find, it’s something we create.”