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Over Scheduling Your Child

over scheduling kid's camps and lessonsI have a wonderful 7 year old daughter. Since she is an only child, so we get one shot at parenting. We are fortunate that we have a good income and no consumer debt. That allows us to give her many advantages that people working paycheck to paycheck might not be able to do. That being said, there are about 4 million and one activities available for 7 year olds these days. How do I know which ones are worthwhile or how much is too much? I don’t want to over schedule my child.

Too Many Activities

When I was a kid, I think we could start softball and basketball in 4th grade. I grew up in a very rural town, so there was no private dance school or Mandarin Chinese lessons for 3 year olds. I don’t know any kids who ever did more than one thing at a time. Mainly, because there wasnt’ that much to do.

Fast forward to today. We still live in a rural area, but starting at age 3, kids can do gymnastics, dance, soccer, wresting, and swim lessons. By kindergarten, you can also add skiing, karate, piano, violin, t-ball, football, and probably lots more I don’t even know about. As the kid grows, so does the list of offerings. I know families with young kids who are out until after 7PM every week night plus at least one weekend day for organized activities.

How Much Do Kid Activities Cost?

I think it depends on where you live, and we are probably in a cheaper area. Still, it is expensive. To do dance for the season from September to May, it’s $40 per month plus the cost of shoes, leotards, tights, and recital costumes. You can buy the shoes and other things used, but the costumes run around $120. Swim team is $160 per session, which lasts about 4 months. Ski lessons were $180 per six weekly sessions, plus cost of renting or buying equipment. You also have to count the gas to get to and from everything. So for this past year, we spent about $1000 plus gas costs for kid activities. If we’d bought everything new and eaten out a few times a week because we didn’t prepare, it could have been double that.

Should All Kids Participate in Extracurricular Activities?

Jim and I decided that we would try as many things as we could from an early age to see if anything “stuck.” Since we do have an only child, we also wanted her to see what it’s like to be part of a team and not always be the top banana. On the other hand, we didn’t want to over schedule.

 One issue is that some activitites, like dance, run almost year long while others, like ski lessons, are only a few weeks. At some times this year, we only had one night a week where we had to be somewhere, but there were times when we had dance one night, then swimming two nights, and skiing on Friday evenings. That’s four days a week with a scheduled after school activity! Then you have to include school performances and open houses. It was too much for all of us. Maybe our philosophy needs to change.

What About Summer?

For the month of June, Jim and I both had to work. My schedule is crazy right now because I am doing fill in work for docs on vacation. Summer is generally the busiest time for optometry anyway. We either had to put the daughter in day care or sign her up for camps. So far, she’s done a week of golf camp and a week of art camp. We also took advantage of all the free or low cost activities we could like the library, play dates,  and the pool. I was the slacker parent in doing my part because I’ve been working so much. July should be much easier as Jim is off for the entire month.

Is It Worth It?

I think the jury is still out on that one. We love to ski, and I think lessons were a good idea. I have no grace or coordination, so I’m hoping dance might show that to my daughter. I don’t think we got much out of swim team except the strong suspicion that our kid is not a competitive swimmer. We also learned to plan our meals really well because I was determined that we would  not be that family who ate fast food because we were too lazy busy to cook. I also know there are families who go into debt or put off saving to afford kid activities. I know it’s hard to say no, but I would not do either of those things if I had to choose.

I think we were too overscheduled for parts of the year. I’m sure as she gets older, we could be out every night if there is something that does stick. For first grade, it was a bit much. I’m going to try and limit it to one thing next year, but we’ll see. How on earth do people do this with more than one child?

Am I creating a monster to have a 7 year old out four nights a week? Am I creating one if I don’t have lots of activities scheduled? Parents of older kids, please chime in!

 

 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

28 comments

  1. Kim, I get caught in that trap very easily myself. As the oldest of 7 children I didn’t do a whole lot of extracurricular stuff when I was young, there were too many people who needed attention! But we want my daughter (5) to “experience” a lot of things to see what she likes. I think the busy schedule waters all of her experiences down, though.
    FI Pilgrim recently posted..June In Review – Income Expense and Net WorthMy Profile

    • When it’s all you can do to get there on time and you’re always rushing around, it is hard to stop and enjoy the thing that you are rushing around for.

  2. I wish when I was younger that I was placed in extra curricular activities, that didn’t start for me until HIGH SCHOOL.

    That being said, when I was in college I applied for a nanny position for a 3 year old. I made it past several interviews, only to not get the job. Even though I had good work experience, good grades, volunteer experience and more, the parents said I wasn’t qualified enough. They wanted someone who keep speak more than just English and was involved in several sports. Their 3 year old could SPEAK 3 or 4 different languages, he took language classes, he was in preschool classes full-time, he was in sports, and more. It seemed a little excessive at that point to me, but I’m sure they had a genius child on their hands.
    Michelle recently posted..What I Don’t Miss About My Day JobMy Profile

    • I’m all for encouraging gifted children, but I also think you can burn them out and they want to join the circus. Unless you plan on sending your kids to an ivy league school or having them run for President, I don’t know that being so overscheduled all the time is a good plan. Are there really nannies who speak 4 languages and are good at sports? We generally settle for no criminal record and a full set of teeth when looking for a sitter.

  3. I think it is really easy to get in the over scheduling trap, especially when you have one child. We just have one as well and we said we would only sign him up for activities if it was something that he really wanted to do. If my son was super happy four nights a week participating in activities, then I wouldn’t mind. He only really loves soccer, so it is our weekend activity for most of the year. I hate when I see parents over schedule their kids, though, and the kids aren’t even happy about it and whine and complain every day about going. When this happens, it doesn’t make sense for anyone.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted..My Financial FreedomMy Profile

    • We have a rule that you have to finish what you start as far as a season or lessons or whatever, but if she doesn’t want to do it again, we don’t have to. I also see parents dragging their kids to certain things or signing them up because it’s convenient to their work schedule. I don’t want to do that for sure.

  4. We’ve really cut back on our extracurricular activities. With four kids it’s simply not possible for them all to be involved all at once. We try to keep ours limited to school related activities. We also have a rule that each one of ours can only be involved in one non-school activity at a time. That has seemed to keep us in check but we are still real busy with it, especially during the school months.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..Debunking a Few Home-Buying MisconceptionsMy Profile

    • Just to get dinner and homework done with four kids must be a feat. I really like the one at a time rule.

  5. Kim, I saw lots of this in the suburbs where we used to live, and as the kids got older, many, many of them ended up exhausted, burnt out and had no real passion for anything. They ended up putting lots of pressure on themselves to excel at everything they did. Some broke down in high school, and some not until college, but most experienced some sort of serious burnout. I think, at 7, you could let your daughter be the guide. 4 nights a week sounds like a lot to me, but it might not be for her, you know? She might love to be active. I think the more important part is that you make sure she knows that these things are done for fun, and not with the goal of being a professional “whatever”. If she goes down that professional path, great, but make sure she knows that this is not your expectation for her, but instead, it’s to give her opportunities to try different things, and that you are perfectly fine with her dropping this activity or that activity if she prefers to focus on something else. it’s always difficult to find a balance with kids, isn’t it?
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..Beware of MonstersMy Profile

    • Just when I think I’m balance, something tips the other way. I don’t want burnout, but I don’t want bored either.

  6. We deal with this ourselves and is something we want to avoid since we have three. We have very close family friends here that also have three and they have their daughters in everything you could imagine. The finances aren’t really an issue because he makes a great salary, but their two oldest are gone at least 5 if not 6 nights a week in some activity or another. I’m all about providing opportunities to kids, but I also think there is a point in which they’re doing too much. I know it can be a hard balance to find and one that we’re just starting to see the need for ourselves.
    John @ Wise Dollar recently posted..Four Things to Look for When Buying a HouseMy Profile

    • I think a huge part of it too is that you almost need a non-working parent or someone else to cart the kids around if you have multiple activities. I see lots of kids who have aunts and grandparents who help out and we don’t have any relatives that are close, and I don’t know that I’d hire someone to take my kid to soccer.

  7. I was scheduled 6 days a week. My extra curriculars often conflicted and there were tough decisions to be made. I pulled A TON of all nighters in high school because it was only after 10 or 11pm that I got a chance to START doing homework with all my activities. That said, I’m grateful for the things I got to do and the person they helped me become.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted..Thank You For Your SuccessMy Profile

    • I guess you get used to whatever life you live as a child. I’m just not quite sure which direction we want to go.

  8. My brother and his (now ex) wife have six kids, and their activities are part of the reason they got a divorce. His ex is obsessed with the kids being in sports to the point of absurdity. On any given Saturday, they would have 3 or 4 soccer games, a volley tournament, etc. etc. They literally had no lives. They got a divorce and she insists on keeping them in all the sports to the detriment of their family life. It is so sad.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Sorry Kids, We’re Broke: 4 Reasons to Live Like You’re PoorMy Profile

    • Wow! I can’t believe you’d ruin your marriage for soccer or gymnastics. I don’t know how you could afford activities for 6 kids if they were close in age.

  9. I laugh because I remember where the girls were babies and I thought it will be easier when they are bigger are there are no more diapers and bottles and diapers. But now they have tons of activities and sleepovers and a busier social calendar than me. :) Trying to find the right balance is a work in progress. As you said, it’s hard because some activities are year-round and others just last a few weeks. We want them to be active but we want to make sure it remains fun too. Sometimes I think it’s more tiring for Mom and Dad than it is for them!
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted..History of US Currency #InfographicMy Profile

    • Baby stage was hard because you had to do everything for the kid, but at least we did come home each day and stayed put. I think I had more down time then!

  10. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a HUGE problem for me when I become a parent. I think I’ll just get too excited about all the things they can try and put them in too many activities. I do want them to try things out like snowboarding/skiing, golf, and tennis because they are things I didn’t learn as a kid and it was much harder learning in high school, though I was able to learn.

    Even when I was in high school you really had to play year-round sports to be good enough for varsity. Many of the soccer players were in winter and spring/summer leagues. I like your strategy of trying a few different things when they are young to see if anything sticks, but I think parent’s bias comes into play too. I know I would love it if my kids played soccer versus certain other sports.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..5 Fun and Inexpensive July 4 ActivitiesMy Profile

  11. As a non parent it’s tough for me to answer that. I would say times have really changed though. It’s VERY completive for kids in the area I live in because there is a lot of money. When I played beach volleyball tournaments I was constantly getting my ass kicked by 13-year-olds who had been in club volleyball since birth. If you aren’t in a club team, you stand no chance whatsoever on getting on a high school team, which I think is just sad. When I was a kid we had lots of free time. Sure there was little league and stuff like that, but plenty of down time. The only thing is I WISH my parents would have put me in dance, theater, music and whatnot but they stuck me in sports I hated because my brother did it. So I like the idea of introducing things to kids…then seeing what they just sort of gravitate to.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted..June Review/July GoalsMy Profile

    • That’s a great point. The only reason I ever played basketball was because my mom was ready to sign me up for cheerleading, which would have been a disaster! At least where we live, kids usually have the opportunity to be on the team, even if they aren’t first string.

  12. It seems to me that four nights is too much. Really, should there not be some family time? I admit to having no idea what the right answer is. And that right answer might just depend on the kid.
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  13. When our son was young we allowed him to participate in one sport at a time each season. In the summer our small town had an organization for the kids that allowed them to sign up for a variety of activities and he participated in several. But the activities were more like try-outs, in that he got to try archery, and he tried, bowling etc. It was a one time activity but not something that continued throughout the summer. They also scheduled an afternoon at the swimming pool, different crafts etc. which you could sign up for one or for all. We chose a few so that he got to do different things but had huge chunks of time where he could do absolutely nothing.

  14. I was having a conversation with my sister about my 7 year old niece. She’s been introduced to sports, dancing, art etc and they can get quite costly. But, my sister also cautioned me of teaching her daughter to always be busy. Of course kids don’t have this notion of busy until years later.

    I remember reading an article on NYT about how we create these busy lives and complain we never have time to do anything we want to actually do. Yet, no one told us to do all the things we were doing. I know I was like that too busy to cook as well. :)

    I really just rather do other things than cook.
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  15. I know someone who has their daughter in an activity 5 nights a week, plus at least once on the weekend along with many events throughout the year.
    Their other daughter is also in an activity that is several nights a week and Saturday, plus events throughout the year.
    I disagree with the concept. Maybe it was because as a kid I didn’t do a million activities. I had piano lessons, and at times we tried swimming or baseball, but beyond that we spend our time outside playing in our rural environment.
    My MAIN concern with this heavily scheduled child idea? where is the family time??
    This mom doesn’t get home until after 7 most nights, rarely eats supper with her husband and older daughter, and her husband and daughter are gone every Saturday.
    When I was growing up, the family was around the house together most weekends and always ate the evening meal together.
    I disagree with heavy extra curricular activities because it doesn’t foster family closeness and relationships. I also don’t see much time in these evenings left for the parents to interact with each other as parents, besides just seeing each other for an hour before bed.
    Maybe I’m wrong on this, but the whole concept really bothers me.

  16. Well, we had four kids and initially had them in swimming and one other activity like dance or basketball or soccer. It was difficult time wise and money wise so we cut it back to one activity each. Sometimes they overlapped a bit at the end when one was ending and another was starting and that was okay. Sometimes we would have a few weeks break which was heavenly. Since you have only one, you can afford to do more than one but four sounds like a bit much. I think 2 is ideal and three if she’s really into all 3. Great discussion on this topic, BTW.

    Thanks for the encouraging words you sent on my blog transition, Kim. ;-)
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  17. My daughter will go swimming as soon as possible (around 8-9 months of age, she’s just 5) and we’ll keep this scheduled once a week. She’ll also be able to choose something else, when older (karate, dancing etc.). We do plan to ‘fill’ her time with family activities though.
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