Sports, clubs, organizations, oh my! The list of activities for kids to participate in today seems to be growing, and more families find themselves running through the week and weekend for practices, performances, games and tournaments. While there are concerns of the impacts of overscheduling, there are also many benefits for kids and families who are active and involved.
“Kids like to be social and do what their friends are doing, and parents want their kids to experience as much as possible, as well as keep them busy and out of trouble,” says Dr. Katherine Knoll, pediatrician at Medcenter One’s Q&R Clinic. “There is also a push to keep kids active due to the growing obesity rate in the country.”
She says activities are also very important to kids’ development. “Besides being fun and entertaining, they teach kids several things including teamwork, sportsmanship, responsibility, and social skill, as well as physical skills. They also keep kids fit and active.”
“On the other hand, being in too many activities that consume all their time, kids can become too tired and stressed out,” Dr. Knoll notes. “This can lead to anxiety and depression symptoms. It can also affect other aspects of their life, and they can fall behind on other duties such as schoolwork which can impact their grades. It can also affect family life and relationships with their family and friends.”
Dr. Knoll says finding a balance of activities and time will best benefit kids and families. “Find as much information about the activities beforehand, including how much time is involved. Set priorities and know when to say no,” she says. “Also make a calendar and pencil in time to have downtime and family time.”
Active Families, Active Lives
Shari Zeis has two very active daughters, Alexis,16, and Mikayla,11, with full schedules including figure skating year-round and other activities including soccer, volleyball, cross-country, track and band. But she says her family makes it all work with organization.
“If you have kids in multiple activities, you have to be a planner or things just get lost in the shuffle and you miss where you need to be,” she says, adding it is also important to go over schedules with the kids as well.
“There have been times when we’ve had three different things going on with both kids,” says Zeis. “It can get to be a bit hectic, but we just schedule it and make sure we know who is going where.”
Allowing her girls to participate in a variety of activities has been an essential part of their growing up, Zeis says, but it has also been important to have them make decisions about their priorities. “We have tried to stress to them the importance of making a decision when there are conflicting activities. But the older the kids get, the tougher this gets.”
There have been many benefits to participating in activities, she notes. “It really keeps them on track and grounded,” says Zeis. “Being involved in activities, they also meet different people and, more importantly, they are not sitting around.”
But Zeis notes parents need to be mindful of how schedules are impacting their children. “Being involved in too many things, kids may start to look at activities as not being fun anymore,” she says. “Families really have to look at themselves in order to know what they can handle.”
Although Judy Boger’s four kids, Chad, 23, Jasmin, 21, Chelsea, 19, and Carly, 18, are out of high school, she looks back fondly on the busy schedule of activities the whole family took part in and the time it allowed them to spend together. “We ran like crazy,” she says. “We had a mini-van and in the back we had bags packed for all the activities and a cooler packed with snacks. I don’t know how we did it, but it was always fun.”
The family started participating in Tae Kwon Do when Chad was four and the other children soon followed in joining the sport. In addition, there was also gymnastics and swimming lessons. As the kids entered elementary school and middle school they played soccer, basketball, tennis and volleyball and participated in orchestra and band. In high school, they also took part in cross country and track, as well as other school organizations.
“The kids tried everything,” says Boger. “But once they got to high school they really did have to pick their activities because it was harder to do it all at once.”
She says having an active schedule was really important to their family. “Being in activities was our family entertainment and with the kids being so close in age, they never knew anything different,” notes Boger. “We traveled all over for tournaments and it was our family time. This is what we wanted to have as our time with our kids.”
There were many benefits to the active lifestyle, she says. “They have all become well-rounded kids, lettering in their sports and being on honor roll, and have made us very proud,” says Boger. “There is absolutely no doubt we would do this all again.”
Making It All Work
Dr. Knoll says active schedules do often benefit children, but if the activities get overwhelming, communication is the key to finding a solution. “It would be a good idea for parents to sit down and talk with their children about their activities,” she says. “They need to be supportive of cutting back, and they need to prioritize activities based on skill, enjoyment, age, and the time involved.”
But she also stresses the importance of active kids and families. “Activity and exercise is extremely important and every child should be active in something,” says Dr. Knoll. “Finding a middle ground will benefit both the child and the family as a whole.”