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How to balance kids’ extracurricular activities

Soccer. Swim lessons. Art classes. Choir practice. Dance recitals. Homework.

Kids’ schedules fill up very quickly as parents seek out activities for their children that allow them a chance to be active, involved and well-rounded individuals — as well as have a little fun. But managing the activities can be an overwhelming job for parents, who must also make sure kids have sufficient time for school and homework while also making sure family time doesn’t suffer.

Finding the right mix of extracurricular activities, however, can be a tricky balancing act, one that area school administrators have struggled with both as educators and as parents.

We asked them for their advice to parents on finding the right mix.

MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS PARTICIPATE IN SOMETHING

“Extracurricular activities are a great way for kids to figure out what they are passionate about and what works for them,” says Steven Coberly, interim upper school director at Latin School of Chicago.

“Children learn the importance of lifelong skills such as teamwork, leadership, and time management. As long as the activities are designed for the appropriate age level, it is important for students in all grades to be involved in something outside of the school day,” says Michelle Bahr, a teacher at St. John’s Lutheran School in Chicago.

DON’T LET THEM DO EVERYTHING

While kids may want to try everything available, that doesn’t mean that they should. “Children and families are incredibly overscheduled, to the point of being fairly unrealistic,” says Robyn McCloud-Springer, head of school at Chiaravalle Montessori School in Evanston.

And Bahr says the first thing that suffers is school work. “For some, they are just tired and then do not always give 100 percent to all areas. Still others begin to lose the passion they once had for something.”

When looking at all the possible activities, parents worry that they might miss a golden opportunity for a developing a child’s skill or interest. Coberly tries to relieve parents of that worry. “Interests and passions develop throughout a lifetime,” he says. “We want to raise kids to be adults who will discover things on their own in the next decades of their lives.”

CONSIDER BOTH WHAT’S BEST FOR YOUR KID AND YOUR FAMILY

Every family and each individual child is different, so a combination of activities that works for one child may not be ideal for another.

“For some families, their children being involved in multiple activities keeps them focused and encouraged to work hard in all areas of their life,” Bahr says. “Important factors for families who have multiple extracurricular activities are parental support and travel distance. For some families, focusing on one activity is the perfect amount to expose that student to something and yet not overwhelm them.”

Being realistic about the family schedule, including the activities of other children, is also really important, according to McCloud-Springer.

Also remember that family time matters, too, Bahr says. It may be as simple as ordering a pizza and watching a movie. While it is not necessary for every family every day, families do need to be able to recognize how often they need to “rest” so they can recharge.

FREE TIME IS BENEFICIAL

Downtime is important because it gives kids time for free play. “Play is important for children’s well-being . It is restorative and necessary for physical and mental health,” McCloud-Springer says. “There is a place for downtime and joy.”

Coberly says that seeing how kids use their free time can give parents valuable insight into what their child is truly interested in, which can help determine what activities are a good fit and allow kids to explore and develop passions.

“When kids are left to their own devices, what do they like thinking about, talking about, and doing? Those are all signs, and they reveal themselves during unstructured downtime,” he says.

Educators agree that it’s worth the effort to find the right mix of activities that afford our kids beneficial experiences but also allows some downtime, for both children and their parents.

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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