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Kids’ Activities

From the sublime to the ridiculous

There is no thrill quite like that of watching my first born take flight and slam a ball through a hoop in front of a crowd.

Okay, the kid doesn’t even need to slam it.

He can’t, actually.

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But if he manages to get the ball into the hoop and three people clap, it will be me, the mother of the dribbler, clapping loudest of all. Tears may even leap to my eyes.

Don’t judge me—it is a moment!

A mother’s heart soars just like the ball in flight when her child has finally broken through and achieved such a goal, or a basket, or a pirouette, or a pitch perfect note in a solo performance.

The proud smile on that once little face—the sheer delight—is the tantalizing and universal appeal of kids’ out-of-school activities.

That’s the good part—and it’s great.

But, I sometimes wonder about the toll that involvement, or over-involvement, in kids’ activities was taking on families before Covid changed our world.

I often felt overwhelmed by the checkerboard of colour that floated across my electronic family calendar. I lived by this colour-coded tool showing all of the activities I needed to get my kids to and from each week. The overlapping colours confounded us, I went one direction after work, my husband went another.

And my kids were not participating at the highest levels in their activities. I know families that could rarely make it to special occasion dinners because of kid activity related commitments.

There were ballet performances held each year on Father’s Day. Tournaments on Thanksgiving. So much for precious family time. Hey, I hear that ice time is cheap on Christmas Day, maybe that’s a good time for a tournament: “hurry up with that stocking Johnny, we’ve got to get to the rink!”

Some families traveled most weekends and spent thousands of dollars on their kids’ activities.

I saw many parents lulled into putting their kids’ activities ahead of almost everything else in life. Certainly ahead of their children’s education.

Was this in the best interest of the kids? What was the end game?

Just at the time in a parent’s life when a taste of freedom was tantalizingly near, when the aroma of it made me salivate like Pavlov’s dog, when previously completely dependent beings did wonderous things like taking the bus on their own, a new, and unexpected set of responsibilities weighed me down. Mandatory volunteering.

Some kids’ activities require many hours of parental volunteer time; we’re talking 50+ hours a season for some sports and hefty fees along with disapproval if the family is unable to meet the commitment.

Now that most kids’ activities have been curtailed due to necessary restrictions to ensure everyone’s health during the pandemic, I long to watch my kids enjoying the activities that gave them joy and purpose. Dropping them off for an hour of fun while I do errands has an appeal it lacked before.

But, when the pandemic finally ends—please tell me it will end and soon—I don’t want to mindlessly return to a ridiculously hectic schedule. Slowing down has shown me the benefits of, well, slowing down.

Some sports and activities have started up in a modified way during the reopening. Whether others will happen at all this year is still in question.

With the potential for working parents to have to juggle online schooling at least part-time this fall, what is an overburdened family to do?

I’ve learned that when faced with a conundrum it’s always good to start with “the why.” In this case, my “why” is fitness, fun, friendship and instilling an appreciation for teamwork and the value of hobbies. If your “why” is to make your kid’s Olympics dreams come true, your solution will be different from mine.

Strangely, these days it seems that most kids’ activities are geared more towards encouraging and supporting elite athletes/performers than having kids develop life skills.

I say strangely because everyone must be aware that the vast majority of kids are destined for Hobbyland, not Olympic Village.

Once you’re clear on why you’re putting your kids in a given activity or set of activities, the next thing to do is figure out what works for the whole family. And yes, Mom and Dad, that includes you!

First, give yourself permission to limit your kids’ activities. They will not be permanently damaged by participating in one less after school activity. They may be damaged by being overscheduled, pressured to achieve, and having over stressed parents to boot.

When planning your kids’ activities in the Covid world and beyond:

Put safety first.

Think carefully about how much contact you’re comfortable with while the threat of Covid is still looming. More activities with more groups equals more potential exposure.

Most organizations are being extremely careful about following all the government protocols for safe activities. When it comes to the health of your children, you need to feel comfortable about anything they’re participating in; ask questions, and make informed decisions.

Get realistic about the time commitment.

Lay out the time for all activities in advance; looking at each one in isolation makes them seem deceptively reasonable. Make sure to ask about the volunteer commitment before you sign up and get the answer in terms of hours; some clubs like to use the term credits—and 10 doesn’t sound like much—until you find out that each credit is a shift and each shift is several hours.

When looking at the total number of hours your family is committing to activities, ask yourself: is this reasonable? If you have a total that is nearing that of a full time job, you have some serious thinking to do.

Build anticipated homework time into your family schedule. Job number one for kids is school and they need sufficient time to do that job well. I don’t need to remind you that online schooling, even if only part time, will also take a whole lot of time for the parents!

Consider how activities will impact mealtime and bedtime. If your schedule is so packed with activities that you wind up resorting to fast food three times a week, what have you achieved? If activities make bedtime late many nights a week, how will this impact your child’s behaviour?

Pay attention to what you’ll pay.

Add up all of the costs, including equipment, gear, travel, and food away from home. Do only what is affordable for your family. There is no shame in this! Would you sign up for a gym membership you can’t afford?

Look for deals: school-based activities are either free or have a minimal cost. And consider classes offered through community centres for activities like karate, dance and art as well as classes offered through specialized organizations. Hopefully it will soon be safe enough for these activities to resume once more.

Now more than ever, consider alternatives to organized activities.

If your kids’ favourite activities have been cancelled during Covid try to come up with creative ways they can continue these pursuits during this time. Install a basketball hoop at home, bring your kid to the soccer field to meet a friend for shooting and dribbling practice, or join your child in a sports conditioning routine.

Going for a bike ride and picnic is fun for the whole family and inexpensive.

Family hikes in nature are great exercise and studies have shown that time in nature reduces stress levels.

While the weather is still good, get out on the water: swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking are great options.

Many art projects can be done at home using instructions found online.

Don’t fall victim to the guilt of “holding them back.” If you need to make an adjustment to your kids’ activities, do so with confidence. If the kid is miserable because their schedule is too packed or the pressure is too much, everyone will be relieved when that activity is removed. If you are doing what’s best for your whole family and your kids are secure in your love for them, you are doing the right thing.

I wish you joy in watching your child blossom and inner peace in knowing that whatever you’re able to do for your children in terms of out-of-school activities is enough.