When I was a kid, like many of my friends I would race home after school so I could change and get outside to play. We used to run from door to door seeing if other kids could also come out to play. You know the word "play," right? Besides when it's referencing a video game? We would stop playing only for dinner and homework and the occasional episode of Get Smart or The Partridge Family. Our time was, for the most part, totally unstructured, unless you consider being told to "be home when the streetlights go on" as structure.
I also learned how to play badminton, squash, tennis, and took swimming and skating lessons. Most happened on the weekend, leaving our weekdays relatively free. Free, compared to the schedules of many kids today, including my own. When all four of mine were engaged in sports, I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. My book, Shut Up & Eat was mostly inspired by the fact that family meals became more about logistics than they did nutrition, and might have included consideration of what one can eat in a car on the way to the hockey arena.
Many parents are driving themselves and their vehicles to the brink all week as they ferry children from karate to guitar to skating to tournaments and extra practices and the dreaded of all time-suck activities, the "Rep" level team, be it hockey, soccer, swimming, etc. (I remember myself at age eight, and my sister at 10 taking the city bus by ourselves to swimming lessons. Shocking.)
There are many theories as to whether exposing our kids to this type of structure and (arguably) overscheduling is good for them. On the positive side they learn teamwork, commitment, engage in physical activity and/or cultural stimulation. Critics would say it's stressful for them, and that they don't know how to amuse themselves for longer than it takes to wait for a brother's gymnastics lesson to end.
My advice? Pick and choose the way you spend their time, your time, and your money when deciding on extra-curriculars. Check your bank balance, your calendar, and make sure it's something they want to pursue, versus your own interest, or those of their friends. Investigate responsibilities for fund raising, out of town tournaments and equipment costs before committing. After all, in the words of William Shakespeare, "The play's the thing," isn't it?
This article was originally run in the Metro News. Kathy Buckworth is the author of six books, including "I Am So The Boss Of You: An 8 Step Guide To Giving Your Family The Business", published by McClelland & Stewart and optioned to Warner Brothers Television. Visit www.kathybuckworth.com and follow Kathy on Twitter @KathyBuckworth