Avoiding Kid Activity Overload

by Roo on December 16, 2013

in parenting

On Saturday, I took Remmy and Sophie to see the Nutcracker at the Shubert in New Haven. We purchased the book ahead of time so they had an understanding of the story. Definitely recommend doing this, by the way, since ballets can be a little hard to follow. It was the first ballet they’ve attended, and although I reminded them that we need to stay quiet, I still brought a five year old and a three year old to the ballet, so there was some (quiet) chatter.

“Oh no!”
“LOOK. That’s Godfather Drosselmeyer!”
“Is she going to get hurt?”
“Is the Mouse King coming?”

I didn’t want to be THAT mom that says SHHHHHHHH obnoxiously, annoyingly, and repetitively, so I just did a gentle pat on the back and a finger to my lips reminder. The show was only an hour long (perfect length for kids!), and at the end when the lights came up, the family in front of us turned around to smile at the girls. I immediately apologized for their chatter (they were pretty quiet, but STILL), and the dad said, “No way, their commentary was the best part of the whole thing” so I felt, you know, not embarrassed. (Thanks, stranger-dad.)

On the way home, Remmy goes, “Mommy, why am I not in ballet this year?” Big eyes. Sad face. Sophie’s question was the same.

UHHHH cause ballet is like a freaking ten month commitment and it’s not even a family event because I sit in a little room and I can’t even watch you practice so I just answer emails on my phone and what about other things you want to try like soccer and swim?

They want to try it all. I don’t blame them. I *want* them to try it all, but I also want to be cognizant of the fact that a ton of activities makes everyone tired. I’m driving them to ballet on Tuesday and tumbling on Wednesday and soccer some Saturdays and swim those other Saturdays and suddenly I’ve become a really cool chauffeur except not that cool, because I’m eating Chex Mix straight from the bag since activities bump dinner.

Kid Activity OverloadIn an ideal world, we’d live down the road from a facility that offers six week programs of everything. Let’s try six weeks of soccer, then six weeks of ballet, then six weeks of tumbling, and six weeks of crumping or whatever. Instead, my options look like this.

1) Commit to one thing at a time for the sake of sanity, but realize that if we skip a year of ballet to do a year of gymnastics, they lose a year of ballet and are behind when they meet up with their peers the next year. Also, if we try one thing, we’re not doing anything else, so there’s a lack of well-roundedness there. But if it’s ballet, I’m holed up in a room for ten months and then I get to watch them perform for two minutes in a recital while the moron in front of me stands up and tries to film it on her iPad.

2) Let them try a bunch of things, find out what they like, enjoy themselves, but also drain myself of sanity and also money, because recital leotards are like a million dollars.

Doesn’t this feel like a lot of pressure for kids that cannot yet tie their shoes? When an eight year old tells me that she’s been in ballet for six years I’m just like O__O “You’ve had more ballet experience than I’ve had parenting experience, and also your two front teeth are missing, what is going on here.”

My friend Kristen explores this further (here and here, both cool posts), but I’d love to know… what do you guys do?

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiffani December 16, 2013 at 11:39 am

Phoebe is in a class that splits 30 minutes of tumbling and 30 minutes of dance. She really does not like dance. It’s boring and repetitive, she HATES repetition. Unless it is Despicable Me 5,000 in a row. “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!!!!” Ahem. We will have her finish out this year with both but if she chooses to continue next year we will go with the one hour tumbling class instead.

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Emily J. December 16, 2013 at 11:43 am

ROO! Oh my gosh, the iPad moron. I know that wasn’t the point of your entire piece, which BT dubbs, I totally get…BUT just last week, I was stuck behind an iPad moron who blocked on of my kids in the Christmas program the entire time. I could only see him if I became an obnoxious parent who craned my neck, half stood up and got in ninja mode in between other people. Admittedly, I’m days away from giving birth so my hormones are slightly helter-skelter, but seriously. I’m considering a polite e-mail to the school’s director either asking them to ban iPads from programs or say those parents should sit on the floor. Ridiculous! Wow…apparently I’m not over that whole fiasco. Bringing it down a few notches now…

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Megan @ Teaching Every Day December 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

I feel the same way. My girls would love to take ballet, but I’m scared of the time commitment (more for me than for them!). 6 week classes for everything sounds great!!

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Jennifer December 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

My daughter started dance at two, gymnastics and performing arts at 4, softball and competitive cheer at 6. Once competitive cheer started and began to take up my time all year around she narrowed it down to cheerleading and performing arts for 10 months, 6 weeks of dance in the summer and softball if the schedule fits. She chose cheer and as long as she works hard and focuses on her skills and team work then I will make the time (and financial) commitment. I think it depends on the child’s personality and the parents ability and willing to commit.

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Amber S. December 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

My 7 1/2 year old daughter is the one who’s been in dance since she was 2. Ahem. Anyway, we do a 45 minute/week class that combines jazz, hip hop, modern, and some kick/tumbling. Best of all worlds. And the second the recital is over we jump into summer soccer season. She wants to do dance, karate, AND piano lessons next year, and I have hives just thinking about that–even before I factor in what my son may want to do next year (he’ll finally be old enough for something!). So it sounds like one night a week she’ll dance, the next she’ll do karate (maybe, I’m not a fan of concurrent seasons), and the next her brother will do karate. And somewhere in there, piano lessons. Good-bye, life.

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amy @ drivethirtythree December 16, 2013 at 12:08 pm

My 2 (almost 3) year old started ballet this year. It’s only a half hour and it runs for 3 month. We have a break and then can go back in February if we want. Best part. NO RECITAL!! They just do an in class demo. So perfect for that age.

My son (5) has done gym, soccer and we are trying out basketball (only 4 weeks, sweet!). I’m definitely taking it slow with both of them and not making any big commitments. Once they find out what they really are interested in, then we’ll go big.

Oh, except swim classes. Those I do every winter because I feel like that’s more of a life/safety skill at this stage in the game.

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Kathryn December 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I have a 6 month old daughter, so I’m not at this point as a parent yet. But I started ballet when I was 3 and continued well into college…and now I dance and do barre exercises in my kitchen to make my baby laugh. I think when I started my mom would go grab coffee with some of the other moms. If the commitment is holding you back, the city I live in has fine art/performing arts classes periodically thoughout the year that last for 4-8 weeks depending on the class. If you have something like that in a city close by it might be a good opportunity to see if it holds your girls’ interest before signing up for the long haul.

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Kirby December 16, 2013 at 12:13 pm

As a single mom, I barely have enough time to cook let alone drag my kids to 5 million different activities. We did Gymnastics last summer (2012), while dad was still around, it was still just me every Saturday morning, juggling the new infant and getting the 3yo to class for 9am, while trying not to leak breastmilk all over the place, we kinda gave up on it when school started as she was in some afterschool programs and it was all put on me. It’s still just me and the two ladies but my now 5yo has been begging to take dance classes, and the way her eyes light up when she dances at family functions, I just couldn’t say no. However, class is at 4pm, I work until 4:30pm and it’s a 45min drive to the studio so my sister took over bringing her to class, do I feel horrible? Yes and No! Yes, I want to be there to show my support and see all that she’s learning. No, She’s finally enrolled in dance class, she’s enjoying it, she comes home and shows me her “moves” and understands that mommy has to work. I do however take the special class days off for winter spectaculars and recitals. I’m only one person and if I’m overwhelmed with all I have, I know that if I enrolled them into more than one thing, then they too will get overwhelmed and probably end up hating it all.

In regards to recital costumes, I found an awesome school in our town that not only has great month prices but their costumes were NOT ridiculously priced nor scandalous! Those were my biggest concerns. Also many of the dancers have been on “FAB”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, etc. So good school, good pricing, no scandalous costumes=win, win, win, for everyone!!!

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Katherine December 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm

I think you’re statement about “I’m only one person and if I’m overwhelmed…then they too will get overwhelmed and probably end up hating it all”– really wise! I also love the solution you found. I think it’s awesome that your sister gets one-on-one time with your niece.

The book “Organized Simplicity” talks about a family purpose statement, and she asks some really good questions about when your family thrives and when they are at their worst. If your family thrives on multiple activities (and I can think of a couple families I know who do!) then that is great. For me, I am also easily overwhelmed and think our family does better with a lot of “white space” on our calendar. So we just do short bursts of organized activities and then go back to playground time for a while.

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Kim R December 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm

My daughter has been in dance since she was 3 and is now at the point that she should be auditioning (and I know she will make it because the teacher has already told me she would) for junior company next year. I know her peers will be and if I don’t let her I may turn her off from dance completely. It’s two-three classes a week though and that’s a huge time and financial commitment (double or triple what we are doing now which is not in my budget). She usually does a 6 week sport once a year, too. It’s overload on me for sure. I also have to think that she will be well rooted in these activities by the time the baby is old enough to start and I won’t be able to do two or three nights of activities per child (because there is only one of me and also because my budget says “NOOO!”) so I can’t let her start anything that I would not be able to juggle once little sister gets old enough to start activities. It’s a no win for the parents.

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Lauren December 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Was I the only one not in a million activities as a kid? I went to school, we took piano lessons during the school year (until I was like, no way, I hate piano- but I did stick with it for 5 years), and in the summer, swim team was mandatory (only lasted 8 weeks and was awesome- I did it through high school). I definitely want my girl (3 months) to have fun and try things she loves as she gets older, but for us, school and church were always first- my mom wouldn’t let us do anything that would interfere with either. Sounds like a plan to me.

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Ammie December 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm

You weren’t the only one not enrolled in a million activities. I’m 1 of 4 kids, and we each chose 1 activity and that was enough! Between school, our own activity, and being supportive at siblings activities, that was more than enough.

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Rachel Parker December 16, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I took all the dance for 10 years — 3-4 classes each week plus ten million competitions and recitals. The only time it was ever a problem for me was when I was in the 7th grade and everyone decided to join band, but my mom made me choose between band and dance. MANY TEARS resulted from that choice, but I stick with dance until I was a sophomore in college and was too bored by it to continue.

When my daughter’s a little older, I want to give her the opportunity to try dance, but only one class at at time. And if she wants to try something else I’d love that, too. The thing is there are only so many hours in the day, and some of those do need to be hours of rest and just hanging out. I think it’s important for parents to set up some ground rules as far as what the family can afford both financially and mentally/emotionally, and stick to them (which is really the hard part, let’s be real).

Also, why do people think iPads are cameras? Get a camera! Or a phone! Or start drawing! Because one day I will break that iPad you’re waving in front of me.

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Joanna December 16, 2013 at 12:39 pm

So my son is six and he’s never been in any sport type group thing. I put him in sports and science camp last year to sort of make-up for it but ugh, I still feel like an awful mother. It’s always been a money/time thing but this year my golly I’m changing that (or next year, heeeeey 2014).
But back to you, our rec. center does a 6-week class that combines everything. They have one for gymnastics/dance and another that combines all the sports you could possibly play at a rec. center. Have you looked into something like that? Maybe that way they can figure it out what they *really* want to do without you paying for it either money or time wise.

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Erin December 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I have nothing to add to this actual discussion, but it made me think of a story from my childhood.

When I was five we moved and I had just finished my first year of dance. I loved it. Naturally, my mom wanted to enroll me in a program in our new town. The most well-known dance studio was run by a 90-ish year old woman who was not sweet-like-a-grandma but rather scary-like-a-witch. Well, I also wanted to play soccer and my mom signed me up. The two rarely overlapped, but there was one day that I had a soccer game right after ballet practice. My mom met me in the dressing room and I changed into my uniform. The instructor-who-shall-not-be-named happened to walk into the dressing room and saw me. She immediately chastised both me and my mom saying that, “More of my girls break their arms in soccer than anything else. If you want to dance, you should not be playing soccer.”

I changed dance studios the next year :{

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LLD December 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm

OMG. You must have gone to the same dance studio as me! I mentioned I had joined soccer (I was in elementary school) and my scary teacher told me soccer was bad for me. Sheesh.

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Leslie December 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

My girl has been dancing since she was 3…This is our 5th year. I say “our” because mommy and daddy have to bring her and at 7 yrs old we are not leaving her there alone. We started dance because that is what she was old enough to do at the time. Every year I say this is the last year because she is a tomboy and doesn’t absolutley love dance (she is more into sports, which she also plays a different sport each season) but we keep going back. She chooses to go and as long as she enjoys it we will make the sacrifices to be there both $$$ and time. I have a feeling once she can play competitive sports she will drop dance…that will be soon. However my son is three and the way his birthday falls he won’t be able to start sports until he is 4 but that will be next year and I know my hubby and I will have to alternate because I am sure they will have activities on the same days…:-(

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Kristin December 16, 2013 at 1:51 pm

While I don’t have kids just yet, I’ll tell you how my childhood was spent (which I think kept me just the right amount of busy). I took a few swimming sessions when I was around toddler age with my mom, then did gymnastics for 2 years in my elementary years, & started playing the flute at school in the 5th grade. I continued to play flute into 6th grade, but then decided to switch to alto saxophone which I played from 6th to 8th (in my regular class, then I also did jazz band after school) and played soccer in AYSO from 6th to 8th as well. We moved to another state during my 8th grade school year so I stopped playing the saxophone & in 9th grade I started to try out for the school soccer team, but then started second guessing myself & didn’t finish trying out so that was the end of my activities. I really wish I would have continued band, but what can you do. Now that I’m in my mid 20’s I’m saving up for a saxophone & hope to get back into it with ease while my boyfriend actually learns to play the guitar that he’s had for at least 5 years :)

Enrolling kids in sports or activities that they are interested in is great, but I think anything more than 2 at a time is a bit too much for the kid & parents in terms of time & money (especially if you have more than 1).

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Natasha December 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm

We do 1 at a time. That’s it. Lu has done dance (1 yr, we ditched it, the costumes were slutttttyyyyy) gymnastics 2 years, she did a kids Pilates/Zumba dance through the school that she looooved, and in the spring she’ll start horseback riding lessons. She does Destination Imagination, and that is a big time commitment, especially if they make it to state than globals-they did last year and it. Was. Buuuusy.
Emmett is starting karate.
Evelyn play tag with me around the house. That’s it. I hated that when I turned 16, one of my main jobs was schlepping my younger brother/sister to soccer, band, piano, choir, Boy Scouts, blah blah blah-on top of of my OWN stuff. Hubs & I are not going to be those parents that wave hi/bye to each other and scream over who forgot to pick up who from which practice. We have some neighbors like that, and it’s kinda sad to watch.

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Maegan December 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Our kids (7 & 4) are more than welcome to sign up for whatever activity takes an hour during the week…gymnastics, karate, soccer, learning how to stand on your head, make baskets out of grass…I don’t care what it is. If it only takes an hour a week, I am in. So, right now, we have one in gymnastics and one in cub scouts. We have also tried karate, soccer and dance. My only other rule is that once they sign up, they will participate for the entire season before trying something else. So far, we have all managed to survive. And I haven’t ruined their lives yet. But I am still working on that part!

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Kristen December 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I have three young children four and under. A friend of mine has 4 teenagers that she has raised to be amazing, diverse, talented, smart and socially acculturated (seriously, these kids are impressive!). I pick her brain for advice and she continually reminds me that my kids are still so young. We tend to push our kids into activities because all the other parents on fb and instagram are so apparently we are supposed to, right?! My friend and her husband made the rule that they wouldn’t put their kids into a sport/extracurriculur until they were 7 years old and by the time the third child came around, they changed that to 9yrs! One of her daughters is being sought after by a ballet in Chicago (we live in Louisiana) and she didn’t even start ballet until she was nine. According to the other ballet moms, they don’t actually learn anything until 9 anyway. My goal this year is to step back and let my kids be kids – not succumbing to the peer pressure of what other parents are doing. I pulled my daughter out of ballet and she actually seems to enjoy ballet more now that we just do it at home. She can dance however she wants, we watch videos, read books, etc. I know that I wanted her in ballet but now I think we can use that time better. I don’t want to spend these precious years chauffeuring my kids around town ;) Sorry to write so much!

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Natasha December 17, 2013 at 11:41 am

I love this comment! I absolutely think we sometimes feel tempted to push our kids too hard/too fast to compete/keep up. If your kid thrives on it, that’s wonderful. There’s a mom at our bus stop who is seriosuly concerned that I don’t have my 18mo enrolled in ballet yet. I say wonderful sarcastic things in my head, but usually just smile and laugh it off. Whatever, tiger mom.

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Katy December 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I do not have children, but I would recommend taking dance somewhere where there is no recital. Or just doing some summer classes. The costumes and recitals are fun, but so expensive and not necessary to develop a love of dance.

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Katy December 16, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Also, I decided on my own initiative at age 9 that I wanted to do dance and started taking classes then. Sure, I was a little behind, but I still enjoyed it and did it because I loved it.

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Juliana December 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Growing up I was the kid that started dance lessons at 3 years old and didn’t stop dancing until I graduated high school. I went from school to home for a change of clothes, a snack and some homework and then to dance school from 4:30 pm to most times 10 pm (I’d have an hour break in between classes to finish homework). On the weekends I would teach the little ones in the mornings and then on Sunday I had class from 2 to 5 pm. I loved it and it kept me busy, but it was a crazy huge commitment and so expensive that my mom worked the front office 3 nights a week to help with the costs.

My older son plays baseball and my younger son is starting t-ball this year. Baseball is the one sport that we will play every spring until I feel like they are old enough to tell me they really don’t like it. We have yet to try any other sport because my son can’t decide what he would like to try. He would love to take cooking lessons, which I would gladly sign him up for, but he is a little young yet for our local programs. I feel the same way you do about having my kids in all these activities, because I am a full time working parent and we just don’t have the time to be shuttle the boys all over creation for practices and games. Plus it is a lot of money to be a part of all these activities. So for now we are committed to one sport 4 months out of the year and the other 8 months we ride bikes on the weekends or take trips or utilize our local museum memberships.

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Jessica December 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I suggest checking out the YMCA. I can’t speak to dance or gymnastics, but my nephew played soccer and basketball. The seasons were short (6-8 weeks, I think) and it was casual and fun, and not too competitive. You’d have to invest in a membership (which could be good for the whole family-they have yoga!) but the actual programs are pretty cheap.

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Leslie December 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

Just a little FYI…you don’t have to be a member to do the programs, you just have to pay a higher rate. When my girl was younger she played basketball there and it was just $10 or $15 dollars more than the members payed. Even if you have a membership there are certain programs that you still have to pay extra for. The membership just covers the gym, pool, and some of the activities.

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Carolyn December 17, 2013 at 2:05 am

Yes, I agree with you, it’s getting crazy! I have four kids ages 8, 6, 3 and 7 months. I have my oldest two in dance and piano year-round and it leaves me trying to figure out when they can try anything else. And yes, you’re so right that if you take a dance break you’ve basically given up altogether because your kids will be too behind–I’ve seen it happen. We’re doing basketball right now for the first time and it’s a challenge to keep up with the schedule while also taking care of the littler ones. My oldest daughter has a friend who is involved in so many activities that she’s often missing one to be at another. Her mother literally has over scheduled her to the point that all the things she does overlap. But that mom does that to herself in her own life too so maybe that’s just normal for her. It would make me really upset and tired. I also think family time is really important as well as down time and time to PLAY. I don’t know how we can balance our lives better while not feeling guilty that our kids aren’t trying everything out there. I think we all believe our kids will hate us later for their missing out on being a soccer star, olympic gymnast, etc.

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shannon December 17, 2013 at 9:30 am

before they start school each kid gets a year of something: ballet for the girls, gymnastics for my son. other than that, nothing really.
sports happen outside with dad and siblings. dance happens in our kitchen with our ipods. art happens at the dining room table. gymnastics happens on the family room rug.
once they’re in school there is not enough time, and of course there’s never enough money. not that i don’t appreciate those things–like you in an ideal world i’d home school all my children and have endless supplies of money and time to encourage them each to pursue some sort of extracurricular activity.
but without those things i think they’re being raised just fine in a family that has fun at home, together.

besides…i never could and still can’t stand those “dance” girls who have been in for 12 years by the time they’re 12.5.

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Patti Veeraplin McHugh December 17, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I don’t have kids yet so I’ll draw from my own experience growing up. I think my mom lucked out. I liked being at home and making things. Wasn’t interested in sports. I only did ballet/tap/jazz for a few months in 3rd grade. She did pay for my violin lessons for two years when I was in 4/5th grade and my sister’s piano lessons for a year – we both don’t play our instruments anymore. My school’s music program was very robust in middle and high school so there wasn’t a need for separate lessons.

I wasn’t into sports in middle or high school, but I participated in clubs, honor societies, orchestras and music pits for musicals and variety shows. My sister went to gymnastics classes with her cheerleading squad, but that was only 11th and 12th grade. We didn’t feel like we missed out on activities growing up and my mom let us explore without being crazy into EVERYTHING. We tried things one at a time until we weren’t interested in it anymore. My mom never pushed us to learn or take lessons in things we weren’t interested in. Thank goodness for that.

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Amanda December 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Except for a few overlaps, I was never involved in more than one thing that required a big time commitment from my parents. I started dancing at 3 and only took one year off between that age and 18 to do something else, basketball in 7th grade, when I realized that practice time for both was leaving me exhausted. (I could guard the heck out of somebody, but don’t rely on me to score actual points.)

I played in orchestra for 5 years, but didn’t require a huge parent time commitment because we only had extra rehearsals around our performances, which was 2-3 times a year, so I continued to dance while I did htat. When I decided to join drill team (dance squad) at school, I stopped dancing at the studio because I didn’t want to overwhelm myself since drill team had 2 hour practices 5 days a week after school.

So… maybe I was more aware of my limitations than the typical child? I avoided being overbooked with minimal outside guidance lol. I plan to cap my kids’ activities in a similar way. I want them to explore a bit when they’re younger, but after that, they’ll have to choose.

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HJM December 17, 2013 at 1:55 pm

My baby is only 4 months old so I have no input, but I wanted to tell you the phrase ‘six weeks of crumping” made me snort laugh.

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Amanda December 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I don’t have any kids but wanted to share my experience growing up. I’ve done dance, ice skating lessons, soccer, piano, volley ball, tennis, and swimming (those are just the things that I did when I was not old enough to drive myself to things). A lot of times these things overlapped and yes it was sometimes stressful and I can’t imagine what it was like for my mom…. but fortunately I would usually enroll in these classes with a friend of the family, and then we would carpool to these activities. One week it was my mom’s turn to drive, the next week it was the other mom’s turn, and they traded days as needed if things came up in their schedules. I stuck with these things for at least 3 or 4 years each (except soccer and volley ball, I hated that haha). I know it’s a huge time and money commitment for the parents but there is so much benefit for the children. They get to practice and hone a skill/interest, work toward a goal, make new friends (especially if you’re homeschooling!), get tons of physical exercise, build muscle and good posture and healthy bones, learn to push themselves to a higher standard. For me personally I was incredibly shy, but put me in front of an audience and I felt confident and proud of myself. It might seem like a lot of work but I think it’s worth it. I think it’s good to put them in a lot of things when they are younger so they can see what they like and then tone it down as they are older.

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lindseydawn December 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I have a 7 month old baby and I already think about this issue. I think it’s ridiculous that these days 9 year old have to commit to one sport because otherwise he’s spreading himself too thin and won’t make a team. Let them be kids!

There were several years growing up that I was asked to be on a travel softball team. My parents didn’t even give me the option to do it. It would have taken up our whole lives and every weekend in the summer. I’m so glad they did this because I probably would have wanted to join the team. We had a cottage in Northern Michigan and some of my most favorite childhood memories are summers there with my brothers and cousins which would not have been possible had I played on that team. I really doubt that I would have made it to the pros anyway. Isn’t it something like 2% of high school athletes play in college?

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