Scaling Back Kids’ Activities


Growing up I had a close friend who swam competitively. She and her four brothers all swam on the same team. At the time, I felt sorry for her because she wasn’t allowed to choose her own sport or activity. Now as an adult looking back, I think her mother was brilliant. Five kids and only one activity at a swim club about a mile from their house. She’s my hero.  

I’ve tried to expose my twin girls to a wide variety of camps and after school activities hoping that they will be well-rounded and that they will find their passion (a passion that might lead to a college scholarship). Up until 5th grade they both participated in the same activities. Then they started to go in their own directions, with different friends and different interests.

That school year started innocently enough. Since my husband and I both work full time, we hired a sitter who picked up our girls at school dismissal and took them to activities or stayed with them until we got home. Without really thinking through the impact, we said yes to multiple activities. Suddenly our schedule included at least one activity every evening, most days more than one. Both girls joined the school’s Art Club, which met one afternoon a week. They were Girl Scouts, meeting once every other week after school and sometimes on weekends. Daughter E played lacrosse with practices twice a week and games on the weekends. Daughter G wanted to try swimming, first starting with lessons then joining a team requiring practice three nights a week. We also had a tutor (they were quickly surpassing my mathematical abilities) who came to our house twice a week. My Sunday night ritual was to make a master calendar juggling all these activities – noting who would drop off, who would pick up, planning meals, and trying to include a few minutes of family time and an occasional night off.

In January G wanted to try out for the school play. I said yes doubting that as a 5th grader she’d be cast because the school play traditionally was limited to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. I underestimated my girl; she was cast as Brigitta in the Sound of Music. With that happy news, our precariously balanced schedule was taxed beyond its limit. Rehearsals, occasional voice lessons, and tech week were crammed into our overflowing schedule and chaos ensued. Oh, and that March I broke my ankle, had surgery, and was on crutches for three months. By the time summer arrived, I swore we would never again over-schedule like that. 

Does this sound at all familiar to you? 

Fast forward two years. The girls are 7th graders and this year we have scaled way back on activities, our choice and theirs. This is also our first year without a sitter making it difficult to get to lessons or practices after school. E takes a once-a-week art class. G is in the school play again, but rehearsals are all at school. I’ve even offered to add one sport, but they’ve declined.

I have a friend with three children who all excel at sports. The older two play club sports on travel teams and the younger one will soon. She describes her manic weekends to me and I don’t know how she manages or affords it. No judgment – I’m just relieved that my girls haven’t wanted to join travel teams. 

I know families who enforce a “one activity at a time” rule or a “one sport/one lesson” rule. With all the sports and after school activities available to our children it can be hard to choose. But unless you want to spend all your time driving and all your disposable income on sports, lessons, and activities, you have to say no to the endless options. Or you could learn the hard way, like I did.

Scaling back our girls’ activities has been a good choice for our family. We’re less stressed, the girls’ grades have improved, and we are all happier. I’m certainly more relaxed and our bank account is also enjoying the break!


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