Children’s activities are always in the media. Whether there’s research saying that children need time out and time to be bored from all the activities. Or that parents are overwhelmed from being taxi drivers and logistics managers moving their children from place to place. I’m sure there are children and parents who need to take it easy. But there are so many benefits from children doing out of school activities.
I don’t think it’s changed since my childhood. Maybe the age they start is younger, but my mum was always having to transport me from one place to the other. I started ballet at 4 years old, Brownies at 7, modern dance at 8, clarinet at 9. Then switched to Guides at 10. I was also in the netball team at primary school, and went to music school on Saturdays.
At secondary age it all started in earnest – I was in various teams through the years – tennis, hockey, netball, basketball. I took up piano (to help with my clarinet) and later added saxophone. So I did wind band, orchestra and choir in school. Every lunchtime I had a club, and after school I had an activity or match most days. Saturdays I’d get the bus into Oxford for music school, then a different bus back to my ballet lesson.
I was the one who asked to do all this. My mum made it happen because she never had opportunities as a child and wanted us to experience as much as possible. It all helps with non-academic skills that are so important in life. Adding in our junior squash club at weekends and my brother’s sports, I don’t know how my mum afforded it all, or managed to fit it all in. Although she was a SAHM until we were in secondary school when she did some contract work that fitted in around school.
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We do know children who do activities every day, even age 6 or 7. But even if N wanted to, we couldn’t manage it because I work full time and the OH won’t take him anywhere, even if he wasn’t working.
People say to me ‘wow, N does a lot’. But most of the activities he does are in school. At lunch times he does choir, and he has a private tennis lesson one lunchtime. Multisports is an after school club. Outside of school he does tennis (and occasional matches), and swimming lessons once a week (which I’ve said he can stop once he’s moving up to the next level). He’s at after school club (wrap round care) a couple of days a week too.
I’d love for him to learn a musical instrument (I don’t really count recorder which is learnt in school) because he’s a nice little singer, has good rhythm, and makes the piano sound ok when he’s playing around on it. They offer lessons in school, but I can’t persuade him.
Luckily for our life balance, N doesn’t want to do other sports, or start other activities. It means we still have Sundays free (when there’s no tennis matches). I sometimes think he misses out compared with other children who do lots more. But it’s his choice, saves my money, and means we do get time to just go to the park or for him to play at home or go out on the farm.
How much free time do children need?
My view is let children do what they can, if they want to, and if the parents can manage it.
If children are coping and aren’t too tired.
If they enjoy what they’re doing.
If they keep up with homework.
If they don’t turn into entitled, precocious brats.
Then let them broaden their experiences. Give them the opportunities to learn new skills. And try different activities. After all, not all of them will stick. But they might find something they really love that helps them grow as a person.
Children do need time out at home, and time to just do their own thing. To be creative, build Lego, bake cakes and read. But there’s so many advantages in letting children do extra-curricular activities.
Benefits of extracurricular activities
- Breadth of experience and skills
- Gives non-academic children the chance to find something they can shine at
- A chance to mix with other children outside of home and school life
- Activities can be fun and without pressure, compared to exam pressures of school
- Encourage team work and discipline – sports and music both enable this, that practice is needed, and that the team can’t function without a dedicated set of people behind it
- Parents can get involved so it can be a family activity
- Increase opportunities in future – skills could lead to work experience, job choices, or open up doors for scholarships and school or university places
- There’s so many activities to choose from – could be just holiday clubs, intensive courses, a one off or weekly session
- If they’re group classes, only children can spend more time with friends and peers
- Children can have an activity that is ‘theirs’ that they might do without siblings or parents
- Increase in social skills and ability to make friends
- If it’s activity they really love, children may have great role models to look up to and be inspired by
I’m all for letting N try different things if we can fit it in and he copes ok. In my experience it can only be a good thing.
Do your children participate in lots of extracurricular activities or is their out of school life more relaxed?