How many extracurricular activities does a child need? What the experts say

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Ask any parent and they’ll tell you that kids have a lot of energy. This is probably why the inside of your home seems to have been hit by a tornado on a regular basis. Your little ones love to be active, which is why many parents are eager to enroll their children in as many extracurricular activities as possible from an early age. From soccer leagues and science clubs to dancing lessons and horseback riding, there are tons of options to choose from to keep your little energy balls entertained for hours and hours. But is it possible that children have too much of a good thing? How many extracurricular activities should children have? Experts suggest that it might be beneficial to set some limits.

A study published in the journal Sport, education and society found that scheduling too many organized activities can put unnecessary strain on a child and ultimately cause strain on the entire family unit. The researchers, who surveyed nearly 50 families from 12 different primary schools in the UK, found that 88% of children attended between four and five extra-curricular activities each week. As a result, families with busy schedules end up spending less quality time together, which strains their relationships with each other.

So, are extracurriculars a good thing?

Yes absolutely. Extracurricular activities can have many benefits, such as providing children with physical and mental stimulation, encouraging exercise and social interaction, and allowing them to practice teamwork. Plus, it can be a lot of fun! But based on the study results, it’s also important to keep everything in moderation so it doesn’t overwhelm you, your child, or the whole family.

“A busy organized schedule of activities can strain parents’ resources and family relationships, as well as potentially harm children’s development and well-being,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Dr. Sharon Wheeler, according to PsychCentral.com. “Until a healthy balance is struck, extracurricular activities will continue to take precedence over family time, potentially doing more harm than good.”

So what is the best course of action? Pick a few activities your child shows interest in and keep an open flow of communication about how it’s going and adjust accordingly. Don’t worry about what other parents are doing, and don’t insist that your child doesn’t belong to as many groups or clubs as others. As long as your child is happy with the end result, the rest doesn’t matter.

At what age should children start extracurricular activities?

As with most things in parenting, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Every child is different and wonderfully unique. But as a rule of thumb, Randy McCoy, senior product manager at The Little Gym, told Romper that between 2 and 3 years old is probably the best time to kick things off. “Children at this age are establishing independence and developing an interest and ability in social interaction,” McCoy said. “As most extracurricular activities involve a social element, a 2-3 year old can experience many developmental benefits.”

Is it bad to let your child drop out of extracurricular activities before they end?

Obviously, you don’t want your child to get into the habit of automatically stopping something before you’ve given it a real chance. However, they should know that it is an option if the activity they are participating in is honestly unhappy. No one wants to feel trapped or pressured into doing something, especially if that something is supposed to be fun. And while quitting smoking has a lot of negative (and unfair) connotations, it can actually be beneficial in some ways.

As funny as it may sound, it’s good that your child is bored sometimes because it forces them to find creative ways to entertain themselves rather than relying on others to do it for them. It also frees up their schedule for three things that could prove crucial to their educational success: break, break timeand family time.

Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, believes these three things, which she dubbed “PDFs,” are vital to every child’s well-being. “Every child needs a PDF every day,” Pope said in an interview with KQED’s Forum in 2019, adding that saddling children with an endless array of extracurricular activities is “at the expense of what we know children need for healthy development, which is free, unstructured play time.”

TL; DR: Extracurricular activities can be great. Just make sure they don’t end up dominating your life (and your children’s). As the old saying goes, sometimes less is more.

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Richard V. Johnson