Reform kids activities
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How to Find Balance: A Mom’s Plea to Reform Kids’ Activities

A Mom’s Plea to Reform Kids’ Activities

I sat down to write this blog post about finding balance in the back-to-school season when activities are beginning and we’re struggling to find a groove. But then a recent conversation came to mind and I switched course. This needs to be addressed.

A little background…I’m a dance teacher. My family owns a recreational studio in a busy suburb and unfortunately, our enrollment is way down this season. My staff and I started to discuss why and one of my instructors put it best, “Kids’ activities are all or nothing now. Recreational is not a thing.”

Kids’ activities are all or nothing now. Recreational is not a thing.

And it was like glass shattering…mind blown.

Recreational Sports

What does “recreational” even mean in the world of sports and activities? The actual definition of Recreational Sports is “those activities where the primary purpose of the activity is participation, with the related goals of improved physical fitness, fun, and social involvement often prominent” (Encyclopedia.com). Participation, fun, and social involvement. That’s what we should be looking for for our children.

Some major offenders

Park district soccer for 4-6-year-olds is two nights a week for practices and games on Saturdays. Two nights a week doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that you have to sign up not knowing what nights or times for practices – you find out the week before practice starts. So basically, you have to give up any other after-school opportunities and put all your eggs in that basket.

Cheerleading has turned into a year-round sport with practices 3 – 4 nights per week for 5-year-olds!! And competitions all weekend.

Competitive dancers rehearse 10+ hours per week for elementary children with weekend competitions sometimes starting Friday afternoon and lasting through Sunday evening.

What does this mean?

Kids don’t get to try new things. Or if they want to, it seems they have to sacrifice everything else for that season. Practices are longer and commitment is expected. The parents that do try to put their kids in more than one thing end up as chauffeurs, spending their whole life driving from place to place and toting zombie-like children from activity to activity.

This is not even considering the expense that comes with all of these activities and sports. Practices, uniforms or costumes, equipment, etc all add up to a big chunk of monthly budgets.

If no one has told you this before, your 4-year-old does not need to be in dance, gymnastics, swimming, and take piano lessons. SHE IS FOUR. Even if you luck out and can spread all those activities out over the week without double booking the same day, does your child ever get to just relax and be a kid?

Simplicity Parenting

I mention Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne all the time in my blog because his principles are solid. Cut back on the commitments. Kids need unstructured time to run and jump and play pretend and create. They need to wander and get dirty and poke bugs. They even need to be bored sometimes.

And yes, they need parents that don’t cater to their every whim and give in to the demands of more. More things, more activities, more undivided attention.

And we need parents to be parents. To say no. To recognize that you would really love it if your child chooses competitive gymnastics because you ALWAYS wanted to do that but you can’t live through your child. They are their own person.

But I love my kids and they love Cheer/Gymnastics/Dance/Karate/Etc

We love our kids and no one is asking you not to. And it’s great if you have the financial means to commit to competitive dance for your 5-year-old or football AND soccer camp this summer. But is that what is best? Just because we can doesn’t always mean we should.

And I know what you’re going to say. Your kid LOVES this and they would never give this up. I don’t think they should. I do think they should slow down and that’s the parent’s job to recognize it before it becomes a problem and completely takes over.

It’s okay to say no

So I’m here to tell you it’s okay to say no. It’s okay if you cannot afford travel hockey or extra cello lessons outside of their school program. It’s okay to opt out of activities that take up all your free time or practice during your dinner hour. It’s okay to veto activities or sports that will take up your entire weekend for a season. All of that is okay.

Growing up I was obsessed with dance. But I wasn’t allowed to practice several times a week until I was at least in junior high. And I think that was the right decision. I had a childhood in which I could play and create and occupy myself without a scheduled activity. And when I was allowed to take more classes, I put my all into it because I had been chomping at the bit to participate for years.

Reform kids’ activities

How to Reform Kids’ Activities

I am not against activities or sports. I think kids need them. I am against the highly competitive exploitation of children’s “all or nothing” activities.

I think we need to fix this. Look for true recreational programs without crazy contracts or time commitments. Opt for programs that highlight teamwork and growth rather than competition or trophies. Look for teachers and coaches who encourage, build relationships, and lift your children up.

The system won’t change if we keep playing their game. So please, this back-to-school season, instead of figuring out how to balance everything that’s on your plate. Ask yourself if something needs to change. If this hits home at all – even just a little – please do some hardcore reflection and make a change. For your sanity and your kids’ childhood.

More Back-to-school related posts:

How to be Eco-Friendly at School
The Best Organization and Routines for Back-to-School
How to Find Sustainable and Eco-Friendly School Supplies
How to get Out the Door on Time with Kids
How to Pack a Zero-Waste School Lunch

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