Are kids too busy?

Parents are generally busier than ever these days, and school-going kids are too. And this can make deciding what extramural activities a child should take up difficult.

As a rule of thumb, try to make a sensible decision about how many extramural activities you think is reasonable, given your child’s age, interest and energy levels – and let your child lead when it comes to choosing what to do.

Extramural activities are important at school level. ‘Sport and cultural activities contribute to the development of many characteristics that are fundamental to a child’s growth into adulthood,’ says professional educator Melvin Beckmann.

‘These include fair play, sportsmanship, commitment, honesty, integrity, dedication, motivation, a never-give-up attitude, teamwork, friendship and accountability.’

  • Younger kids should be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities or sporting codes and not be pushed into specialising. ‘At primary-school level children need to develop a love for sport – they should be exposed to all sporting codes so that they can learn and develop skills and discover if they have a natural flair for a particular sport. The emphasis should be on enjoyment,’ says Melvin.
  • Make sure your child realises that extramural activities require a degree of commitment in terms of looking after kits and attending practices and competitions. ‘If you commit to an activity, you have to see the season right through to the end,’ says Melvin.
  • Home-based activities and family time are vital. ‘Skills and lessons learnt from activities done at home such as reading, baking and free play are as important as those developed through organised extramural activities,’ says Jenny van Velden, principal of Oakhurst Girls’ Primary School in Cape Town.
  • Exercise is vital. ‘Some sort of physical activity should be encouraged as children today are leading a far more sedentary life,’ Jenny points out.
  • Older children should be allowed to decide how many extramural activities they are able to cope with, according to their proficiency and talent, so that they have a good balance between extramurals and their academic progress.

  • Don’t allow your child to take on too much – this can negatively affect not only your child’s well being, but that of the rest of your family. ‘Remember that family time will be spent transporting children to and from activities,’ says Melvin.
  • Parents should be careful of not forcing their own childhood dreams on their children, says Jenny. ‘Too often parents are pushing their children to achieve in a particular field for their own reasons and not for the child’s benefit.’
  • Don’t force your child to do a certain activity. ‘The value of these activities is often lost on the child who becomes an unwilling participant,’ says Jenny.
  • Don’t use the school’s extramural activities programme as a babysitting service – allow your child to choose the activities he or she really wants to do.
  • Don’t fill your child’s weekend with galas, club cricket matches, extra drama, etc. ‘Children need time to rest, just as adults do,’ says Jenny.

‘My advice to parents is always this: if the extramural activity is causing unhappiness in any members of your family, you need to re-look at it,’ says Jenny.

Melvin concurs: ‘When it starts affecting homework, play time and family time, then the situation would have to be reassessed.’

How do you decide on extra-murals? Are child today too busy?

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