Are Extra Curriculars Helping or Harming?

School is out and you rush there to pick up your kids directly from school because if the bus brings them home today, you won’t have enough time to get a good snack in them and shuttle them off to practice. 

Once football drop off is done, you drive across town to gymnastics drop off. By the time you’ve accomplished that, you’re back on the road for skating lessons pick up, it’s your day for carpooling. 

Tomorrow, the story is similar, but swap it all out with viola lessons, ski club, and karate. 

Extracurriculars can be very beneficial for our kids, but at what point is it causing everyone more harm than good? 

Mary wrote about this a few years back, originally sharing one of my all-time favorite videos in her post. Her wise words have stuck with me. She wrote, 

“Here’s my highly scientific equation for why:
Stress of making activity happen > benefit of activity = CANCEL regret-free!
There’s already enough hustle in our lives just to keep things running smoothly.”

Mary Wade

We’ve kept up with this same mindset in our household when it comes to extracurriculars. It can be easy to forget from time to time and sign ourselves up for too much. But right now we are in a sweet spot with activities outside our home where they aren’t a long-term commitment. For the most part, everything is on a month-to-month basis, so choosing to stop if it no longer suits our family’s needs is easily done. Once we enter the stages of paying a lot of money out of pocket for them, the considerations made in order to sign up will be much more serious. I love Mary’s outline for qualifications she looks for in extracurriculars: 

  • kids must be able to walk or bike there (which means I don’t have to play my least favorite role of taxi, we get exercise, and we help our air quality. Win-win-win.)
  • cannot compete with meal times (I’ve found that it’s way too slippery a slope for me to be like, yeah, fast food is fine just for now…)
  • must have a compelling reason to take kids away from free play time (which is at least as valuable as the vast majority of extracurricular activities). 

Being able to walk or bike there can be very situational for each family, but it worked beautifully for hers. 

Competing with meal times is a big one for us, too. We also fall down the slippery slope of yeah, fast food is fine just for now… 

Free play is crucial. It’s essential. It’s the highest form of learning they can have. So extracurricular activities really do need a strong, compelling reason to take our children away from this time.

Yes, extracurriculars will teach your kids discipline and new sports or hobby skills. It can also help them manage their time and it can be a great social connection, too. But the ultimate question you need to be asking yourself when signing your children up for the next thing to keep their week full and busy is, “is this activity helping or hurting the overall well-being of our entire family?” 

In the meantime, check out this video by GoGo squeeZ on the importance of independent, free play. It’s truly eye-opening. 

The Pure Bliss of Childhood

Their coats are washable. 

The shoes will dry, with time.

Pants can be washed and dried, as well as their bodies. 

Their socks will survive. 

Each and every worry that races in my mind

As they ride and splash and jump

Through every single tiny body of water,

It’s all such a minuscule anxiety

When you’re considering the bigger picture.

The picture that matters more than wet socks

Or muddy bikes

Or tiny cold toes. 

What matters more than all of those combined

Is the absolute bliss

Called childhood. 

Kids Need Outside Time, Even in the Dark.

I am a firm believer in spending time with kids outside in the winter. But one problem that comes up repeatedly is the daylight hours lessening as winter pushes on. During the summer months, the days are long and the sunlight is plentiful, we’re typically outside by 7 am and the dark doesn’t force us inside until 9 or 10 pm. In the winter where we are, typically the sun starts setting by 5 pm. With school in session as well, this only leaves us roughly an hour of outside time during daylight hours, which is the busiest hour of our day as well, so finding the capacity to get outside can be hard.

But. If we make some changes and get outside even after the sun has gone down, it opens up so much time! It also proves to have its benefits as well. Simply changing up the lighting in which kids play, changes the way they have to think and problem solve. While riding their bike in the daylight hours eventually becomes a mindless activity to them, riding it during the dark forces them to pay extra attention to their surroundings and their bike, and use their intuition and senses to help guide them. Something that was once a mundane, everyday sport turns into an elaborate thinking process for them. 

Our tips for getting outside during the dark hours:

A little bit of risky play while we set up our Christmas lights

Wear the right clothing. The warmer you are, the longer you’ll last. You can read more about clothing here. 

Bring the light with you! Flashlights, lanterns, and glow sticks all work wonderfully. We like to buy our glowsticks on Amazon in bulk, making them more affordable. We’ve invested in LED light beanies also found on Amazon. We keep a handful of Dollar Store flashlights around for use as well as a few bigger, nicer ones that put off more light when needed. Pro tip: attach a glowstick to your child’s coat so you can always spot them. Flashlights are great for them to use, but can be easily dropped. Having something more secure that doesn’t require being held can be immensely helpful. 

Bringing light to the night!

Get creative with the light. Add in Christmas lights, brighter LED porch lights, or bust open spotlights used for working on cars. Our set typically stays up close to the garage door in the winter so it’s easy to access for when we need them. 

Have a set activity when you head outside. I talked about this before in my post about getting outside in the cold, but it’s relevant for the dark, too. Since it’s harder and takes a more active choice to go outside in the dark, choosing your activity before going outside can help. 

Visit well-lit areas. Window shop downtown, take walks around college campuses if they’re available in your area, or visit well-lit parks. 

Do you try to get your kids outside when it’s dark out? What tips would you add? 

Photo by Tobi