When summer hits, naturally parents want to avoid the summer slide. We want to schedule enough summer activities so that our children are challenged and go back to school ready. While all of this is done with the best of intentions, free play is more beneficial than most of these extracurricular activities for kids. This is why.
It’s the middle of summer. With back to school looming, parents worry about the impact of the summer slide. No parent wants their children to start a new grade rusty.
Each year the parks and leisure guide hits our front porch and I pour over it.
I’m always tempted to overschedule extracurricular programs
All of the classes come with a swimming lesson upgrade. So kids can work on their painting or skating skills in the morning and have swim lessons in the afternoon.
Every year, I find myself tempted to do it all. I think about how awesome it would be if my kids felt stronger in athletics and French and piano while improving their swimming skills.
Naturally, I want my kids to have every advantage possible, but I try to refrain from over-scheduling and sign my kids up for select activities.
Here’s why minimalism is the best approach to extracurricular activities
Since the 1950’s, the school day has gotten longer, recess is shorter, and children are scheduled for more extracurricular activities. This generation is proving to be more stressed, anxious and depressed than any cohort before them. In fact, when compared to children who lived in North America during World War II and the Cold War, the younger generations are faring the worst.
A major reason is that as a society, we are focusing too much on external measures of success. Studies have shown that when internal values are given priority, children feel more emotionally stable and happy.
This is the best approach to extracurricular activities
When children have ample time for free-play, they feel in control of their lives. They express ideas in their heads, test out theories, and develop a better sense of themselves.
Dr Peter Gray, a psychologist who specializes in the absence of free-play in children, urges parents to avoid signing their children up for extracurricular activities unless the child genuinely wants to be in the activity.
Advantages of free-play over organized sports:
The benefits of a child playing sports in their free time far outweigh the benefits of an organized sport.
For instance, when my kids play baseball in our front yard, they need to round up the neighbourhood kids. They need to think through how to set up the batting circle so they won’t hit windows or cars. They may come up with unique sets of rules like the oldest child bats for both teams to make it fair.
The game set up and execution requires high-level thinking. Then, when they play, they need to play to the best of their ability so the older kids want to play with them. In turn, they need to slow down their play for the younger kids.
They are responsible for the organization and smooth execution of the game as well as batting, running, throwing and catching.
In contrast, in an organized sport they get better at isolated skills (bunting or throwing a curveball), but the adults take over all of the most valuable skills children will use later in life.