It’s enough to make an enlightened mom or dad yearn to build a cabin in the woods, far far away from after-school activities.
Yes, after school, weekend and scheduled summer activities give children the opportunity to explore a new passion, to get exercise, to socialize and cooperate — not to mention offering a safe and constructive way to spend the afternoon hours when many, many parents are still at work.
But how much scheduling is too much? And how do we determine what’s right for our children?
My yogic intuition tells me that less is more. That a full day of school is plenty for a five year old — or at least for my particular downtime-loving, unstructured playtime-thriving, five year old. I’m deeply fortunate that my work schedule allows me the flexibility to pick Lucien up from school and most days we amble back towards the subway at “Lucien pace” — popping in at the playground where the children from his school hang out, occasionally stopping for a fresh squeezed juice — our new favorite afternoon special treat (apple for Lucien, orange for me), having a play date with a classmate, or else just heading home for an early dinner. On the weekends, we play it by ear — maybe there’s one “big” activity a weekend — say we go to a museum or catch a movie or see a performance or meet up with friends or go to the farmers’ market. Or else we simply stay home and hang out. Which, honestly, Lucien loves as much as anything else.
As right as this slower pace feels, I can’t help but get that little birdie buzz in my ear when I hear about all the fabulous and enriching scheduled activities some of Lucien’s friends are up to after school and on the weekends.
What if he never learns to swim? Never learns Spanish or French or Hebrew or any other language? What if he misses out on his chance to become a dancer? A skier? A violinist? A yogi?
Then of course I catch myself and laugh. The boy is FIVE. He can float in his bathtub, dance in the living room, do a headstand on the couch, kick a ball on the playground, meditate on the subway — as we did together the other day. (All of which, by the way, is free — unlike those scheduled activities.)
As in all things, there’s a balance. One I need to find. I did — after much internal debate and many discussions with Neil — sign Lucien up for an amazing sounding creative arts day camp in the neighborhood for a month this summer. And I can’t help but think a couple of swim lessons might be a good idea… We’ll see how it goes.
I’d love to hear from YJ readers: How do you manage the scheduling question? Do you (or your partner, or a babysitter or relative) take your child right home from school or does s/he take part in activities? What about you moms and dads with younger children — do you make sure to sign up for mommy or daddy and me classes or do you take a slower pace? And what about you parents with middle school and high school age children? How do you help your pre-teens and teenagers find downtime?
Jessica Berger Gross is the author of enLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer (Skyhorse), out in paperback now. She’s spending the year in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and five-year-old son. “Like” her author page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter. Visit her at www.jessicabergergross.com.