Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game changer for your family

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

Being a good parent doesn’t mean we have to enrol them in unlimited extracurricular activities. In fact, putting limits around how much we let them participate in can be prove to be a game changer for your family.

When we become parents, we want the best for our children. We want to provide them with extracurricular activities to grow and thrive, improve and excel, meet other children and have fun. We sometimes feel pressure to be more and do more for them so they can have every opportunity available to them.

When notes get sent home about activities to sign up for and teams that need players, we can feel pressure to get our child involved. We don’t want them to miss out or to be left behind. We feel bad for clubs that can’t fill places.

There is nothing wrong with signing your child up for extracurricular activities. It helps develop gross and fine motor skills, learn responsibility and teamwork, reliability, time management and listening skills. It helps children to win with humility and lose with grace. As a boy mum, it is particularly important to me that my children know how to play a range of sports so they can make friends at lunchtime. However, this doesn’t mean that I have to sign them up for every organised activity.

Here are five considerations around why less might be more for your family.

1. Saving money

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

The more extracurricular activities our children are enrolled in, the more money it costs. It can all add up, especially if you have multiple children and they are enrolled in multiple sports. Some are more costly than others per term or season, for example, swimming lessons.

Others cost more for the uniforms, specialist footwear and accessories. Dance costumes often take many hours of work to put together or pay for someone else to make them. For those who make district or state teams, the cost to travel can be expensive not to mention, time off work if needed.

Factoring in petrol and any trips to the physio are worth considering too. For those in South Australia, school sports vouchers are available which at the time of writing save parents $100 a year on fees per school-age child. Similar vouchers that encourage families to take up sport may be available in your state or country.

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2. More free play

Putting boundaries around extracurricular activities enables children to experience more free play. It allows for boredom, during which creativity and imaginative play can occur. Unstructured play enables children to decide who takes charge, plan what they will do and what the rules will be. It is crucial to healthy development. Children learn how to work collaboratively with one another and often over a range of ages.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

The older ones learn to be patient and help out the younger children, who enjoy learning and look up to their older peers. They see what is possible and challenge themselves to climb as high, jump as far and run as fast. Less scheduled time means more space for playdates. This gives a chance for classmates to develop closer relationships with classmates and between parents.

Alone time allows freedom to daydream for children to lie on their backs and watch the clouds change shape, come up with things to do, problems to solve and creations to make. They have time to develop a range of skills during free play.

When children play on the trampoline, they develop leg strength, ball skills and hand-eye coordination. When they roll down hills and somersault on the grass, they develop flexibility, core strength and a vestibular system. When walking around the edge of a playground or stepping on rocks in the creek they develop balance, a sense of adventure and bravery.

3. More family time

When we slow down and limit extracurricular activities, it enables more family time. Younger children miss their siblings when they’re at school all day. By saying no to more things means you say yes to more interaction and relationship building. Siblings are able to reconnect after time apart and play with each other.

They don’t have to rush in and out of the car and be reminded of where they need to be going next. Weekends aren’t spent rushing to put uniforms on and get out the house and driving around like crazy all over town to make things in time.

Blank space in the calendar can do us all the world of good. We can get back to basics. We can spend time gardening, going on bike rides, having a bonfire, looking up at the stars, backyard camping, going hiking and playing at the beach.

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4. More time for parents

When we limit the amount of extracurricular activities our children sign up for, we are putting a positive boundary in place. We choose to slow down and stop playing the role of a parent taxi driver, we give ourselves a chance to catch our own breath too. We can sit down for a cup of tea of coffee and enjoy it while it’s still hot. We have more time to plan out meals, cook more snacks and not have to rely on quick meals all the time.

We can have more dinner times as a family and spend time talking around the table. We can focus on listening to how everyone’s days have been, and share the highs and lows. We can all help to pack up afterwards, rather than being one person’s job.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

I think that it’s important that parents get to have their own interests too and have regular breaks. Don’t stop doing all the things you love. Your relationship came before the children so it should come first. Date nights, girls and guys nights, alone time.

It’s all-important and you are allowed to prioritise this. When we over-schedule activities for children, it’s easy to have no time or energy left for our own needs. If we enjoy playing a sport, we can do that for ourselves in the evening once or twice a week, maintain fitness at the gym or going for runs, catch a movie, go late-night shopping, or take an art class.

RELATED : Parenting through a pandemic – how Covid has changed the way my kids play.

When we prioritise having fun ourselves, we are more likely to be fun parents and enjoy life more. Our children should not take the top priority. When your children leave home, you want to have hobbies that you can continue and a spousal relationship you can enjoy in a new stage.

5. More time outdoors

When we reduce our children’s extracurricular activities, it has an array of benefits. Being outside in nature is wonderful for us all. When we slow our schedules and switch organised sports and activities for nature play, it’s often just what we need. Children are immersed in sensory-rich experiences as they play barefoot in grass, sand, dirt, mud and water.

They learn how to balance on uneven surfaces like slopes, rocks, gravel and bark chips. We feel the warmth of the sun on our faces and the rain in our hair, and learn to be resilient in all types of weather. Children are met with all sorts of natural materials and environments which leads to endless opportunities for deep open-ended play.

Adults don’t need to entertain or educate or set an agenda. Children are less likely to say they’re bored compared to an indoor setting, and in my experience will often play outside with fewer quarrels and fights. Their imagination can be wild and their play has no bounds.

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Being in nature has mental health benefits for us all, with vitamin D, fresh air, bird sounds and beautiful landscapes to admire. We aren’t governed as much by the clock, but instead by the rumble in our tummies, the position of the sun and the weather to guide when we eat, where we play and when to seek shelter from the elements.

Intentionality around scheduling

Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits that can come from less organised activities, it is important that we are intentional in how we schedule our time.

This may mean choosing a school that has lots of extracurricular activities built into it. Want your child to learn an instrument? Make sure your school has tuition offered. This will mean your child will miss 30 minutes of a lesson once a week but this will save you from having to drive them to a lesson after school. Does your child need therapy such as OT or Physio? See if the sessions can be done at school.

If you want to do more nature-based free play but don’t want to spend time in the car, consider adding it on to somewhere you already have to be. For example, my eldest’s school is positioned right opposite a creek. We’ve started playing here after school. Their gumboots, snacks and towels stay packed and ready in the car and now their classmates are joining them.

It’s been so wonderful. It’s the perfect type of playdate that involves no organising or driving. Every week now, we have at least two afternoons in the creek. My 3 and 1 year old follow their older brother around, pretending to fish and catch ducks, play chasey, make cubbies and forts, play cops and robbers, hide and seek, and even go swimming in the cold water.

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They never want to leave. We eventually do as it starts to get dark, they get ravenous or they start to shiver, whatever comes first. We pack up all the gear, I strip off their wet muddy clothes and cover them with warm blankets, and we drive home (all of five minutes worth).

They are so tired yet so happy, and their tanks are full from playing outside with their friends. I’m so happy too. I can’t help but feel this is what it’s supposed to be like. Kids get a chance to really be kids, and adults have time to sit down and chat while we watch them run around. It feels easy almost, far from how parenthood is seen these days.

Further reading:

Here are some of my favourite authors who write on the topic of choosing slow living over busy lives with extracurricular activities. They may inspire you to slow down and simply enjoy your family.

1000 hours outside by Ginny Yurich

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

Barefoot and Balanced by Angela J Hanscom

There’s no such thing as bad weather by Linda Akeson McGurk

Minimalist Moms: Living and Parenting with simplicity by Diane Boden

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

A Simpler Motherhood: Curating Contentment, Savoring Slow, and Making Room for What Matters Most by Emily Eusanio.

Some you can listen to on Audible or free on the Libby and Borrowbox app through your local library. Alternatively, you can buy on Amazon, Book Depositary or wherever you find good books.

Closing thoughts

In the end, you choose how busy you are. Sometimes we like to complain about all the things that are on and how our role as a taxi driver. We whinge at this stage of life but don’t always stop to consider if we need to be doing so many things. If our children really need so many opportunities. You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to put boundaries in place.

As a parent, you don’t have to provide them with all the opportunities. Choose a select few extracurricular activities based on their interests and strengths, a variety when they are younger so they can choose one or two to master. When children get their driver’s license, they can choose how many activities they do. They might decide to take up new sports or hobbies and be out every evening.

Why putting a limit on extracurricular activities can be a game-changer for your family

When I was growing up, I took piano lessons and played netball. I learnt how to swim during VACSWIM, and played sports at school. It wasn’t until I left school that I took up playing soccer and touch footy, learnt guitar, and did a musical. I hope to give my boys enough extracurricular activities to help them decide what things they are good at and enjoy, and dabble in a few different things, so they can do more when they are older.

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You can give your children the best childhood and not run yourself ragged in the process. By slowing down and saying no to the unnecessary, we can make space and say yes to what is most important. I give you permission to be brave enough to make changes to how your family does things from here on out. You get to choose what your days, afternoons, weekends and school holidays look like. It’s up to you.

I’ll leave you with a favourite memory I have of my two eldest boys at 3 and 1. It was a Tuesday and I normally went to weekly Kindergym. This particular day though, I decided not to. It was a rainy day. Knowing that the rubbish truck was due to come past soon, I put some chairs under the front verandah and sat with my boys. When the truck came past, they were so excited.

They were both waving and squealing and were stoked when the driver waved back and honked his horn. My eldest turned to me, beaming, and said, “how lucky are we mum? This is the best day ever!” It was a lovely reminder to me that kids don’t need much to make them happy.

Parenting through a pandemic – how Covid has changed the way my kids play.

Parenting through a pandemic

This pandemic has affected all of us in some way, shape or form.

For some, it’s meant a halt to travelling overseas. Limited our ability to earn a wage or keep a business afloat. It has reduced social interaction and dating opportunities. Changed our retirement plans. For others it’s make it hard to visit loved ones in hospital or nursing homes, or say goodbye when the time comes.

For those of us with children, Covid has changed the way we parent. As a mum of three boys five and under, it has been a challenging time. We’ve felt stir crazy. I’ve missed my friends and know that my kids have missed theirs too.

For many young children, the world with Covid is all they know. It has been amusing to me, to sit back and watch their play. I can’t help smiling at the ways Covid has started to change this. To them, they are just living out their reality of living through a pandemic. They are trying to make sense of the world they are living in.

Here are some of the ways my two older boys aged 5 and 3, have incorporated Covid into their play.

Social distancing

While playing with a wooden treehouse, my eldest carefully placed little stepping stones along the fake grass. He had some gnomes balanced on top of these. “They’re social distancing mum. They can’t go any closer. They need to make sure they leave gaps in between.” Other times they have drawn crosses on the ground in chalk so their bikes can be spaced apart. They stick masking tape on the wood floor for them to social distance when playing games. Matchbox cars have to leave a gap between each other. Teddies can’t sit right next to each other for tea parties. Pictures in their sketchbooks show space in between people.

There is always a clear spot to stand on and a gap to keep apart. My children take it very seriously because they see us doing it in real life. They don’t always like the rules but understand they need to be followed. They don’t want to get in trouble for doing the wrong thing. My eldest reads signs and asks questions about what it all means. It’s a lot to take in for anyone.

Hand sanitiser

My boys are used to washing their hands regularly, or at least being reminded to, and using hand sanitiser when out. One time we went to the supermarket together and went to the automatic dispenser. It deposited a huge amount into my son’s hand. “Ugh!” he exclaimed. He proceeded to rub it all over my arm. “All better.”

One day at kindy pick up, my then two-year-old argued over having to do hand sanitiser. I eventually won the battle and he agreed to put it on. He then crawled around on his hands and knees, licking the ground. “I’m a puppy dog. Woof woof!” He spent the next ten minutes grabbing things off the ground with his mouth, licking everything, dropping his dummy for fun so he could pick it up with his teeth and just generally being disgusting, much to the dismay and worry of the staff and parents watching on. At least he had clean hands.

My then four-year-old ran out to greet one of our friends. He grabbed the hand sanitiser we keep by the door and held it out for our friend.  “You need to use this before you come inside.” We were mortified. We’d never modelled doing this or asked them to do it but our friend was a great sport. He agreed that it was important and proceeded to clean his hands thoroughly before he entered the house. He commented that we had our children well trained.  Despite our embarrassment, it was a funny moment and we were proud of our boy for taking steps to keep our family healthy and safe.

Covid Safe Check In

When we visit shopping centres, church, play cafes or have appointments, my boys are used to the routine of checking in. They want to do the right thing and follow the rules so like to remind me. “Mum, don’t forget to check in! Can I do it?” This translates to their play at home. When my boys play pretend cafes and shops, they always make sure that there’s a Covid Safe check in at the front. They draw one and sticky tape it wherever they are playing. “Don’t forget to do your check in. Ding! Can I see the tick?”

They have fun creating QR codes to put around the house. Barcodes of all shapes and sizes have appeared in the most random of places. They even made one for our front door so our guests adhere to the rules. People have a little chuckle when they visit and sometimes get out their phone to pretend which of course the boys love.

Covid Marshall

When assigning roles to play, along with the typical mum, dad, cat, baby, princess, policeman etc, they now include a Covid Marshall, naturally. “I’m the Covid Marshall.  I make sure that everyone follow the rules, checks in and social distances. I get to wear a lanyard so people know who I am.” They enjoy getting to be this role because they of course enjoy bossing others around.

My toddler is slightly addicted to tv (confession time). Whenever he hears talk of Covid Marshalls, he finds it all a bit confusing. “Like Marshall from Paw Patrol” he exclaims. “Paw Patrol Marshall!” He breaks into an uncontrollable giggle.  It’s a lot for a three-year-old to comprehend. Even some of us adults, let’s be honest.

Covid testing

One of the new games that our kids like to play is ‘Covid testing.’ It’s a fun game where the balance board is placed on its side to form a semi-circle and the boys sit behind it. I drive my pretend car past, after booking in online of course. We all put our masks on, then they ask for my details.

To save time, I have my printed form with a QR code ready to go. Once verifying my identity, they tell me what to expect. “Now this isn’t going to hurt. It will just tickle your tongue and tickle your nose. Be brave and you’ll get a sticker!” My test comes complete with a torch being shone down my throat so they can properly assess what they are dealing with. They are very thorough with their tickling.

One can’t be too careful with Covid testing. It’s a serious business. I must be a good patient because I am presented with stickers. Lots of stickers. I am also bandaged multiple times because apparently I’m very sick and need to rest. I am praised for my bravery and told to keep an eye out for my results. They will message me later.

I am told to come back and get tested right away, because it’s the game and otherwise it will be boring. I drive back into the waiting bay, and this time I go by a different name. This confuses my eldest, because I am still Mummy, but eventually he gets the idea that I’m just pretending to change my name.

I don’t have a printout with my new identity which bothers him. He quickly excuses himself so he can scribble a new one for me, I mean Cynthia Ashlee Harper Rosedale. My two big boys mask up and take turns looking down my throat and tickling my nose. It really is a wonderful experience. Off I go to await results. This involves lying on the carpet on my tummy.

I always hope that perhaps they might come and play cars on my back, play with my hair or give me a back massage. It looks more like being jumped on, stacked on top of, hair becoming a tangled mess or my back being karate chopped and wobbled. After a minute or two of fearing for my life and longevity of my back, I scramble to a different, somewhat safer position.

A few little random moments

  • Once we tested positive, my eldest put a sign on the front door. With my help he wrote, “we have Covid so please don’t come in.” He drew a self-portrait with a mask on.  He keeps saying to me, “I can’t believe I actually have Covid. Can you believe we have the Coronavirus Mum?” My three year old has been saying in a husky little voice, “I have Covid! I have Covid!”
  • When our boys play doctors, they now wear masks (sometimes two each), ask questions about their movement interstate and overseas, if they are vaccinated and if they are feeling well. They give each other pretend injections and booster shots. For some reason they particularly love giving their parents injections (clearly you can never have too many).
  • When they come to chat to me while I’m on the loo, they accompany me to the bathroom afterwards. “Mum, you need to sing Happy Birthday while you wash your hands! Two times!” Thanks Wiggles and Playschool I mumble under my breath as I agree that yes, I should wash my hands for longer and reluctantly join them in song.
  • During early 2020 when things were starting to get serious (but it was still far away from us in South Australia), my then three-year-old was trying to make sense of it all. He would cheekily say ‘coronavirus’ instead of ‘cheese’ when posing for photos. This tended to be awkward out in public.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, these moments are a nice reminder that it’s not all been bad. I knew I had to write them down or they’d get lost in the chaos of daily life. Our children can still find joy in the everyday as they navigate the world around them.

How has Covid affected the way your little one’s play?

I’d love to hear down below!