Posts Tagged ‘ extracurricular activities ’

Battling the End-of-Year Blues

Friday, June 6th, 2014

For so many of my friends, summer has already begun. I’ve been positively pea green with envy as I see all those cute last-day-of-school pictures and celebratory ice cream cones. Because here, we’re still drowning in homework and the endless parade of end-of-school events, and we have about 12 days, four hours and 35 minutes left until it’s finally over. (Not that I’m counting.)

Don’t get me wrong—I love school. I ADORE school. And my kids generally do, too. It’s just that the end-of-year hoopla is as relentless and draining as the pre-Christmas/Hanukkah frenzy. And based on the hollow eyes and Walking Dead zombie shuffles I’m seeing at dropoff, it’s clear that my fellow parents are about one to-do away from collapsing on the sidewalk in a slightly soft and sweaty middle-aged heap.

For starters, my youngest daughter’s teacher is a sadist. She sent my daughter home last week (LAST WEEK!) with her very first (and fingers crossed, last) first grade project. It’s a report about an animal, with an accompanying diorama of the animal in its habitat. Her teacher insisted that we couldn’t half-ass it and buy one of those tubes of tiny plastic animals from the craft store (or 1-Clicking it from Amazon, which would have been my M.O.). So instead, we spent two hours modeling a cheetah-like creature out of clay so we could hot-glue it into her shoebox. I had planned to cover the outside of the box with paper to make it look nicer, but my daughter couldn’t care less, and neither can I. (If my daughter’s teacher had wanted a fancy paper covering, she should have scheduled this particular project in April, when we still gave a hoot.)

My schedule this week also includes two recitals (with accompanying dress rehearsals), an awards ceremony of indeterminate length, our regular slate of post-school activities, a Girl Scout moving up ceremony, a “fun Friday” event at the school, and naturally, baking a cake that my oldest daughter could bring in to her class to construct a massive map of New Jersey out of sugar, and then eat it with her classmates. (That’s the culmination of a full year of studying New Jersey history.)

My youngest daughter’s Girl Scout ceremony conflicts with her dress rehearsal, and comes right after “fun Friday,” which includes events like face painting, water balloon throwing and eating a full year’s supply of red food coloring in the form of Italian ice. We have argued every single day this week about why she can’t get her face painted, because we have had situations where even sandpaper doesn’t seem to get the face paint off of her thoroughly, and her dance teacher would probably frown on that accessory. However, I’m fully expecting that my daughter’s going to come home today with a big black owl painted on her cheek, which I’m sure will look lovely with both her rainbow sparkle tutu and her haphazardly adorned Daisy tunic (we lost about 79 percent of the badges before I had enough spare time to try to iron them on).

But that’s nothing compared to what my equally fatigued book club pals have. As we slumped in chairs and tried to resuscitate ourselves with prosecco and peanut butter cookies, we traded war stories. One was convinced her daughter stopped actually learning in March, so her class could squeeze in all the field trips, bonding events, and celebrations that come with graduating sixth grade. Her dance card’s still full with special breakfasts and ceremonies through the end of the year. Another has a second grade graduation to attend next week at 9:30 a.m.—and the note came home saying that “most kids go home afterward with their parents to celebrate for the rest of the day.” (She guesses most parents in her school must not actually work for a living.) Her school, inexplicably, goes one half-day longer than ours, but she’s rebelling and taking her kids to the beach on the last day of school instead.

I’m putting a plea out now, for next year, to all the extracurricular activity runners and the teachers: Go easy on us in June. We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re sick of sending in healthy lunches and signing permission slips and nagging about homework. Move whatever you can to March or May or better yet, October, when we’re still fresh and excited and eager. Right now, all we want to do is sip iced tea in a hammock and let our kids run through the sprinkler. Or maybe sleep in a hammock for an entire day. Either way, I’m officially washing my hands of all cheetah-sculpting and book report reviewing—until at least September 1.

Tell us: What’s on your agenda for the rest of the school year? Or are you—lucky dog—already done?

If you’re looking for fun activities to keep the kids occupied this summer, check out our cool summer craft ideas. And sign up for our Parents Daily newsletter to get fresh ideas delivered to your inbox every day. 

Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes


Image: Blackboard summer message by blackboard1965/

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Should We Let Our Kids Quit?

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Mia from the Princess Diaries and I have a surprising amount in common. We grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we went to schools with uniforms, we have high-maintenance hair, and we’re tremendously uncoordinated. I mean really, painfully uncoordinated.

I thought Mia was lucky to only have to tackle gym class. I, on the other hand, was forced to put my lack of skills to the test after school as well, in the form of softball.

I dreaded going on the field every day. I dreaded the missed catches and the embarrassing swings. Therefore, when I read Noah Berlatsky’s Atlantic article “Teaching Kids to Quit,” about letting kids drop after-school activities they didn’t want to do anymore, my initial reaction was, “Yes! Tell parents it’s okay for their children to ditch their unwanted sport/hobby/club.”

According to Berlatsky, parents tend to discourage kids from giving up on things just because they are bored or they don’t like it anymore. This is because our society values and encourages perseverance. However, Berlatsky writes, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to learn about perseverance without forcing them to continue doing something they aren’t enjoying. Everyone’s childhood is hard in some way already, and there is no need to purposely add more difficulty into the mix. I agree that we should make our kids’ lives easier instead of harder. I like the idea of giving children more choices in life and allowing them more freedom. Kids who are feeling overwhelmed by activities – Boy/Girl Scouts and music lessons and dance and lacrosse – should be able to make some choices about what they really want to do, especially as they get older. It breaks my heart to see overly tired kids on their way to school in the morning, and I do think kids need some free time.

However, parents who do let your kids quit when they get bored may not be doing them any favors. Some kids might need more of a push than others to have a well-rounded schedule. If I had been left to my own devices, I would have probably spent way too much time doing a whole lot of nothing, and childhood is prime time to be doing a variety of things during and outside of school. In fact, as an adult, I regret that I didn’t do more as a kid when I had the flexibility in my schedule. As much as I dragged my feet getting to softball practice, I made friends, got some much needed physical activity, and, yes, learned plenty about perseverance throughout the years. Playing a sport was actually a requirement at my school, and, while I wanted to argue my way out of it the same way I avoided taking a mandatory public speaking class, my parents encouraged me to stick it out by taking things one day at a time and focusing on the positives. Even though I didn’t enjoy actually playing softball, I had to admit I liked getting to travel around the Bay Area and having post-game celebratory snacks with friends. I hope that Berlatsky’s article inspires some parents to relax about their children’s extracurricular activities, and that parents of kids who need some encouragement continue to help them pursue activities outside of the classroom.

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What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

Image: Cute young baseball player via Shutterstock


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Are We Too Overscheduled?

Monday, September 9th, 2013

My daughters’ schedules are (over)filled to the brim—we’re regularly shlepping them all over town for their slate of classes and activities: dance, gymnastics, acting, karate, Girl Scouts, basketball, art class, you name it. The madness extends from September until we limp into the end of June, exhausted and looking forward to a break. But in past years, we didn’t really get time to catch our breath. Even our summer was filled to the brim with an array of camps, which often required multiple stops around town and military-level coordination skills.

Apparently, we’re not alone in being overscheduled. We’re part of a generation of moms and dads that worry that their kids aren’t going to reach their full potential if they aren’t trying out every possible activity. (Are we keeping a budding ballerina or future Olympic gymnast down if we don’t buy into gymnastics lessons and a slate of dance classes?) And so, we all ferry our kids around from class to class, sacrificing sanity, homecooked meals and everyone’s free time in the pursuit of a potential payoff for our future stars. But studies have shown that for many kids, all this shlepping isn’t necessarily helping to create the next Michael Phelps or Pablo Picasso. It’s just stressing out everyone—parents and kids alike.

And so this summer, I decided to take a break from the madness. My daughters seemed capable of entertaining themselves, and I was lucky that my work schedule was a little more flexible than it had been in the past. So we opted for one two-week-long camp that both girls could attend, and the rest of the summer was meant for relaxing, reading books, swimming in the pool, running around outside, and playing with the massive stack of toys that they rarely seem to have time to enjoy. I imagined peacefully writing a blog post over iced coffee while they worked out an art project or played Barbies together.

It didn’t exactly go like that—at least, not right away. The very first day after school ended, it took only 90 minutes before my youngest daughter was measuring her butt with a tape measure (I guess that was kind of educational?), and my oldest was explaining that she was expecting a schedule. “You know, like 10 to 10:15 we use the computer, 10:15 to 10:45 we do an art project, 10:45 to 11 we snack,” she said. In other words, my daughters had absolutely no idea what to do, when a whole day without a to-do list loomed before them.

Clearly, we all needed some help adjusting to life without a schedule. I started by creating a bare-bones list of  things to accomplish—reading for a half hour, feeding the pets, getting dressed—and a jar filled with activities they could try if they were at a loss for how to fill their time. (Several of them were chores, to help keep things interesting.) But after a few days, the “unbored” jar gathered dust, as my girls figured out things to do to occupy their time—hula hooping in the backyard, building their own volcano, learning how to bake cookies all by themselves, and combining their passions for Doctor Who and Monster High in a really strange imaginative play story that went on for days.

I think our experiment paid off. Yesterday, my girls were excited to go back to school—refreshed and ready to take on the new challenges of fourth grade and first. And yes, we’re back to the grind of ballet and Daisies and karate, starting tomorrow. But I’m already looking forward to next summer, when we can take another break from our packed to-do list, and go back to doing absolutely nothing.

How did you spend your summer? Do you think your kids are overscheduled, underscheduled—or just about right?

Photo: xavier gallego morell/

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