Are We Too Overscheduled?

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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