More than 70 per cent of parents polled in a recent Global News/Ipsos survey say it’s important to keep children as busy as possible with structured activities. At the same time, however, more than half of the same parents also said extracurricular activities can take up too much of children’s schedules.
The results likely reflect the conflict that many parents face when signing up for after-school activities. Two voices echo in our heads.
First, we hear the voice of Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author: “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.” Will we shortchange our kids – compromising their ability to become the next Wayne Gretzky or Yo-Yo Ma – if we don’t pack their schedule with as many activities as we can?
1. Are they getting enough sleep?
“Studies show 40 per cent of children are sleep deprived simply because they are too busy,” said Kang. “That is absolutely unacceptable.”
Sleep deprivation in children can lead to a range of health and developmental consequences, she added. According to one study, teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to struggle with verbal creativity, problem-solving, and generally score lower on IQ tests.
Parents should ensure their children are getting an age-appropriate amount of sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, that’s 10-13 hours for children ages 3 to 5; between 9 and 12 hours for kids up to age 12; and 8-10 hours until age 18.
2. Do they have some time to play every day?
Children need time to play every day, said Kang. Studies show unstructured play contributes to stress reduction while enhancing problem-solving and creative thinking, she noted.
For older kids, “play” may mean participating in a loosely-structured activity that allows for plenty of individual exploration and interaction with others.
This could be a dance class with instruction mixed with freestyling and lots of opportunity for team work, instead of a more demanding ballet class, said Kang.
Still, playtime should be about active play, not sitting in front of a screen, she added.
3. Is there time for everyone to sit down at the dinner table?
Too many families grab a quick bite in the car every evening as they’re rushing from, say, piano lessons to soccer practice. Siblings sometimes don’t see each other at dinner because of conflicting schedules. But sitting down for dinner together is hugely important for child development, said Kang.
Having family dinners at least four nights a week reinforces family bonds and fosters a sense of security, studies have shown.