By Lorna d’Entremont
Parents would be surprised to know that afterschool activities are perhaps not what their child really wants or needs. Over-scheduling kids can cause stress. There is a difference between free play and scheduled activities for children: Is there a happy medium?
When I was teaching I often overheard the same pleas for “nothing to do” coming from my young students. Are we over-scheduling our youths and causing them stress in our rush and zeal to give our children what we think they need and want? Do your children have time for unstructured play every day?
Happy, carefree childhood…have we done away with it?
Remember when you went to school and the bell rang to end the day? For my sisters and I, we walked home with the other kids from our neighbourhood. After a quick snack and chat with our mom, we rushed outdoors to play until suppertime and we often did the same thing after dinner until dark.
No play dates, no planned activities, all just spur-of-the-moment activities. We played ball, built camps, collected frogs, flew kites, played Cops and Robbers, skipped rope and never ran out of ideas to make every moment spent playing enjoyable. Now when I babysit my grandchildren, nothing is left to chance. Play dates are arranged in the evening or days before because so many children have dance lessons, swimming lessons, piano lessons, etc. Special needs children have doctors and therapy appointments. Parents must schedule time to find two children free to play at the same time!
Now with fewer children in each family, playmates live miles from each other and must be driven to their friend’s house. This causes another problem. When we played a few minutes from our home, we could run back there for any number of reasons and know our mom was there to comfort, advise, encourage or if we were tired we would just go home. Now the rules of play have all changed because when a play date is arranged it is for a set amount of time and often with one child exclusively. Many times when the day for the play date arrives, the young child may not even feel that he wants to play with that particular child. A careful selection of afterschool and weekend activities are beneficial for most children but for some it is a source of stress.
The child who has difficulty fitting in at school now has that multiplied. Children need unscheduled time to play, to relax, to use his imagination and invent games, to draw, to read his choice of books and yes, to do nothing that seems important but is so important. Unscheduled time allows a child to get to know himself, his wants, his needs, his skills and he learns to rely on himself to find enjoyment in life.
Parents and caregivers must help their children recognize the effects of stress, talk with their child to find out the causes of stress and they should teach their child coping strategies. Moreover if all they do is not enough and their young child still has a lot of anxiety and has problems at home and or in school, parents should seek professional help.
Caregivers, educators and professionals working with children should strive to make childhood a happy, carefree part of life. Start by making sure you are not over-scheduling kids so they have time to simply play and be kids.
Lorna d’Entremont has a Master of Education and has taught thirty years in French elementary classrooms in Nova Scotia. When she retired from teaching, she joined her daughter as co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the makers of the sensory, oral-motor tools SentioChews and KidCompanions Chewelry. She blogs about issues that concern parents of children with special needs and also writes reviews for their Special Needs Book Review site. She is a wife, mom of three, and grandmother of five granddaughters.