Scheduled Activities for Kids—How Much Is Too Much?

Activities for Kids—How Much is Too Much?
4 April 2016

The rule in my two-kid family when it comes to scheduled activities is this—both kids must take swimming lessons, this is non-negotiable because we believe that learning safety in the water is important and both kids started lessons around 3-years-old. Beyond that each child is allowed to pick one additional activity per season with the only caveat being if you join, you must see the session through to completion. If they don't like it, they can pick something different for their next session.

This means we have four activities to get to every week. With both parents working full time and our kids too young to do scheduled classes on weeknights, this is the most we can handle without it becoming overwhelming and stressful for grown-ups and littles alike.

In order to get the kids where they need to be, on time, and still accomplish our weekly chores and errands, we have to divide and conquer. This leaves us with limited downtime together as a family as weekends become a complex feat of planning, schedules and deliveries worthy of UPS. Throw in playdates, birthday parties and visits with family and it's easy feel that you're all in over your heads.

Logistics aside, over-scheduling can be hard on kids. Well-meaning as it may seem to have them in sports, music lessons, arts, crafts and any number of other activities you can dream of, there are some warning signs to watch for that could indicate that your kids are feeling overwhelmed:

  • suddenly acting out, being extra grumpy or putting up a big fight before getting ready for a scheduled activity that they used to be really excited about
  • complaining of fatigue, stomaches or headaches before or during activities can all be signs of stress in kids, just as they can be in adults
  • falling behind on school work
  • showing an inability to entertain themselves or use their imagination during downtime, especially if they never had this issue before they were scheduled in lots of activities
  • finding yourself with little to no time to just sit and enjoy each other as a family—having time for dinners together, quiet movie nights or other at-home family activities you once enjoyed

There are plenty of kids who thrive in very busy schedules and may push to be signed up in everything or suffer from an acute case of FOMO (fear of missing out), while other kids much prefer to have time to themselves at home and need to be pushed to try something new. In our family we've got one of each.

Of course there is a long and well-researched list supporting the benefits of scheduled activities for children. Learning to be part of team and all the social skills that go along with it, mastering or honing a skill that they may or may not have already had an natural affinity for, and yes, giving busy parents a breather from the kids for a bit is beneficial to everyone too.

Like most things when it comes to parenting, I've discovered that for my family it's all about finding balance. It takes a little trial and error and watching the kids for signs that they are engaged, happy and not over-loaded has worked around here so far. But they are young yet and we're all learning as we go.

Do you set rules and limits around scheduled activities in your family? Tell us what works for you and how much, if any, is too much.

(Photo Credit: Miki Yoshihito on Creative Commons)

TOPICS:   Parenting


  • Amanda E.

    I second the swimming as a mandatory activity (aka life skill). My daughter has been in swimming since 5 months old, and she's 2.5 now. We just finished our first non-swimming activity, ballet classes. For now, we are keeping to one activity at a time. Not sure if that will change when she gets older.

    • Bargainmoose

      Swimming is tough during winter! It's the hardest to get my kids to rally for on cold mornings.

    • Amanda E.

      agreed! We have typically done spring & fall swimming. And that's why we did ballet in the winter. We take the summers off so we aren't tied to staying home on the weekends.

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