Over Scheduling Your Child

over scheduling kid's camps and lessonsI have a wonderful 7 year old daughter. Since she is an only child, so we get one shot at parenting. We are fortunate that we have a good income and no consumer debt. That allows us to give her many advantages that people working paycheck to paycheck might not be able to do. That being said, there are about 4 million and one activities available for 7 year olds these days. How do I know which ones are worthwhile or how much is too much? I don’t want to over schedule my child.

Too Many Activities

When I was a kid, I think we could start softball and basketball in 4th grade. I grew up in a very rural town, so there was no private dance school or Mandarin Chinese lessons for 3 year olds. I don’t know any kids who ever did more than one thing at a time. Mainly, because there wasnt’ that much to do.

Fast forward to today. We still live in a rural area, but starting at age 3, kids can do gymnastics, dance, soccer, wresting, and swim lessons. By kindergarten, you can also add skiing, karate, piano, violin, t-ball, football, and probably lots more I don’t even know about. As the kid grows, so does the list of offerings. I know families with young kids who are out until after 7PM every week night plus at least one weekend day for organized activities.

How Much Do Kid Activities Cost?

I think it depends on where you live, and we are probably in a cheaper area. Still, it is expensive. To do dance for the season from September to May, it’s $40 per month plus the cost of shoes, leotards, tights, and recital costumes. You can buy the shoes and other things used, but the costumes run around $120. Swim team is $160 per session, which lasts about 4 months. Ski lessons were $180 per six weekly sessions, plus cost of renting or buying equipment. You also have to count the gas to get to and from everything. So for this past year, we spent about $1000 plus gas costs for kid activities. If we’d bought everything new and eaten out a few times a week because we didn’t prepare, it could have been double that.

Should All Kids Participate in Extracurricular Activities?

Jim and I decided that we would try as many things as we could from an early age to see if anything “stuck.” Since we do have an only child, we also wanted her to see what it’s like to be part of a team and not always be the top banana. On the other hand, we didn’t want to over schedule.

 One issue is that some activitites, like dance, run almost year long while others, like ski lessons, are only a few weeks. At some times this year, we only had one night a week where we had to be somewhere, but there were times when we had dance one night, then swimming two nights, and skiing on Friday evenings. That’s four days a week with a scheduled after school activity! Then you have to include school performances and open houses. It was too much for all of us. Maybe our philosophy needs to change.

What About Summer?

For the month of June, Jim and I both had to work. My schedule is crazy right now because I am doing fill in work for docs on vacation. Summer is generally the busiest time for optometry anyway. We either had to put the daughter in day care or sign her up for camps. So far, she’s done a week of golf camp and a week of art camp. We also took advantage of all the free or low cost activities we could like the library, play dates,  and the pool. I was the slacker parent in doing my part because I’ve been working so much. July should be much easier as Jim is off for the entire month.

Is It Worth It?

I think the jury is still out on that one. We love to ski, and I think lessons were a good idea. I have no grace or coordination, so I’m hoping dance might show that to my daughter. I don’t think we got much out of swim team except the strong suspicion that our kid is not a competitive swimmer. We also learned to plan our meals really well because I was determined that we would  not be that family who ate fast food because we were too lazy busy to cook. I also know there are families who go into debt or put off saving to afford kid activities. I know it’s hard to say no, but I would not do either of those things if I had to choose.

I think we were too overscheduled for parts of the year. I’m sure as she gets older, we could be out every night if there is something that does stick. For first grade, it was a bit much. I’m going to try and limit it to one thing next year, but we’ll see. How on earth do people do this with more than one child?

Am I creating a monster to have a 7 year old out four nights a week? Am I creating one if I don’t have lots of activities scheduled? Parents of older kids, please chime in!



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  1. My daughter will go swimming as soon as possible (around 8-9 months of age, she’s just 5) and we’ll keep this scheduled once a week. She’ll also be able to choose something else, when older (karate, dancing etc.). We do plan to ‘fill’ her time with family activities though.

  2. Well, we had four kids and initially had them in swimming and one other activity like dance or basketball or soccer. It was difficult time wise and money wise so we cut it back to one activity each. Sometimes they overlapped a bit at the end when one was ending and another was starting and that was okay. Sometimes we would have a few weeks break which was heavenly. Since you have only one, you can afford to do more than one but four sounds like a bit much. I think 2 is ideal and three if she’s really into all 3. Great discussion on this topic, BTW.

    Thanks for the encouraging words you sent on my blog transition, Kim. 😉

  3. I know someone who has their daughter in an activity 5 nights a week, plus at least once on the weekend along with many events throughout the year.
    Their other daughter is also in an activity that is several nights a week and Saturday, plus events throughout the year.
    I disagree with the concept. Maybe it was because as a kid I didn’t do a million activities. I had piano lessons, and at times we tried swimming or baseball, but beyond that we spend our time outside playing in our rural environment.
    My MAIN concern with this heavily scheduled child idea? where is the family time??
    This mom doesn’t get home until after 7 most nights, rarely eats supper with her husband and older daughter, and her husband and daughter are gone every Saturday.
    When I was growing up, the family was around the house together most weekends and always ate the evening meal together.
    I disagree with heavy extra curricular activities because it doesn’t foster family closeness and relationships. I also don’t see much time in these evenings left for the parents to interact with each other as parents, besides just seeing each other for an hour before bed.
    Maybe I’m wrong on this, but the whole concept really bothers me.

  4. I was having a conversation with my sister about my 7 year old niece. She’s been introduced to sports, dancing, art etc and they can get quite costly. But, my sister also cautioned me of teaching her daughter to always be busy. Of course kids don’t have this notion of busy until years later.

    I remember reading an article on NYT about how we create these busy lives and complain we never have time to do anything we want to actually do. Yet, no one told us to do all the things we were doing. I know I was like that too busy to cook as well. 🙂

    I really just rather do other things than cook.

  5. When our son was young we allowed him to participate in one sport at a time each season. In the summer our small town had an organization for the kids that allowed them to sign up for a variety of activities and he participated in several. But the activities were more like try-outs, in that he got to try archery, and he tried, bowling etc. It was a one time activity but not something that continued throughout the summer. They also scheduled an afternoon at the swimming pool, different crafts etc. which you could sign up for one or for all. We chose a few so that he got to do different things but had huge chunks of time where he could do absolutely nothing.

  6. As a non parent it’s tough for me to answer that. I would say times have really changed though. It’s VERY completive for kids in the area I live in because there is a lot of money. When I played beach volleyball tournaments I was constantly getting my ass kicked by 13-year-olds who had been in club volleyball since birth. If you aren’t in a club team, you stand no chance whatsoever on getting on a high school team, which I think is just sad. When I was a kid we had lots of free time. Sure there was little league and stuff like that, but plenty of down time. The only thing is I WISH my parents would have put me in dance, theater, music and whatnot but they stuck me in sports I hated because my brother did it. So I like the idea of introducing things to kids…then seeing what they just sort of gravitate to.

    1. That’s a great point. The only reason I ever played basketball was because my mom was ready to sign me up for cheerleading, which would have been a disaster! At least where we live, kids usually have the opportunity to be on the team, even if they aren’t first string.

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