Friday, 16 March 2012

School, homework, gym/karate, madrassah- is this overscheduling?

I always compare my childhood - during which I remember playing outside with friends, climbing the tree in our backyard, riding bicycles, rollerskating, playing hopscotch, playing in the park etc - with the type of lives children lead today.

Children today seem to be so busy; always involved in some or other structured after-school activity. According to an article I read, some of the negative effects of overscheduling in our kids' lives include kids:
- feeling tired, anxious, or depressed
- complaining of headaches and stomach aches, which may be due to stress, missed meals, or lack of  sleep
- falling behind in their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop

I promised myself that I would never burden my kids that way.

However this week, I feel as if I have been doing just that.

We recently joined the gym (as a family). We did not merely embark upon this (rather expensive) activity for pleasure alone - I believe that Mo and I really need it (with his terrifyingly high blood pressure and my frustratingly out-of-control stress and anxiety levels).

We'd been talking about going running for ages, but this has just never materialised since we did not have anyone to look after the two youngest kids. Gym has provided the perfect solution, since there is a well-supervised play centre for the two youngest, while the two older kids are allowed to use most of the cardio equipment.

However, the kids also have karate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. I'm not too strict about them attending karate in the week, but this week I insisted since they will be grading on Saturday.

In addition to gym and karate, the kids also usually have a mountain of homework. Although, come to think of it, I'm not sure if the volume is really the reason it takes hours to complete, or if they just drag it out since they have nothing else to do in the afternoons.

Another activity still to be added to the list, is madrassah (Islamic school). Now I remember coming home from school every afternoon and skipping off to madrassah every afternoon from Monday to Thursday - yet I recall still having loads of play-time afterward.

So we are looking at sending them to madrassah on a Sunday morning for three hours.

Their free time for the week will therefore include: an hour before bedtime, Fridays after school, Saturday after karate and Sunday after madrassah.

I can't help but worry that we might be depriving them of unstructured time for free play.

So their schedules will be as follows:

Monday - Thursday
7:55 - 14:30    --          School

15:10               --         Arrive home

15:10 - 15:30   --         Break

15:30 - 17:30   --         Homework

17:30 - 18:30 ish--      Gym / Karate

18:45               --          Arrive home

18:45 - 19:20   --         Supper and Bathtime (for all)

19:20 - 20:30   --         Play / Relax until bedtime

I think we can be more flexible with gym on Fridays, so as to give them the entire afternoon after school (and evening) to themselves.

Saturday karate is from 10:30 - 12:30.
Sunday madrassah is also in the morning some time.

I know that the detail provided by this post is incredibly mundane, but I'm really just using this to formulate my thoughts. (In fact seeing their time-table laid out like this is really helpful to me - until now their weekly schedule has just appeared to me as a busy blur).

About the free time I'm so intent on preserving for them - let's face it, with our lifestyle and surroundings, my kids would not be cycling outside (due to lack of safety), climbing trees, playing hopscotch or enjoying the fresh outdoor air. They'd most likely be glued to the TV, or sneakily playing games on my phone (since playing Playstation during the week is prohibited).

But still, isn't the point that they be given enough free time within which to do as they wish (within set limits, of course)?

The question is - is the free time they have available for themselves, sufficient? Are we over-burdening them with activities?

It is very challenging to establish a schedule which meets everyone's varied needs (including Mo's and my health needs). The best I can do for now is to stick to this schedule provisionally and monitor each of the kids carefully.

Perhaps I'm over-thinking (the way I always tend to do). But, like all parents, I really just want the best for my kids.

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