Friday, October 12, 2001
Are Carlisle children overscheduled?
In the current issue of the Boston Magazine, Doug Most wrote an article that raises concerns about the over-scheduling of children. Most says, "Children have been forced to multi-task as much as their stressed-out moms and dads have been, juggling one after another supervised activity." Does this apply to Carlisle children? Are our children overscheduled?
At the pickup for the Adventures in Nature class at the Town Hall I asked the opinions of some waiting parents. "Absolutely," answered one parent when I asked if she thought Carlisle children were overscheduled. "Arranging play dates is impossible," said another parent. Kathy Marchese, who has two children in elementary school, worried that some children may have lost the ability to play on their own and might need to have activities suggested to them. Another parent said that some kids have two or three activities in a single day and parents are rushing these children from one event to another. "I have three children," said one parent, "and if one has an activity, the other two have to be dragged along. Arranging play dates is difficult."
In his article, Most asks, "When did this craze begin? Parents have always wanted the best for their children. What's new is that today's parents are more educated and wealthier than any previous generation." Most went on to quote a Boston area educator, who pointed out that parents say, "That child is doing it, so what is my child missing out on?"
I asked parents why Carlisle children are so busy. Contrary to the conclusion by the Boston educator that Most quoted, they said it was not peer pressure influencing the choice of activity and they don't see other parents trying to keep up with the neighbor's accomplishments. Some parents felt that social pressure could be a factor. "My son wants to do soccer because his friends are doing it," noted a parent. Many parents felt the amount of homework is part of the problem. "We have homework and reading every night," noted one parent, who quickly added that she thought the homework was necessary. Another said her fifth grader has a large load of homework every evening.
Many activities available
People noted that more families have two working parents, which requires supervision after school. Many parents pointed out that there are excellent activities available in our area, and they are hard to resist. "We have instrumental lessons, soccer, gymnastics, nature classes, baseball, dance so many choices." Parents felt they wanted to offer a variety of experiences to their children. "I like the nonacademic classes, like this nature class," said one parent. She pointed out that using the free time for non-academic programs was a good way to relieve the stress from the school day.
The high school scene is a little different. At the transfer station, a parent said her high school son is not doing any extra activities this year, so he can focus on his grades. When I asked her about arranging time with his friends, she said the kids spend a vast amount of time communicating over the Internet. No longer do they spend hours talking on the phone, but instead log in and send e-mails, talk in chat rooms and surf the web.
Finally I asked the parents whether their own children were overscheduled. About half of the parents said their children had too much to do. "No," said Marchese, but she noted that after the nature class she had to rush her son to soccer. She said she usually doesn't have two activities scheduled for one afternoon. One parent who said her children were overscheduled noted, "We're busy in spring with baseball and soccer but not in general. It's seasonal." Another parent who felt her children were overscheduled found herself signing up her children for activities at the last minute. "The fall is crazy because we are busy signing up for things," she said. She added that as the schedule becomes more familiar it calms down.
Chris Tocci, in a phone interview, says she keeps an eye on her children's schedule. "We don't have any activities scheduled right now," she said, and noted that with three children in elementary school it would be tough to do after-school activities and get homework done at the same time. Another parent said she came up with what she called "creative play dates." She invites a friend of her fourth grader over after a soccer practice, includes the friend for dinner and drives the playmate home at 7 p.m.
In Most's article, he writes that the principal of a Hingham school worries that children choose to play competitive games such as soccer at recess instead of skill games. She worries that children don't play spontaneously. How do Carlisle children spend the free time that they have? Amy Osborne, who has a preschooler and two in elementary school, encourages her children to play outside whenever possible. "The Game Boy goes on top of the refrigerator, the TV is off," she said. She says her kids play soccer, use their swing set, and play by their little pond. She said they don't have a problem keeping themselves busy. She has arranged two activities for them and cleverly has all three taking the classes on the same day, so she doesn't have to do additional driving. Eloise Young, who also has a preschooler and two children in elementary school, said her children only need intervention in their play time when they are tired and unable to resolve conflicts. "All children should have some unscheduled time," she said. Her kids like to play house or school, and when the older child is doing homework the younger children like to pretend they also have homework. In talking with other parents, it is clear to me that Carlisle children do not have a problem using their free time; some children play with Legos, use a computer, ride scooters, read books, dance to music, collect acorns or do art projects.
I spoke with Muggsie Rocco, who says she feels overscheduled as a parent. She said though her children are very busy at the moment, by November the pace should calm down. "My goal is to have family dinners," Rocco said. She said that now it is hard to have dinner together every night, since soccer practice is during the dinner hour. But they work hard on having a family dinner together as often as possible.
What about the homework stress? One way to deal with this problem is to carefully schedule the tasks so a little is done each day. "We left our homework until the last minute this week," one parent at the nature class told me. "That was stressful!"
The teachers on the third-grade team at the Carlisle School have developed a way to help families deal with the homework load, which is being used by other teams. When they assign homework, it is broken down into day by day tasks. This allows the students to follow along with the schedule, doing a little homework each night. Although it is not expected that students will do homework on the weekends, some parents choose to have them do the major part of the work on Saturday and Sunday. Rocco said that her son tends to do his homework over the weekend because he has soccer practices during the week.
If many parents in Carlisle perceive other Carlisle families as overscheduled, are we missing the signals from our own children? In Most's article he suggests that children, in trying to please their parents, won't complain about the level of activities in which they are involved. Judith Schwartz, a Carlisle parent and professional therapist, noted that a child who is overly cranky or tearful may have an overloaded schedule. She also mentioned the "no thank you" approach to activities: if a child has tried a class once or twice and insists she does not want to do it, let her bow out. It may not be the right time for the class or she may be telling you that enough is enough.
Who is overscheduled?
Pam Schad, a parent of a first and sixth grader and a former school psychologist, pointed out that the level of activity that a child and family can handle varies from child to child and family to family. However, a busy schedule could interfere with the interaction between parent and child. She said if a child is cheerfully attending the activity, it's clear the child is enjoying the experience. But if getting the child to attend each time is a struggle, the child may be showing signs of stress and may need to pull out.
One important factor that appeared in my discussions with Carlisle parents is that they are involved in and aware of what their kids are doing. Carlisle parents are dedicated to their children, and are anxious to insure that their children are stimulated but not overwhelmed. Although all parents thought that Carlisle families are overscheduled, and about fifty percent said their own families are too busy, I would conclude that the families that enjoy being busy are comfortable with their level of activity. The parents who feel their families are overscheduled may need to reevaluate their activities and keep an eye on the stress levels of their children and themselves.
Homework hints to alleviate Alka-Seltzer moments
1. Schedule the homework the day your child brings it home.
a. Write a list of tasks.
b. Write a list of days available to do homework.
c. Try to schedule no more than two tasks each day.
2. Do the homework at the same time each day. We picked 4 p.m. as homework time. During the summer we did "shared reading" during that time to keep the idea going.
3. Get all your children involved in homework time. If your youngest does not have homework, insist he or she read during the older child's work time. I have the younger child read while I help the older, and then I usually give the younger one some sort of simple work to do that is appropriate for first grade, while the older one reads.
4. If your child has to read for twenty minutes every day, stick to it. Don't give in when they insist they are too tired. Remember, it's the routine that is important, so if the child ends up reading for only ten minutes you still have to reinforce the routine.
5. For younger children, find the fun in the homework. Some kids hate rote activities. If you are studying spelling words, for example, write each one twice on separate pieces of paper. Scatter the pieces on the floor and play "Concentration" with the words, having your child spell them as he turns them over. Don't go overboard as I did, however, and act out each spelling word. That was exhausting! I'm glad my neighbors couldn't see me.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito