Back to school: Don’t overload your kid’s schedule!

Back to school: Don’t overload your kid’s schedule!

“‘Jane, is your throat scratchy again?’ asks Mum worriedly. She strokes my forehead and goes to get the thermometer. She seems to frown a little. I really don’t feel well. But you know what? It doesn't actually bother me much. Secretly, maybe I’m even a little glad. I should’ve gone to my ballet class. Or was it the drawing class today? I don’t know which anymore. But anyway, now I can stay home and read in bed instead. That’ll be so nice!”

The beginning of the school year can be stressful. Kids get excited about seeing their friends again, but it also means getting up early, doing homework, going to after-school activities... With the return of school, the responsibilities mount up — for the children and parents alike. So, how to make this transition as painless as possible for everyone involved? Can the start of the new school year be made to go more smoothly? Here are some tips on how to manage it all.

During the last week of the summer holidays, start implementing a tighter regime. 

Children are so busy during the summer that they tend to feel quite exhausted by the end of it. Let’s give them time to process their summertime experiences and get some rest. Together you can prepare the school supplies — let them choose a bag, a notebook with a nice picture on the cover, a pencil case... They will look forward to school all the more.

Talk about how it will all function. 

Younger children, especially, need to know what to expect — it reassures them. Explain how they will be getting to school each day, what it’s like in class, and what they’ll be doing after lunch. A wall calendar at home is also handy — at a glance, the kids can see their schedule and everyone else’s.

Remember that less is usually more.

This is true. And at the beginning of the school year, that goes double or even triple. With new teachers, new classes, new textbooks, a strict schedule... It’s a tremendous burden for the kids, and the whole family must adjust. Not to mention that as soon as they get used to the routine, a new club or other extracurricular activities are added to the load...Nowadays, many young children have so many extra activities a week that they’re left with little or no free afternoons. Sometimes these obligations take up their weekends too. Added to that, the parents might have planned certain outings. After all, we want the best for our children. To nurture their development, we often involve them in the widest possible range of activities in order to build the foundations for their future. We want them to be happy and content. But although this is done with the best intentions, we sometimes forget to take their more personal needs into account.

If children rush from school to an after-school activity, it is dinner time when they get home, and they still need to do their homework. With such a full schedule day-in and day-out, their energy levels become depleted. The more things that are heaped onto the youngsters, the more problems we see. They tend to get fidgety, weepy, inattentive; their tiredness and irritability can also transfer into ‘mischief’, which we might misinterpret as boredom and then add yet another new hobby to their list. Some children become sick from being overworked — like Jane in our intro story. We should not forget that activities are also a form of work, and therefore must be counterbalanced with an adequate amount of time-off, the ability to do nothing.

A chock-a-block schedule also carries with it other negative aspects. If every minute of our child’s week is filled with obligations, they won’t learn how to be content on their own or keep themselves entertained. Also, knowing how to handle one’s free time is a skill that needs to be learned — as crazy as that sounds. Do you remember what amazing games you were able to invent when your parents didn’t have time to take you somewhere? Or when it was raining and you were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and Grandpa just stayed in his workshop and Grandma gardened? Free time, in which so-called boredom can set in, is important for children. It’s a space for creativity, where the imagination can develop. During this kind of self-devised play, their newly-gained experiences can also be processed. Over time, children will increasingly want to involve their peers as well, another healthy step. 

Ask and communicate.

Every child is different. While one child likes going to ballet and science club, another longs to sit in the corner with a book or spend time with friends. The easiest way to know what each child most desires is to ask them and talk about it. You may be inclined to offer them options, but be careful  not to force them into anything, as this can be damaging. Imposing specific activities often stems from the parents’ own view of a bright future rather than out of regard for the individual child. A typical example of parent bias is thinking your kid must do something because the parent did it or aspired to do it. “You should play football because Daddy was a footballer when he was younger.” And if the child doesn’t know what they feel like doing, you could suggest several activities, as varied as possible, and let them know that they can give any of them a try before deciding. Keep their weekly routine in mind and strike a favourable balance between sedentary and action-packed activities, busy-time and free time. And if your child is starting Year One, consider waiting until the second half of the school year before adding anything further to their schedule, so that they can first get the hang of the new routine.

“I’m already under the duvet with a book when my mum comes and sits next to me on the bed. 'Jane, do you not want to go to ballet?' she asks. My mum knows me too well. She’s right. I'm tired of ballet, I'd rather not go any more. When I nod, we call the teacher and explain that although I like ballet, I've decided to stop with the classes. I’ll stick with drawing. I also do basketball, which I always look forward to, so I’ll keep doing that! Taking a sip of the tea my mum brought me, I snuggle-up close to her. I’m glad she’s not mad at me, even though it was her idea for me to try ballet. ‘When you feel better, we can dance together at home,’ she suggests. I like that idea.”

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