Extracurricular Activities - What’s the Right Number?

There’s no doubt that, as parents, we all want the best for our kids. In this highly competitive world, for every school or college admission, the number of applications surpass the number of available seats.  Which is why the majority of parents want their kids to be all-rounders. Not only are kids expected to excel academically, but they are often pushed to do well in various extracurricular activities as well.

But you might often wonder - how many activities are enough? Should our children focus on one or two activities or is it better to enroll them in a variety of activities and clubs? Long school hours and extensive homework leave very little time for kids to do anything else. Packing too much in a day can lead to their burn-out. If you are facing this dilemma, here are a few questions you can ask yourselves to know whether your child is over-doing it or not.

1.     Does your child tend to fall asleep at odd hours i.e. outside of his/her normal routine? Are there signs of dark circles under their eyes?


2.     Has their appetite reduced or are they getting more and more cranky?

3.     Do they make excuses not to go for the stated interest class/activity? Are they happy or relieved if the class gets cancelled for some reason?

4.     Do they have sufficient time for free-play? Peter Gray, a former psychology professor at Boston College who studies the effect of play on kids’ education, says “kids learn best from playing with other children, rather than participating in an adult-directed activity. When kids get together and organise activities and games on their own, they’re learning skills such as negotiating, problem-solving, and cooperation.”  Also interesting to note is this insight from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The Academy states that ideally, at minimum, children should receive 30 minutes of instructor or parent-guided play each day, and at least 1 hour of unobstructed, uncomplicated free playtime. Is your child getting that?

5.     Are you, as a parent, too busy to concentrate on other family members? Are you too tired to do anything else apart from help transport your child from one venue to another?

6.     Are you living vicariously through your child? This may seem silly but there is enough weight to take acknowledge this point. It has been observed that many parents try to enroll kids into activities that they themselves were passionate about when they were little. They try to live their dreams of succeeding in a particular activity through their children. We need to be aware of the distinction between our dreams and talents and those of our children.

If one or more of these questions made you worried, maybe it’s time to simplify your own life and that of your child.  Allow us to help you find the right balance with regards to extracurricular activities through the following suggestions:

1.     Know that Less is More - Try to go for activities one at a time. If you have enrolled your kid into a football class, for instance, let them just concentrate on football for a couple of months. You can even think of doing the activity selection seasonally.  Consider having them undertake swimming lessons in the summers and skating in the winters.  This way the child feels in control of things and can make the most from the experience and knowledge gained.

2.     Look for Clues in Daily Life - It is perfectly fine to have your kid join 2-3 actives to start with and understand where his or her interest lies.  It will be easy for you to zero down on one when you see your kid doing things learned from one particular class at home or at leisure times. For instance, you decided to go for an art workshop, a cricket lesson, and a gymnastics class. Notice which activity does your child enjoy repeating at home or with his/her friends. This/ these are then the activities you can help your child to focus on.

3.     Offer Words of Encouragement for their Efforts and Not the Result - Show your love to your kid when they go for these classes. Don’t let them tie their self worth to how well they are doing at such classes. Simply exhibit your encouragement by saying things like “I really love to see you play the piano”. Also, avoid comparing your kids to others in order to push your kid to do better.

4.     Take Periodic Breaks - Don’t forget to skip a few classes now and then. Show your child that nothing is more important than mental and physical health and that the world won’t end if you skip a few classes and do something fun with friends and family

5.     Allow for Enough Sleep -Make sure the activity is such that it allows enough time for rest. If the venue is too far away or the class is too long, kids could easily get over-exerted and that would do more harm than good. Children aged 5-12 need around 10 hours of sleep every night. Teens need up to 9 hours of sleep. Make sure you establish a schedule which allows kids to have the minimum hours of sleep along with their school, homework, and extracurricular activities.

6.     Monitor Grades - If you feel that the time investment in an extracurricular activity is harming the grades over time, you should definitely consider changing your tactic.

Experts say that they often see parents push their kids into an activity because they have some ulterior motive behind it. It could be a long-term goal like a sports scholarship or the fact that ‘ it will look good on a college application”.  Parents should rather shift their focus to make sure that their kids are enjoying their childhood as well as the activities that they participate in. It’s futile to join a club just to check a box. Children should find and invest time in activities that spark their joy and fuel their passion. Not only will your kids be happier in the short-term, but it will also enable them to further discover and build on their talents, laying the foundation for long-term success and good self-esteem.