Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, Part II

Continuing the conversation begun in an earlier post, Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, here are excerpts from a related Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) entitled Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back:

…Written about and discussed for decades, the problem of overscheduled children still looms large. Many parents keep children busy believing that stimulating activities will aid their development; the pattern is most marked among 9- to 12-year-olds. But the trend has gone too far, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in January in the journal “Pediatrics”; kids need more time for free play and family togetherness. Resolving the issue can require some artful life-balancing skills…
The signs of overload are often more subtle: overtiredness, irritability, falling grades, anxiety or obstinacy. As a recovered overbooker myself, I can attest that it can cause anxiety. My kids, now 16 and 19, say they’ve forgiven me for signing them up for too much stuff in elementary school. But I now know that it sometimes stressed them out…

Some parents fear they’ll inadvertently stunt their child’s potential. Jane Istvan had her son Sam, 8, drop year-round soccer and just do baseball this spring, to preserve two hours a day for family time. But she worries: “What if Sam could have been a fantastic soccer player,” and by curbing his activities, “I’m screwing him up?”
Others fear their kids will be ostracized. At the school Beth Blecherman’s 8-year-old son attends, kids who don’t play organized sports are sometimes excluded from playground games. But after noticing that large-group activities made her son anxious, Ms. Blecherman, Palo Alto, Calif., is cutting out team sports anyway, and he’s happier for it, she says.
How do you decide what activities to keep and which ones to cut? It’s wise to take a measured approach…Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of “The Overscheduled Child,” recommends dividing activities into two groups — those you regard as essential, such as religious school, and those seen as optional. Schedule the first group, and allow the child to select from the rest, he advises.
Ask yourself, “What activities make my child glow?” says Kenneth Ginsburg, author of the American Academy of Pediatrics article. “What does she get excited about?” I found keeping kids in activities they don’t enjoy won’t lead them to continue that pursuit — no matter how much you hope they will. Instead, heed your child’s inner motivations. Ideally, says Dr. Ginsburg, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, they’ll seek becoming “a richer, more balanced person” over resume-building or fueling parental pride.

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