As our toddler is approaching the 2nd year of life (terrible twos?), we have been contemplating various school systems and activities. We have thought about educational day cares, Montessori schools, ballet, Karate, piano, French immersion, swimming, soccer and the list goes on.


Stepping back and looking at the big picture, I have to think about what is the purpose of all these extra curricular activities. I’d like to think that we doing what is best for our children. However, if you look a bit closer, are we simply training a super human kid? Are we, as parents, compensating for what we didn’t have as children? Perhaps we want our offspring to look better than the next kid?

In addition to the purpose of over stimulating our kids, these extra curricular activities are big business and can cost a lot of money. For example, I just found out that our area is about to get its first Montessori school which is a new age way for toddlers to learn. I’m all for optimal learning, but the “tuition” is heavy on the wallet. The cost is $595/month + tax for mornings OR afternoons 5 days a week. I guess one could argue that the cost is approximately the same as daycare (in NL), but at least daycare is for the whole day, not a partial day. To put it in another light, the cost of Montessori is more than what I paid for University tuition. Throw in some piano lessons, a sport, swimming and you’ll have a monthly bill approaching the cost of a mortgage. Oh, and get this, that’s just for one child.

I see some young children with schedules so busy that they practically need a personal assistant to keep track of it all. It makes me wonder how much the extra activities actually benefit the child. Of course as parents, we want the best for our kids, but at what cost? When is it too much? When I was young, I was involved in a few sports but most of my time was playing outside with my friends (or inside playing video games). I’d like to think that I turned out alright.

Perhaps the proper mindset is to get them involved with many activities as possible, and see which ones they enjoy most. Drop the ones that they don’t, and gently encourage the activities that they do.

Those of you with kids,  do you put them in as many activities as possible?  Where do you draw the line?

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  1. Ray @ Financial Highway on September 21, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Although I do not have any children…..I am always a supporter of encouraging kids to be involved in extra circular activities, but not so much academical programs. A big area of my studying during university was child development including educational psychology, looking at all the academic programs available (montessori , kuman etc) and there really is no direct significant effect on the child due to these programs (after controlling for their environmental factors and parents background etc.) Also I strongly believe that children learn a lot more from other activities than just academic, these could be sports or musical or acting….anything but academic. Although we do not have the greatest public school system in Canada, the public schools do a good job of educating children and prepare for post secondary education. No need to spend money on private schools and special programs.

    I would provider my children with as many extra activities as possible and reasonable, until they find something they like and than just focus on that one program rather than spreading them out over 4 different areas.

  2. Michael - The Fat Loss Authority on September 21, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Great topic.

    It actually serves as a good reminder for me to pickup “Outliers” by Gladwell and NutureShock by Bronson and do some more reading about this subject.

    I tend to think along the same lines as kids being overstimulated and over-scheduled these days, but I’m open to discussions about this topic since I only have my own experiences – growing up as a kid – as a point of reference.


  3. Kathryn on September 21, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I highly recommend “Outliers”.

    This topic is such a contentious issue among parents. Every family does what they feel is best for their kids and most families believe they’ve got it right.

    I’ve had people tell me my kids are in too much. I’ve had others tell me I should have them in more things.

    For us swimming lessons are a non negotiable. It’s a safety issue. After that they may choose one other extra curricular activity at a time but even with that, it means we’re out 3 out of 5 school nights.

  4. guinness416 on September 21, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Montessori isn’t “new age”, assuming you mean it in the flaky spiritual way. It’s been around for quite a while in old europe, and is also how I was educated in the seventies/eighties in deeply conservative (at the time) Ireland. But yes, it generally ain’t cheap and you need to ensure you’re getting a decent teacher for those big bucks.

  5. chuck on September 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

    My 3 year old has speech development issues, so we have him involved in a playgroup at the community center, and he does gymnastics at the same school as his sister.

    My 7 year old does 3 nights a week of activities. She enjoys them all, but it does take a lot of organizing from my wife and I to ensure that she has ample time to complete her homework

    The challenge we find, and mabe its a GTA thing, even though the classes are all within 10 minutes of our house, none of her classmates from school are in the same events.

  6. FrugalTrader on September 21, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for the input guys!

    Guiness, no, I don’t mean spiritual or anything, just “trendy” (in NA) I guess. How did you find learning the Montessori way? Did you do it all through school?

  7. Mneiae on September 21, 2009 at 10:53 am

    I am Gen Y so I know what it’s like to be overscheduled. My suggestion is to put your kid in 2-3 activities at a time. Drop what they aren’t interested in. Make your kid stick with ONE activity for a long time. For me, that was 10 years of piano. I hated piano so much during that decade, but I recognize the value now. Sportswise, I have done gymnastics, tennis, swimming, tae kwon do, soccer, and kickboxing. I also acted and sang when I was younger. I think it’s a really good idea to expose your kids to a lot of different activities and then have them stick with the ones that they enjoy.

    I disagree heartily with the assessment of Montessori above. I know from experience that Kuman just takes up time and makes the kids miserable, but Montessori, at least for me, helped me learn how to read when I was 4. Montessori also did a good job of balancing playtime and learning activities. I learned a lot in Montessori that eventually made me a well prepared first grader.

  8. guinness416 on September 21, 2009 at 11:03 am

    FT – my mum is a montessori teacher so (a) I’m biased and (b) it was therefore free ;) I loved it and it had me reading, among other things, far ahead of my peers.

  9. FrugalTrader on September 21, 2009 at 11:05 am

    For those of you who did Montessori, did you find it a difficult transition going from a Montessori way of learning, to a more rigid system like regular high school or University/College?

  10. Four Pillars on September 21, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Are you sure this post wasn’t written by Kathryn? :)

    For once, I don’t have any advice on this topic but I am interested to hear what others say.

    I suspect we will be doing a lot of activities – does it not depend on the kid as well? Some kids are a lot more into doing things than others.

    My 3 yr old son is very energetic and loves doing things. We do a lot of stuff now (although nothing organized) so I don’t think there will be any problem doing several organized activities per week.

  11. FrugalTrader on September 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Mike, are you saying that my writing style has a feminine tone? :)

    Thing is, where do you draw the line? How much can even an energetic kid handle in terms of activities? Are we supposed to stop the activity as soon as the child wants to stop? Problem is, there probably is no right answer.

  12. Four Pillars on September 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Haha – not at all.

    I have no idea where to draw the line. Maybe the kid will tell you? I don’t plan on doing organized stuff every night. I was thinking maybe 2 night during the week and then 1 or even 2 activities on the weekend.

    My parents signed me up for hockey when I was 6 and I didn’t want to play after that season so I never played organized hockey again which I regret to this day. My Dad signed me up for soccer one time but I said I didn’t want to play mainly because I was too shy and was afraid of going. I wish they had pushed me a bit more to try out some of those activities because I think I would have eventually loved them.

  13. JCD on September 21, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Tough questions. As parents of a curious and adventurous 6 year old girl, my wife and I constantly question her level of engagement in activity, not to mention choice of schooling. Financially we are frugal, live simply, and have above average incomes in a relatively low cost city. We carefully consider what we sign her up for and how much of a burden it presents in money, time, and logistics.

    2009-2010 has her in dance, swimming, and violin – all once a week, all completely her initiative and interest. She LOVES going to all of them and we feel her life has been enriched in some way by all three. Will it make her “successful” or give her some kind of advantage – who knows and who cares? She is happy and engaged NOW, which is where the focus of a six-year-old should always be. We know it probably won’t hurt.

    The alternative – which is how we grew up – is to forego extracurricular activity and insist on outdoor play and time with friends. Problem is, most of the parents we meet have seen waaaay too much Oprah Winfrey or Law and Order, have bubble wrapped their children, and won’t let them play in the yard or cross the street without a helmet and adult supervision. In our neighborhood, playing with friends requires executive-like planning, and nine play dates out of ten, my kid comes home raving about the DVD they watched – something she only ever gets to do on a rare occasion at home.

    I think Gladwell might agree that with all of these choices – dance lessons vs. playground, public school vs. Montessori – there is cost involved, whether measured in terms of money, time, fulfillment, transportation to play dates, or life energy wasted in front of the TV. It’s easy to equate the cost of tuition with a mortgage payment, but most of us don’t consider the true cost of the alternatives…and, to be fair, we should.

  14. Father of Five on September 21, 2009 at 11:35 am

    We homeschool our 5 children so getting out to activities out of the home is enjoyable. They all do a gymnastics class a week (in the daytime), a music or a dance class a week (on the weekend), and goto a social group with our church (one night a week). We don’t find it too overwhelming – it certainly helps to have everyone in the same activity most times, and it also helps to have NO evening or afternoon homework, which is a real benefit of homeschooling.

  15. Scott on September 21, 2009 at 11:38 am

    In the immortal words of one of the all-time classic films, The Bad News Bears: “Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!”.

    There are definitely definable and measurable social, mental, and physical skills a child will develop through natural play-time with peers, far more than in a swarm of specific/targeted activities. And it’s free.

    Look at a child growing up in the 50’s-60’s-70’s…where was all the extra-curricular activity then? Oh right, it was called “go build a treehouse with your buddies”! And…I’m pretty sure most of those kids turned out pretty okay.

    Just look at Nature. Play is a big part of growing up for the mammal world. Try and mess with that and you are just asking for trouble!

    But that’s just my opinion…and because I still love play-time!

  16. Miguel on September 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

    As a parent of 2 kids (ages 2 and 4), and a public school teacher, I would suggest that a well-rounded experiential childhood is what you want; get your child involved in some
    –“academic”-type situations (in my case we do some reading of a variety of books and words in the community, writing (portions of letters to grandparents, including actual writing and typing), cutting, discussions involving “why” some characters on TV or in books are acting the way they are (inferencing), etc.
    –“active” situations–I agree swimming is non-negotiable, plus one other organized sport (we are trying gymnastics for 5 months, then dance for 5 months, and we’ll see which she seems to enjoy the most I guess!). We also do some active stuff in an exploration way as a family, without formal lessons, like soccer-type games in the backyard, skating, etc.
    –“social” situations–get them some time with peers the same age, where you are near them (not just drop off and go all the time), to experience the good and difficult things about socializing.

    Overall, family events and activities are priority #1, and there are so many chances for learning around you, if you only talk with your kids about what you and/or they see around them in the outside world…yes, they say that the most important learning happens between birth and 5 years old, but I would also argue that your kids are learning all the time by what YOU choose to do with and around them.

    Sorry for the length…

  17. JCD on September 21, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I agree with Scott (15) and the Bad News Bears. Natural play time is far more beneficial than structured activity. In my experience, my kid gains more from a day outside playing make believe than she does in a month of any of the lessons she takes.

    Problem for us is that there seems to be fewer and fewer kids to play like that with. All of her friends are too busy or too restricted in what they’re allowed to do. My 6 year old is OK riding her 2-wheeler around our quiet neighborhood alone. Her friends: training wheels, knee pads, wrist guards in the driveway with an adult hovering close by.

    I fear for what these kids will become. I don’t think they’ve invented the drugs that will be required to deal with the anxiety they’ll have about the world around them.

  18. deni on September 21, 2009 at 11:58 am

    I have 2.5 year old twins – so every cost is x2, at the same time. I do not think kids need to be scheduled at every moment. It is in downtimes that kids learn to use their imaginations. I wholeheartedly believe that kids NEED to be bored sometimes.

    That said, I was heavily involved in dancing as a child (not as a preschooler, but increasingly as a preteen and then a teenager). I credit my extra curricular activity with teaching me discipline, giving me a direction and keeping me from hanging out at 7-11 with a lot of my schoolmates. Someone above mentioned that it was unfortunate that none of their child’s classmates were in the same extracurricular activities. Perhaps at a young age, that is not ideal. However, in my experience, I appreciated having friends outside of school. These were people I could talk to about what was going on at school, without having them personally involved.

    All that said, I will encourage my kids to pick one individual activity (an instrument or competitive swimming, etc.) and one team activity. I think valuable lessons are learned from both. However, I’m sure I will ultimately follow their leads.

    Right now we do rec programs which are cheap but still valuable in getting my kids out and interacting with other kids and adults.

  19. ldk on September 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    My children are now 21 and 15…we insisted they both learn to swim well (my parents have a pool) and to skate–being Canadian I consider both important life-skills. Other than that, they both participated in extra-curricular activities of their choosing, though we kept it to a maximum of 2/each at a time. My son basically played hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer…when he was ready to quit both (around 14) we insisted he find something else. (He chose curling and still plays, as well as golf, racket ball and Ultimate….he is now in Grad school.) My daughter was all over the map…Brownies, hip-hop,art, gymnastics, figure skating, soccer…until settling for soccer around the age of 10. (She now plays for the provincial team.) Our only “rule” surrounding their choices was that once they signed up for something, they had to see it through…ie. no quitting a sport mid-season or lesson mid-session…they didn’t have to sign up again, but they did have to finish what they started. I found our school division offered short, inexpensive courses so the kids could try different activities out. (ie. cheerleading for 8 x 1/2 hour sessions for $45.)

    I understand the reluctance to ‘over scheduling’ your kids, however in my experience there were very few kids available for playing outside when they were elementary school aged, as most of them are at activities and/or before and after school care.
    By junior high school, many kids have completely dropped out of all extracurriculars and are focused on just ‘hanging out’ with their friends, which often just leads to trouble. Again, in my experience, there is little trouble they can get into on a soccer field or volleyball court.

    Did we get the balance right? Who knows…but both my kids are healthy, fit, and active in their school communities and raising well-rounded adults was a large part of our objective.

  20. JCD on September 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    I’m not sure I understand the “keep ’em busy so they don’t get into trouble” rationale. Sure they have less idle time…but have you ever been to a football, rugby, or hockey party?! Ask anyone in a band if learning an instrument kept them away from temptation. My 17-year old daughter is a competitive rock climber, provincial rugby player and plays Tier 1 soccer. The only time we’ve ever known her to drink or “get into trouble” was with her team mates, not sitting at home alone after school.

    I think it’s much more complicated than the busy / idle argument. It’s about the kid, the parents, the friends, the neighborhood, the environment, and other random circumstances.

    Perhaps it’s more about how we as parents rationalize our childrens’ busy lives to make ourselves feel better about putting them in after school programs. Wouldn’t want them to end up in jail or on drugs!

  21. Sean on September 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I think all the video games gave you a good start for building these websites!

  22. George Z on September 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t have kids (yet) I’m a Gen Y as well but I’d like to share with you my experience. I’ve had a similar discussion on regarding education and activities.

    I was in a lot of activities when I was little, some I hated, some I didn’t. But I appreciated my parents’ efforts. Most activities had some learning component but not a lot of physical activities. My parents took 2 great decisions:
    – they registered me for a lot of stuff initially: piano, foreign languages, dance, etc but in the end allowed me to do only a few things I really liked. They observed if I liked it or not – they never actually asked me if I liked it because I would say that I don’t (so that I won’t wake up in the morning or play more with my friends, etc). However, after 2, 3 years they stopped sending me to new things and I only did a few I really liked… and finally excelled at (more below).
    – they scheduled only 2 days a week for “extra” stuff, the rest of the time they let me play, in fact they encouraged me to play. They wanted me to have a true childhood, and I did. Nothing beats that. They never over-scheduled me and it seems their intuition was right – recent scientific studies show that kids develop their brain faster by playing not by being stuck with books for hours. Which is impossible for kids anyway.

    Why was a good decision for them to present me with a lot of choices BUT to let me follow only some? Because I got really good at what I (learned to like). In my case it was the piano. Apparently, I was a bit of a prodigy, at 6 I started piano classes. My piano teacher didn’t even want to see me as I was too young. After a few classes she said I may have potential :), at 7 I was a full member (and the youngest) and performed at different events. At 8 I was performing in front of thousands of people and I loved it!

    If my parents have forced me to into a gazillion activities I’d have never excelled with the piano; and if they didn’t allowed me to play I wouldn’t have so many great memories. I hope this helps anyone.

  23. David@DINKS Finance on September 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Fortunately my parents never pushed me into anything. I am the kind of person (even as a kid) who really hated being told to do anything. School was different because I knew it would benefit me in some way or another (and I was “good” at it).

    When I do have children, I will try to avoid forcing them into things. I will probably try to do more personal teaching. For example I think they would find it a lot more fun to kick around a soccer ball and learn some skills from Dad instead of some organized program. If you get into the structured stuff too fast your kids might get turned off early on and not have fun doing something they otherwise would love.

  24. nobleea on September 21, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I’m sure montessori and the like help kids learn faster at a younger age (someone mentioned reading and writing at 4). But how much of that head start is still evident at 21? I don’t think there’s any.

    I think they should get a lot of exposure to sports and arts, but the extra academic programs are probably wasted money in the end (unless they need the extra help to stay up with everyone else).

    Getting exposure to sports and arts doesn’t mean they have to be enrolled in formal programs either.

  25. Nick on September 21, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Great topic – I’m sure most parents will attest that having children and saving money are at opposite ends of the financial spectrum. Kid’s ain’t cheap. Before you even get to things like daycare and activities, there are the basics like food and clothes. For example, this year we paid about $400 for school supplies and field trips for our three girls. Our grocery bill is at least double what it was before children. On the other hand we do a lot of clothes sharing with other families, receiving from those whose kids are older, and passing them on to families with younger children. This saves hundreds of dollars a year, and most of the clothes are still fashionable and in great shape (my ten-year old just got a slightly used pair of Puma running shoes – this would have cost $60 new).

    With our youngest in school full-time now, this is the first year we will not be paying for daycare. It means two working parents need to do some creative scheduling to pick kids up at school at 3:30 every day, but since we’ll be saving about $1500 a month there’s strong motivation to work it out.

    We’ve had an informal “two-activity” rule for a while. As commented above, swimming is a no-brainer: great exercise plus an invaluable survival skill. Our girls also do soccer and gymnastics, but usually at different times of the year. The costs add up, but the tax credit helps, and it’s a small price to pay if your child enjoys it and gets some benefit. But we feel more than two times a week cuts into time for family, play, and just plain old downtime.

    A couple of things we do that I would suggest you think about. The first is to try to get all the children (assuming you have more than one) in the same activity at the same time. I spend a couple of hours each fall figuring out where we can find swim lessons offered at the same place and time for the three of them. I can tell you from experience if you can work this out it’s way better than having to drive to the pool two or three different times a week.

    Also, and this is just a personal preference, my wife and I have tried to avoid sports that are too demanding (of us, not the kids). We haven’t pushed skating/hockey or competitive swimming for this reason – too many early mornings. Dance is another one that is OK when they’re young, but if they stick with it then you’re looking at several practices a week plus competitions away from home on the weekend. We tried competitive gymnastics but found it more stressful and time-consuming so we’re back to recreational. I know some families want to push things a little further, and that’s great if everyone involved is having a good time. I believe when trying to strike a balance with your time, you need to think about yourselves as parents as well as the kids.


  26. Bob on September 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Wait, is your kid turning 2, or “approaching the 2nd year of life”?

  27. CanadianDad on September 21, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Though I don’t have kids old enough to be in extra-curricular programs, I have given this issue a lot of thought since my son was born 6.5 weeks ago.

    I completely agree with Kathryn and Father of Five:
    • Swimming lessons are non-negotiable. It is a matter of safety. You won’t die if you’re unable to kick a soccer ball, but not being able to swim can have grave consequences (no pun intended).
    • Other than that, one other organized activity at a time. Society at large tends to over-schedule. What an injustice to thrust upon our kids (and the family unit) an over-scheduled life!

    Maybe Father of Five is onto something with home-schooling. Providing the kids with more free time would allow for more relax/play/down time.

    FT – can you write about the financial trade-offs of different school systems? Montessori vs. Home-school vs. Public education (vs. Boarding school!!)…Do the different options have different tax implications?

  28. Joon on September 21, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I simply watch my child and make all my scheduling decisions according to my observations of him. For example, I now know that he needs a good two hours in the morning to eat slowly, get dressed, relax, so I schedule no activities in the mornings. He has struggled with various development issues due to (now resolved) health concerns, so when I had to choose between putting him in kindergarten (five afternoons per week) or preschool (three afternoons per week), I chose the latter, even though kindergarten was free and preschool is $150/mo. I felt like this decision, though having a cost, would make a big difference to his whole life. Also, I know he enjoys some structure, but not more than about six hours per week, so with preschool on, I opted to not put him in Saturday gymnastics.

    I feel the most important education he can have is time to daydream, imagine, observe, think, ponder, work things out in his own head.

  29. Mario on September 21, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Yeah, don’t homeschool your kids. Going to public/private school is so important for the social development of kids. By going to school and making friends, it will shape the activities your kids like/don’t like.

    Also, people tend to assume home schooled kids are either a) social outcasts, b) crazy religious, or c) both. People who do home school their kids will disagree, but it’s true. Deal with it.

  30. The truth on September 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    This is a natural outcrop of competitive capitalism and amounts to “class certification”. Because you can not afford private school and worldwide trips to art museums etc… you will pay for downmarket artifices of the same ilk, ultimately gearing the next labour specialization wave to occur, and leaves the non-certified in the soup lines.

    The sad part is there is little choice. Unless you and your net worth tracking buddies wake the hell-up and start simplifying your needs and ambitions and ignoring greed via market instruments EN-MASSE, this trend will perpetuate itself.

    Enjoy what you have wrought. Go read some Chomsky if you need a pick-me-up.

  31. Mneiae on September 21, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with homeschooling kids. Going to school is important for social development, but homeschoolers tend to make up for it by having their kids interact with others in activities, as mentioned above.

    Homeschooled kids don’t have to be social outcasts or crazy religious. I was friends with quite a few homeschooled children growing up, and I don’t find that they fit that stereotype. There are real benefits to not having to go to school. For one thing, it gives the family flexibility, which you won’t find with the kids enrolled in a traditional school.

  32. Sarlock on September 21, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    We tend to focus too much on the hard academic skills and forget the softer skills which, in my opinion, are far more important. Sure, it’s great to get a good academic education and land a good job, but being able to work as a team, deal with complex social situations and have a happy social life outside of work is where the quality of life is… and as mentioned above, it has been shown over and over that kids who are fast to learn to read and write at an early age experience no academic advantage once they and their peers reach adulthood.

    There are certain skills which I feel are essential for my kids to learn: learn to swim, learn an instrument, learn a sport, but beyond that, play time is the most important education… and it’s free.

  33. Astin on September 21, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I can only relate back to my childhood. I was in Montessori for my pre-school days (started “regular” school in senior kindergarten), and it definitely gave me a leg up. While other kids were learning to colour in the lines, I was reading a few grade levels ahead, had basic math abilities, and was generally bored out of my skull until grade 4. It’s something I’d recommend if you can afford it.

    And my evenings were always full. Judo, piano, guitar, ensemble, art classes (short-lived, I can’t draw), swimming lessons, summer camp, and more. As a kid, I actually didn’t like being that busy, since it meant less TV or playing with my friends outside the weekends, but looking back, I’m glad for the experiences. Because of these activities, I did things I’d never have done on my own, and was more well-rounded.

    I look at adults who can’t swim, have never played an instrument, or been out on a lake in a canoe, and I feel bad for them . These things I did from diapers through my teen years helped formed who I am. Even if I didn’t like them, at least I now know I don’t. My major regrets as an adult are not picking many of these activities back up again.

    If nothing else, it forces the kids away from the TV, computer, and video games. If you don’t start them young, then when they’re old enough to complain, it will be much easier for them to get out of it.

  34. Victor on September 21, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    FT, from a non-parent to a parent, I’d like to add a book to your reading list: Last Child in the Woods. I was at a talk by Robert Bateman and he raved about this book for nearly 20 minutes of the one hour talk. As a result I picked it up, and it’s truly fantastic for soon-to-be parents or parents of young children.

  35. Victor on September 21, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Two quick additional comments. First, I support what Mario said. It’s been my personal observation that home schooled kids generally would have benefited from a ‘normal’ education. While I’m sure the parents make this choice with the best intentions, I feel it’s not fair to the kids in the long run. Most of us are not born educators, and even those who are cannot replace a diverse class of peers learning in tandem. I agree as well with the assumptions others will make.

    Second point is a suggestion actually. Go out and speak to your friends and coworkers who you consider successful. I don’t mean just those who are employed. I mean those who you could envision moving to the top of the food chain in your particular organization, or you could see moving into local politics. You may find (I did) that a surprising number of them attended some sort of extra education system as a young child (usually Montessori). It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of Canadian leaders attended UCC or similar. If I can afford it, I will give my children the opportunity to be educated with potential future leaders.

  36. Canadian Dream on September 21, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Interesting article FT.

    My two cents on kids activities. You have to manage both cost and your time involved in the activities. Espically if you have more than one kid!

    Case in point, my wife booked swimming lessons for both boys that started within 5 minutes of each other at the same location. Why? Because that way we don’t end up going out every night for a different kid. We also try to keep each kid to just on activity at a time.

    Just our way to ensure the kids get some time at things they love, but they don’t end up over booking the week.


  37. JC on September 21, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I don’t have children (yet?), but I do have some thoughts and feelings about how I’d like to raise them should I ever be so fortunate.

    I think over-scheduling is problematic both for the children and for the parents. I think a child needs time for introspection when the homework’s done; time to think for themselves about what they want to do with their time. I think over-stimulation probably actually inhibits creativity to some extent by limiting the child’s reliance on their imagination for self-entertainment. As for the parents, I think some need to keep in mind that having a family doesn’t mean you cease being an individual. You can still learn to play guitar or piano, learn a new language, take a martial arts course, etc. It is obviously difficult to balance your own schedule needs with those of your partner and children, but in the end I think your children learn more from your example of ongoing self-directed education and growth than they might from being semi-arbitrarily signed up for as many activities as you can get them involved in.

    As with money, where in other articles and comments it has been stated that children watch (and replicate) what you do more than what you say, I think seeing parents that keep themselves active and learning new things fuels an interest in children to do the same.

    Author Terry Goodkind once dedicated one of his books with the following words (paraphrased to some extent): “To my father, who never told me to read, but did so himself, thus infecting me with curiosity.” I think this applies on many levels to many activities.

  38. The Truth on September 21, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    One more thing to add is that it is not the skills and cognitive advantages that paid-for extra curricular activities provide for your children–it is the ego boost when they compare favourably to their peers that is all important.

    Giving a child a sense of entitlement is one thing, but giving them demonstrative proof that they are superior to others is also extremely important. Keeping up with the Jones’ is an even more powerful and pure drive with media-fed kids as they learn which socio-economic circle they will occupy in the future. If they feel secure that they have been given the right markers, the right characteristics to excel, then they will pursue life with less abandon but within the safe confines of the middle-class strive-to-be-the-best melieu that pleases parents (and business capital) the most.

    It is unfortunate however, that this process doesn’t make better communal human beings but rather reinforces rigid class structure. The child will see their achievements as based on their own merit and positive attitude which is false of course. Those that didn’t get the extra coaching, tutoring and preening in general will be looked on unfavourably despite even miniscule economic differentiators. But this is technically-mitigated selection that works so well in modern times, and keeps people mercilessly competitive and productive even in the face of alarming contradiction and inequitable pie-sharing.

    The whole thing is pretty awful actually, but again, there is little choice.

  39. Will @ Cheap Date Ideas! on September 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Ah – those simple days where having summers off meant really having an entire summer off to go off and play with friends, go treasure hunting, get in a good game of stickball or two.

    It’s interesting how, over the last 20 years or so, children’s schedules are jam-packed and rival that of a jet-setting Fortune 500 CEO.

    My cousin’s kids are pretty much running ragged with piano lessons, swimming lessons, Kumon math lessons and (insert any sort of lesson) here just to stay ahead of the pack. Wow, it stresses me out thinking about how kids have it tough these days.. and I’m only 27!!

  40. Maiku on September 21, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    I don’t have kids yet but I have been thinking about this topic (you know the kind of “when I have kids I’ll do this” daydreaming). There was actually a really interesting documentary on the CTV a while back (“Lost Adventures of Childhood”) about the necessity of unscheduled/unstructured play for children.

    Although it seems with a myriad of activities we better learn scheduling and organization (something that I lament not learning in my wasted youth) but we lose (to an extent) the ability to think creatively and outside the box.

    I recently took a college course on Humour. Most people laughed at the premise but the idea that even adults can benefit from unstructured play seems lost on us as a society. The course was filled with examples of scientists and business people who had become better problem solvers and less stressed because they had kept in touch with their inner child.

  41. thepinkpeppercorn on September 21, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    As a teacher in a public jr. high, and someone who has also taught private music lessons (horn, piano, voice, theory), and conducted choirs, I’ve seen a lot of different outcomes.

    I think it is important to put kids in stuff, ONLY if they REALLY WANT to do it (you will have to remind them of this later!). Speaking from experience with piano lessons, there is nothing more painful than sitting through lessons with kids who you can never convince that they should be there….ie. if they go home and want to practice even a little bit. I can’t imagine coaching a soccer team with kids who all hate soccer! Certainly, there will be kids who seem not to like anything, but there must be at least something they DO like (trust me, there is something!)

    PLUS, don’t let kids give up easily. If a child starts drum lessons, at first they will be excited. Then, after a few weeks, they start to “lose interest” because they realize they might have to do some actual WORK. Don’t let them give up in that first little while, that time is CRUCIAL! That is the time children are looking to parents to encourage them, just a little is fine, and then the child usually gets excited because they learn the relationship between work and reward. ie. “I practiced this piece, now I can play it much better.” Kids like that.

    If kids have too many activities at a young age, they just burn out. I see it a lot. Unfortunately, it’s usually only one or the other; the kids who are in too many activities, or those that need to be in at least one.

    Kids NEED time to “play”. The most crucial time for kids to be involved in things is in high school, where scholarships can make a big difference, and many kids don’t get involved at all. Try not to burn them out before then, is all.

  42. Tony on September 22, 2009 at 12:09 am

    I am a firm supporter of the philosophy of Free Range Kids, just putting kids into free play and social activities with other children. I was never involved in ANYTHING structured as a kid but I never remember feeling bored or unstimulated. As I matured I grew interested in things naturally and joined them on my own terms without my parents prodding me. The things I joined were those I loved and the things I was doing for my own interest, not just living out some quashed dreams from my parents past, as is so often the case, especially with hockey parents. Give them the tools to explore and be curious and encourage this behavior and they’ll find their own interests. Once they find them, get behind them and support them wholeheartedly. That’s my two cents.

  43. mp on September 22, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Montessori a ‘new age’ schooling? Please, parents in our neighbourhood have been sending their kids to Montessori since at least the 1980s – seems pretty established to me.

  44. Jessica on September 22, 2009 at 5:00 am

    While I do think it is important to encourage kids to participate in extra-curricular activities, I also believe that kids should be allowed to be kids! I would suggest that every parent lets their kids follow one sport and one additional activity such as music, ballet or painting, until they are old enough to realize what they are interested in.

  45. cannon_fodder on September 22, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    My daughter stayed at her day care / private school until Grade 7. It was quite expensive especially when tax deductions for the day care portion became limited.

    She excelled at the private school because they not only assigned a lot of homework each night, they checked each day for completeness. Thus, my daughter had good study habits.

    Then, things changed and we realised we couldn’t afford (or even support the idea) of her attending a private high school. We felt it would be easier for her to integrate into high school if she went back to the public school system in advance.

    I don’t know what she would have been like if she stayed in private school but her attitude quickly changed at Grade 7. She became far less diligent with school work; her marks dropped from a high A average to a low B average; she became somewhat disrespectful and aloof. Normal teenage behaviour? Sure, a lot of it… but it was so dramatic.

    During her childhood she was involved with swimming, skating and gymnastics, but never were all 3 at the same time and never was more than 4 hours a week dedicated to these activities in total.

    I think a kid needs to be a kid and that means time well wasted.

  46. Elmo on September 23, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Where are you getting daycare in NL for $595 per month? I’m paying around $1000, I’d really like to know.

  47. Canada Deals on September 23, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I have 2 boys (ages 15 and 11) and neither of them are currently involved in any after school activities…. unless you include homework and chores lol. Oh and the oldest just started a new job.

    Quite frankly, activities like hockey, football, soccer etc are pretty expensive and my main focus is on providing what they *need* not want they want.

    They’re still happy, well adjusted kids and I can’t see how rushing around like mad every day after school would have made them any better :)

  48. Canada Deals on September 23, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I forgot to add that life is hectic enough! As long as we’re able to sit down and have dinner together every night, as a family, I consider that a bigger win than stuffing them full of activities :)

  49. Mechanonuke on September 23, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Kids are pricey, and in my case at least, it meant that instead of the 1 million $ journey, it’s closer to a 3/4 million $ one.

  50. used tires on September 24, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Although I don’t personally have a kid…. I am only 23, still in college… actually my third year as a Finance Major… but anyways…. perhaps I can give some differing opinions… What I would say is… don’t plan too much, and let things flow naturally, as time passes you will learn more of what your kid will want, and all the pieces will fall into places, kinda of like a free market society =D.

    I hope that advice was okay…

    Till then,


  51. Ms Save Money on September 24, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    This is a very interesting article – but in a way “YES” most parents are trying to train their kids to be “SUPER HUMAN KIDS” in a sense.

    I believe that it is in our natural makeup (genetically) – or in otherwords – survival of the FITTEST. :)

    It’s all about the competition – if you don’t get them started now – they’re not going to have as much advantage over other kids.

  52. Ben on September 25, 2009 at 10:01 am

    I have no kids as yet, but ruminate on my own upbringing…

    I grew up in a very “free form” home where I learned independence at a young age. I loved it then, and love thinking about it now. We were 9 kids living in the country, surrounded by forest and water, and blessed with safe, fun and competent public schools. Parents didn’t schedule us for anything – if we wanted to do sports, choir, band, then we did, and we’d get picked up at school after practice. In many ways, a recipe for success.

    Reading ‘Outliers’ this week, and came across a bit of of a contrary viewpoint in the discussion of Chris Langan, who had no one around to teach him how to capitalize on his talents. Specifically, it is the example of the 9-year old on the way to the doctor, and how his mother teaches him to speak up for himself and direct the course of the event. These kind of life skills, not taught in the “free form” environment, are important. I do OK in this department, but it’s probably been learned in the decade since I left the nest.

    So, to reach the obvious conclusion, there is a happy medium:
    -between letting kids choose the activities they want to “play” at and ensuring parents provide some direction and recommendations
    -allowing sufficient space to develop independent thought and decision-making abilities, and engaging in an active parenting style, with open debate and discussion.

    I lean a bit more toward the “free form” approach overall, but that’s just my bias – I turned out OK!

  53. Joe on September 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Wow, what diversity in comments. I have two boys. Both play competitive hockey and soccer because they want to and they earned it. Both do well in school as well. We don’t compete with the rest of the “Jones” with regards to training clinics or lessons of any sort. I tell them success doesn’t come over night and it requires hard work. If you work hard it will show when it really matters. Both boys train together or on their own. These are lifetime lessons. It seems that today’s parents rather pay someone to teach their kids or watch their kids for them. Parents should spend time with their kids; afterall they really just want to be like you. You are their hero. You really want to be remember as the person who just transported your kid from one event to another.

  54. ioana on September 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    My son has been in a Montessori daycare for the past two years (he’s three now). It is across the street from our house. It was by far the best daycare that I could find in the area. He’s doing yoga and learning french (why?? I have no idea). It’s a very nice, safe place with lovely teachers. I feel good about having him there.

    However, after school, he’s all mine. I don’t want to send him anywhere because I hardly spend any time with him except for those hours in the morning and after 6pm and before 8:30 when he goes to sleep.

  55. zud on September 28, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    i was a child who was probably over scheduled by today’s standards. i was put in figure skating, swimming, synchrnized swimming, piano, gymanstics, trampoline, ballet, jazz and the ubiquitous saturday chinese school. i did not love all the activities however i can sincerely say that i benefitted from all. i stopped most except piano by age 13 in lieu of school team sports and school band. i grew up loving sports and activities while seeing my female peers shy away from gym class.i really believe i gained my sense of rythym and hand eye coordination from taking classes at such a young age.

    parents will be worried about their kids feeling ‘stressed out’ or not having the time to “just be a kid”. i remember clearly my schedule – back in the day (i am 30 now) elementary school ended at 3pm, my (SAH) mom would pick me up and lessons at the local Y or community centre would start at 330. i remember lessons would never be longer than 45 mins-60 mins, we’d be back home by 5pm. i would be left to my own devices until dinner time, then do a bit of homework and further goofing off until bed/bath time at 8-830.

    i realize not much of this would have been possible had my mom not chosen to be stay at home and i realize what a great life she provided for me. this is not the decision every parent can make but i really feel the impact now of all the activities i did as a kid

  56. Gaufrette on October 1, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    My daughter (15) would be content to languish in front of the tv and computer so I’ve directed her activities in spite of her initial objections. It’s been transformative as now she’s playing competitive soccer at a high level, working toward her lifeguarding certification and is heavily involved in school activities such as the musical, student council and cross country running. Her confidence has soared, she’s expanded her social horizons and consequently is much more motivated now she knows how good it feels to be engaged. My son (19) has always had a passion for soccer, and I indulged him by years of driving to practices/games – that required lots of juggling of time/money as I’m a single mum. However, he now plays varsity soccer at university which keeps him fit, forces him to effectively manage his time and cemented lifelong friendships.
    On another subject, my daughter recently started Kumon maths. I’m too soon to judge its merits. My objection, however, is that the business model encourages franchisees to hamper the student’s progress.

  57. learn piano songs on October 6, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I was looking for good advice or lesson how to developed my child so i find this blog very helpful and can be more helpful.

  58. Abonnie on October 9, 2009 at 10:34 am

    My son is three and we have him in swimming as I feel that is a necessity for safety reasons and a little gym class. We do all classes on Sat/Sun mornings. This is the first time I am doing two classes and we will determine in the end of it was too much. The benefit is he is exhausted at the end of the class and is ready for a nap. Bonus for us. It also gets us as a family out of the house doing something together (I participate with our son in the classes and my husband cheers us on). My plan, is to only participate in classes on weekends. After school/work would be too stressful and the idea behind the classes is fun. The classes are not cheap but, as they are sports we actually will get a bit of a tax break from them. My son as a result of the swim classes is not afraid of the water anymore which is the whole reason we decided to do this to begin with. I think people need to step back and make a realistic plan on how much they want to spend and how the class will fit into their every day activities. If it becomes too much of a chore, you won’t go and you wasted your money.

  59. Lisamm on October 14, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    My kids are 10 and 12 and are really great kids. They’ve been exposed to a wide range of activities over the years. My oldest is in honors classes and band this year so she has a ton of homework and must practice her instrument daily. We scaled back on her activities so now she just has gymnastics once/wk and girl scouts once/mo. She also goes to the church youth group one evening a week. My 10 yr old is in basketball (2 practices/wk after school plus games), gymnastics (once/wk-evening) and cheer (once/wk practice and games a few times/mo) plus girl scouts. She’s also a worship leader at church (singing, etc). SHe is a bundle of energy and we cannot slow her down.

    I guess my point is you have to take into consideration a child’s energy level, interest, workload at school, and personality. I would never push my kids to continue in activities they didn’t care for but I would encourage them to stick it out when the going gets tough, because any new skill will eventually require practice and work to master. If they want to get really good at anything, they will have to push through that time when it gets hard and they’d rather quit, because it’s easier.

    Even with everything my kids do, they still have plenty of free time to hang out with friends and with us, do creative stuff (they love to cook and paint), walk the dog, listen to music, play with the neighbor kids. Probably because they don’t watch very much tv and we limit screen time to one hour a day (with exceptions for special programs on tv, etc.)

  60. Alex on February 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Swimming lessons are good, since that’s a skill that it’s pretty easy to die without.

    The first thing I’d try is to see if your kid likes any of the same things you enjoy. That way you could give the lessons yourself AND spend time with your child at the same time.

    For other lessons/activities etc, I’m still trying to figure that one out. My parents’ approach was to basically not spend anything on extracurricular activities, so I had to wait until I was making money on my own to get into things like music (which I still can’t afford real lessons for) or sports. Personally I think there’s a balance somewhere between the two extremes where you can give your child opportunities without making them obligations.

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