what’s your prerogative?

I’ve been trying to digest this story from today’s NY Times magazine for the past day. I’m not really sure how I feel about the assertion that a healthy sense of entitlement makes for better students, for one. It’s good to know though that all the arguing we’ve been doing with the Potato lately is improving his vocabulary. That kid is sure to get an 800 on his SATs (if, in fact, the SATs are still given 14 years from now).

The Bee does go to a fairly diverse school, both racially & economically. One thing that interested me about the article was the purported effect of middle-class versus working-class parenting styles. It has been my experience that it’s the kids of working-class parents who have unstructured time in the afternoons–in our neighborhood, it tends to be the working-class families, more than the middle-class families, who have a stay-at-home-parent. However the middle-class kids aren’t all playing three sports a year or learning the violin–they’re at the after-school program, with my kid. And while that program is more structured than just being on your own for three hours, it’s not an academic program in any way–usually it’s just playground time with adult supervision and a snack. In bad weather, they hang out in the school multi-purpose room and play games. The Bee and her two best friends have spent much of this fall writing and illustrating little books every afternoon.

Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to have the kind of time to make my kids overscheduled. As it is, I often feel guilty due to their (particularly the Bee’s) lack of organized activities. This year is the first year that she’s done an after-school sport, and the only way we can swing that is because landisdad is still out of work. When she was in kindergarten and I was telecommuting every day, I was able to sign her up for an after-school art class, but she hasn’t been back since then. I’m going to sign her up for that class again this winter, and endeavor to work at home more often, but even then I am sure there will be times when she misses it.

On the other hand, I don’t think I did a single after-school activity until I was in third or fourth grade, so maybe it’s a symptom of my cluelessness that I think she should be doing more now. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a couple of women I work with–one who has kids and one who’s thinking about it. The one who’s thinking about it was asking us how we balance things. The other mom said, “you just feel like you’re failing at everything all the time. And then you get over it.” That’s pretty close to how I feel about this subject.

If you have older kids, when did they start after-school activities? Did you feel like you were constantly juggling when they did? If younger, when do you plan to start? What kinds of things do you want them to do, or are they interested in? Do sports and other activities make kids less self-reliant, less capable of creative play? Or are they useful outlets for their energy & creativity?


November 26, 2006. thoughtful parenting.


  1. jo(e) replied:

    None of my kids have ever really done any organized sports or after-school activities. They come home from school and hang around the house. (I am home from work by the time the school bus gets here.)

    Unless you count music lessons. Each kid has at some point begged for music lessons — and two of them play more than one instrument. And Boy in Black got us all into snowboarding and skiing on Sundays in the winter.

    I always thought it was good for my kids to have unstructured free time so they could read books, play outside, invent games themselves, that kind of a thing. Besides, I never wanted to be the kind of parent who spent my time driving my kids around from one activity to the next. With four kids, I would have gone nuts.

  2. chichimama replied:

    My kids are young, but we only do swimming, because everyone has to know how to swim in my opinion, and now gymnastics because C begged and begged and begged after attending a gymnastics birthday party.

    Given his druthers, C wants to hang around at home and make up games. A will probably want to be out there doing things more when she gets old enough, she likes to be on the move.

    But it would never occur to me to schedule something every day. I know some kids who have two or even three activities in the same day. It’s just nuts.

  3. Deidre Aufiero replied:

    Most of the at-home mothers I know with children younger than mine (ie. preschool) are involved in daily activities (I don’t know anyone who is still at home with kids IN grade school). Personally, I think many of these are inappropriate for such young children. My theory is that the Moms don’t know what to do at home with the kids. Once mine are both in school and I’m back to work? I don’t imagine there will be time for anything extracurricular during the week – they’ll be in the aftercare program. In our community, there are a lot of programs that run in the evening, but I strongly believe that needs to be family/winding down time. I do not think that one, or at most, two structured activities detract from self-development. I’m open to supporting a variety of pursuits in search genuine interests. One thing I’m not sure about it how long to “make” a child continue with a sport or an instrument.

  4. Elizabeth replied:

    I talked about this a bit when I wrote about Lareau’s book (which is excellent, by the way). I worry about kids feeling entitled to fancy clothes, the newest electronics, good grades. But I think it’s a good thing for them to feel entitled to parental attention, respect from teachers, etc.

    Here’s the link to the post: http://www.halfchangedworld.com/2005/05/entitlement.html

  5. Elizabeth replied:

    Sorry if this double posts — I don’t think it came through the first time. I think the key question is what do kids feel entitled to? I don’t think they should feel entitled to hot electronics, brand name clothes, or good grades. But I do think they should be entitled to a decent amount of parental attention, respect from teachers and other adults, etc.

    I wrote about this when I discussed Lareau’s book (which is excellent, btw):


  6. Library Lady replied:

    Deidre has hit the nail on the head. The amount of “enrichment”classes the toddlers in my area take are astounding–and I’ve been known to rant about it (!) They go to my story hours, music classes, art classes, Gymboree, even (really) language classes. The poor little buggers never get to just PLAY! Their moms go on about how they NEED these classes, but it’s a lot easier to take your child to a structured event than to (lord forbid) do something on your own–perhaps even without any other mothers about to chat to!

    Meanwhile my little dears with the evil working mom suffered through daycare and preschools where free play was a regular part of day. Poor JR didn’t get to go to Gymboree–instead her daycare lady took her and her friend to play in the playground–a friend, I might add who is STILL her best friend.

    And you know what? My kids seem fine. In fact, they have a lot of social confidence. And they seem fairly smart.

    The one thing they do is dance, because their dance teacher is their sort of godmother and takes them to class. And they do it because they LOVE it. Which is the only reason any kid should do any “enrichment” classes!

  7. Jennifer (ponderosa) replied:

    I took away something completely different from the article… I thought it emphasized that it’s parenting styles which give kids an academic advantage, and not a jillion extracurricular activities. It may be that those who parent in that particular way tend to take their kids to lots of classes, but it’s not the classes themselves which give the kids an advantage.

    I would be very interested in a discussion about how one gets one’s kids to obey while at the same time treating them respectfully and, as she says in her book, as “apprentice adults.” That’s your problem with the Bee and the Potato, don’t you think?

    I don’t know about all the extracurricular stuff. I can see two sides. One: kids need down-time, free play time, at least until jr high; so I wouldn’t schedule any activities longer than 1 hour 1x/wk (beyond school, I mean) until that age. On the other hand, if all the other kids already know how to play soccer when jr high comes, will your kid be too embarrassed by her lack of knowledge to try to play?

  8. Lady M replied:

    That was a fascinating article – thanks for the link.

  9. Ambar replied:

    I think it is silly to put small children into too many activities. I think a playgroup here or there is enough. I read in some book that it is recommended to not put children into competitive sports (except for maybe gymnastics or swimming which can be non-competitive) until the age of 8. Gymboree to me is a way to waste your money. Just reading to your child everyday and taking them to the library weekly should be enough until they are older.

  10. jen replied:

    My two daughters are in activities, mostly to get them enough exercise. We live in the city in the rust belt, and have a small yard — the only way they’ll get any exercise is thru some sort of organized activity. And so we pony up for “dance” (i.e. running around a gym in a tutu), and swim class, and “gymastics” (i.e. running around on floor mats in a leotard). It’s amazing the difference the exercise makes. At bedtime on days when they got no exercise they’re absolute hellions.

    I think Library Lady is right that often it’s the moms who want the social time and to get out of the house, not the kids. But I don’t think that’s a terrible thing; if a Gymboree class keeps Mommy from going bonkers, it’s money well spent.

  11. Anjali replied:

    I thought the article’s focus was more on the effect of language and attitude/parenting style than extra-curricular activities. Having said that, for thousands of generations, children grew up without extracurricular activities or any other kind of formal “structure” aside from attending school (and many children in the world still don’t even get that). I think that’s proof enough that in the end, kids probably don’t need them.

  12. Two Sirius replied:

    S takes swimming for half an hour every Saturday, and it’s actually kind of a pain. The only other thing he does right now is Cub Scouts. I don’t think I’d be able to manage even that if home, school and work weren’t all within about 2 miles of each other.

  13. penguinunearthed replied:

    Chatterboy (in Kindergarten this year) does swimming one afternoon a week, and a theatre group another afternoon.

    The swimming is one of those things that in Australia you really need to be able to do (like Jennifer ponderosa’s soccer). The theatre was a spur of the moment thing this term, after he enjoyed it in the holidays.

    But we’re in the classic overeducated stay-at-home parent mode – I often think I recognise us when I read articles about over-scheduled kids. The only difference is that its the dad staying at home.

  14. Jim replied:

    The well-heeled parents I know have their poor little ones scheduled to death with “enrichment” crap and it pains me to look at those kids. They don’t get the time to JUST BE KIDS. Some of my favorite moments is to “spy” on my kids while they’re involved in creative play, laying out toys (usually in ways the toys weren’t intended to be used) and giving them voices, personalities… doing what kids do.

    When those over-scheduled kids get together with my kids, you can see the difference. My kids aren’t afraid to take chances, risks. The over-scheduled kids just follow. It’s a new world to them.

  15. Library Lady replied:

    I understand Jen’s point of view–and mommies DO need socialization. But they don’t need to schedule such activities for every day of the week. I get parents in a snit because my story hours are on days when they have other things scheduled. And some of them don’t seem to get they could come to the library,get some books and read to their kids WITHOUT attending a program!

    I’m a city kid who didn’t have ANY backyard. But we did have a playground. Our parents took us there, let us play without any sort of adult led activity, and were able to sit, watch us and talk to each other. Wild idea, huh?

    (Oh, and in bad weather we went to each other’s houses to play. And again, our moms didn’t plan anything to keep us entertained. We played and they chatted….)

  16. Ashley replied:

    Before my guys did school, I had them in a preschool program a few days a week. For my sanity. I tend to be overactive myself and for my sake it was needed. There really aren’t any kids my guys’ ages in the neighborhood, so when they’re home it’s me or each other to play with. While they (and I) don’t always mind, it wears on everyone after a while.

    Now that they’re in school, they’ve chosen their own activities. Both are trying scouting (at most one day every other week) and martial arts (two days a week). My son is more into it than my daughter. Next year she wants to try cheerleading instead. My daughter is also doing gymnastics (one day a week), but it’ll probably be dropped as well when she tries cheerleading.

    So are they overscheduled? Depends on your point of view. They don’t think so. Since there still aren’t really any kids in our area (we hope to move), it’s about the only way, other than school, they get to interact with other kids.

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