Your Kids’ Activities, Overscheduling, and Working Parents

overscheduling-kids-activitiesA while back, some readers were discussing the difficulty of scheduling your kids’ extracurricular activities — and homework, and family time — without overscheduling your kids, all while navigating hours/timeslots that may or may not be favorable to working moms. As one woman noted:

Kat, could we do a discussion on overparenting/overscheduling when a working mom? My kids are getting to the age where I want them to experience soccer and piano and whatnot. But they’re in school all day, so my only hope is scheduling their weeknights and weekends. Then we’re running from activity to activity with no downtime for just play or boredom. I feel like I’m trapped as a working mom. If my spouse or I stayed at home, or if I could afford private nannies, I could maybe schedule this better. Or I could schedule some of those summer camps that run only from 9-2 on alternating Tuesdays and Fridays. Or heck I could let them run the neighborhood with the rest of the kids that are home all summer. But as it is, our limited time as a family is dominated by homework and/or extracurriculars. Is this only me? Is it this bad for SAH parents too? What is the solution? No extracurriculars, and telling teachers too bad but we’ll only spend an hour a night on homework until they’re in high school?

This is such an amazing question — and I’m only starting to feel the pain, so I’m curious what other people have to say. First, as some other readers noted:

  • Avoid team activities with multiple practices a week, because they can really eat up your schedule. (For older kids, I always think of the Tiger Mom’s point that her daughters would never, ever be allowed to be a part of a school play: “…[N]o Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, ‘I got a part in the school play! I’m Villager Number Six. I’ll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I’ll also need a ride on weekends.’ God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.”)
  • Pick activities that take place at a gym (e.g., swim lessons), so you can get some exercise in at the same time.
  • If you have multiple children, see if you can find one place with multiple classes going at the same time, so all the kids can be occupied at once.
  • If budget allows — I know some readers here have noted hiring a housekeeper for those tricky years when the kids are too old for a proper nanny but still need someone to pick them up after school and shuttle them around.

As the mother to a fairly scheduled 4-year-old, let me also say how much I HATE trying to figure out what to sign up for — it feels like I spend hours every season figuring out what is available when (inevitably the activity he wants the most releases its schedule last), what we have room in the family budget for, what doesn’t conflict with a caregiver hand-off time, what doesn’t mean that he’s going to be way overscheduled on some days but bored on others… There has to be an easier way! (I’ve even thought about starting a new business to address it, but I’m a bit tapped out at the moment — if anyone knows of any apps or services to navigate the different extracurricular offerings in your neighborhood, I’m all ears). (Update: The Wall Street Journal recently profiled a mom in NYC who created a website called Kidz Central Station to organize all this information in one place.)

Once the schedule is set, though, it’s definitely a juggling act between homework (which he has this year, aww), extracurriculars, bedtime, and not boring his younger brother.

Readers, some questions: First, as a working mom, how do you set your child’s schedule (or do you outsource the scheduling of it to someone else? keep it repetitive/minimal until they’re old enough to do it themselves?)? Second, once the schedule is set, how do you find the breathing space you need as a family for unscheduled time free of homework, extracurriculars, bedtime, and more? What activities do you avoid like the plague for your child — and which do you prioritize no matter what?

Pictured: Soccer Field, originally uploaded to Flickr by Sam Howzit.


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. Wait, what homework does a 4 yr old have? I get the impression homework is taking over kids’ lives these days. I didn’t have any until 3rd grade and I think what I had then was probably 1 hr’s worth (less if I’d been more focused). It was almost entirely work I could do on my own. I feel like my friends with kids in kindergarten and 1st grade have this huge homework burden, not only do their kids have lots of homework, but it’s expected that the parents will be doing it with the kids. That’s insane.

    • Anonymous says:

      We are expecting our first and consequently several years away from this homework problem, but I have noticed the same thing. I’m already worried about it. What homework can a 4 year old possibly have? Doesn’t that just mean I am going to end up doing it? Umm… I’m not doing that. And I’m not going to make my kid spend more than an hour on it, either, until he’s in high school anyway. How do we push back on this?

    • Lyssa says:

      I was just going to suggest that homework and what parental expectations are on it would be a great future-topic. I’m particularly curious about what parents do to “help.” When I was growing up, I might have asked my parents if I had a specific question or issue, or had them help with drills to prepare for a test, but, for the most part, they were completely hands-off. The other day my husband said something about parents checking kids’ homework (as in, taking the math worksheet and confirming that every answer was correct), and I said that I didn’t think that that was necessary and would have pretty much considered that cheating when I was a kid, and he seemed to find that horrifying, and said that of course parents check each answer.

      Ironically (or perhaps not), I was definitely the better student between the two of us. But now I’m really curious about what the general expectation is, particularly among more educated parents (my parents did not go to college and, while they had a general expectation of good behavior and grades in school, did not really stress education).

      • Good Lord, who has time to proof their kids’ homework? And what about when you no longer really can? It’s one thing to proof a sheet of 1st grade math facts, quite another to think I could proof my kid’s algebra homework, or that I’d want to re-read Lord of the Flies so that I could help with/proof a book report. I’ve got multiple college and graduate degrees in my family going back several generations. My parents never did this for me, and I don’t do it for mine.

        • anonymom says:

          My fourth-grader’s elementary school grades homework on completion. The expectation is that the parent has checked the homework and made the kid correct the errors so the final product is 100% correct. The homework is not reviewed in class, so if the kid makes a mistake and the parent doesn’t catch it, then the kid never has a chance to learn from the mistake.

          For larger projects with a research and writing component, the parents are basically expected to do the project with the child. When I did my first big report in elementary school, the teacher guided the class step by step through the entire thing. We went to the school library and learned how to find sources. We read our sources and took notes on notecards. We outlined our reports. Then we went home and wrote our reports from our outlines and notecards. In my daughter’s school, however, the kids are never taught anything about how to find sources, identify key facts, and connect those facts into a coherent piece of written work. That falls to the parents. I don’t actually do the work for her, but I am definitely there guiding her through the research and pre-writing phases. I also have to supervise a lot of work with the hot glue gun.

          • This is mind boggling to me. What are they teaching them, then? The school’s responsibility ends after they say, “Your topic is, “rabbits,” then the parent is expected to take it from there?!

          • anonymom says:

            In response to TK, pretty much. The requirements for what the finished project must contain are somewhat detailed (e.g., a paragraph about the animal’s habitat, another paragraph about how the animal is adapted to that habitat, etc.), but no guidance on how to find and organize the information. For instance, the kids are not taught how to search the library catalog for relevant books and then locate them on the shelves, nor are they given time to do research in the school library. This is a particular problem because our public library is abysmal and the elementary school library actually has a larger and more relevant collection. Whenever a project is assigned it is a mad race to be the first family to put a hold on the two

          • anonymom says:

            Where is the edit function?

            … on the two books that the entire library system has on the topic.

    • My three-year old has homework in preschool. It’s about three pages each week (take home Monday, due on Friday) and it’s mostly coloring, tracing letters, and elementary number stuff. I was shocked when that started this year.

      Honestly, it’s a pain in the butt. I pick up my kids, immediately get dinner ready for them, then they get a bath and relax for 30 minutes and then get in bed. There’s not a ton of time for homework in there.

      • Also, since he’s three, you can bet that either me or my husband has to help him do it. So it’s annoying.

      • What would happen if you just didn’t do it?

      • NewMomAnon says:

        Umm, I just wouldn’t do it. What is preschool going to do to you? Public humiliation is still prohibited in almost all levels of schooling, and preschool report cards shouldn’t count for much. I would treat those worksheets as optional….

        • anonymom says:

          If it’s an exclusive preschool, they are going to boot the family out for not being on board with the program.

      • Meg Murry says:

        Also on the “wouldn’t do it” train. Or at least the “wouldn’t force it, might try to encourage it while I’m cooking dinner or whatever but if it isn’t happening I’m not pushing it” train.

        And if there was some kind of “if you don’t turn in your homworke you don’t get to do the fun activity on Friday” punishment I’m pretty sure I’d be looking for a new preschool. Our preschool/daycare sends home activities packets from time to time, but they are completely optional, and I only use them as “hey, want to sit at the table and do homework just like your big brother?” suggestions.

      • This would annoy me. Little kids should be running and playing when they’re not in school, or helping their parents to cook or experimenting with play dough (which is all learning) not sitting and doing work-sheets. And I find that letters, numbers, colors just get integrated into life without needing special supplies. My kids are too young to know any of this anyway, but we still tend to point to things and say stuff like “look at the green leaf — and there’s another green leaf — one, two, two green leaves!” (Yes we sound kind of like Count von Count. But the guy is onto something!) Definitely don’t need work-sheets and homework.

      • Haha, y’all are all right that I could just not do it. I’m a “rule follower” to the core. At this point, the only reason we do it is because my asks to and wants to do it. As long as he thinks it’s fun, I’m ok with taking the time to do it.

        My pet peeve is the one-day notice that they need things like “family pictures” for projects at school. Am I the only one that doesn’t have copies of pictures laying around? The last time, I took a family picture I had just ordered out of a frame at work and let him use that one.

        • I actually started getting extra prints of kid and family pictures because things like this do come up. This was a change in behavior for me, after experiencing the natural consequence of driving to a Walgreens at 10pm and trying to figure out how to get a picture off a memory card and print it at their kiosk.

        • anonymom says:

          Oh, my goodness, yes. I nearly cried over this so many times when my kid was in day care while I was commuting over two hours a day with her, attending law school full time, and working part time. No, I cannot go out tonight to locate and purchase a teddy bear that is safe for a one-year-old just so she can have a bear for the imaginative forest game you have planned for tomorrow. Why can’t she just bring the stuffed dog she already has? And why must I bake homemade cupcakes without nuts or frosting for her birthday when I have a cite-check due the same day? Just sing her the freaking birthday song at snack time.

    • Anonymama says:

      At back to school night the principal straight up told us (all parents, k-5th) not to make a big deal out of homework… She said it’s between the student and the teacher and a parent shouldn’t be spending hours on it. My kindergartner does not have any homework so far. I thought it was a really great attitude.

  2. mascot says:

    One child in kindergarten, playing one sport of his choice (one late weekday practice and Saturday morning games). His school also offers enrichment classes as part of after-school care so we take advantage of those. I don’t see our strategy changing much in the next few years.
    We have nightly reading homework, but that doesn’t take long. He may also have a worksheet or something to finish. I anticipate that this will increase in the next year or two. The school prides itself on being academically advanced so there is always that battle for balance. For right now, our focus is on having him genuinely like school and getting enough sleep.

    • Anonymous says:

      My kid is in preschool now and will stay in his current school through middle school, and this is our plan too. He is there from 7-6 every day and a couple of days a week, instead of doing regular after care he goes to music lessons or sports at school. I feel like it breaks up the monotony for him, gives him some enrichment opportunities and doesn’t take away from family time, but I can appreciate how this will be a challenge when he gets older and sports etc. get more time consuming. The school doesn’t assign homework until elementary, so we haven’t had to cross that hurdle yet.

  3. anne-on says:

    I work at home, so I fully expect the burden of any and all after school activities to fall on me. I’ve already told my husband no hockey (insanely early scheduled practices due to limited rinks in our town), no travel teams, and anything that takes place on the weekend is on him. Honestly I think we’ll be limiting his activities to those done through school plus one weekend non-sport activity (music, language, etc.).

    • I love this attitude and hope to do the same. I met a mom at my husband’s company party recently who said their 6 year old wasn’t currently in anything (had done soccer and dance in the past but wasn’t very interested in either) and that all the other moms thought she was insane. But her kid was 6 and she wanted her to just be 6 instead of being shuttled from one activity to the next. I told my husband I admired that decision.

  4. Two Cents says:

    My son is only 2.5 but I have been surprised that there are so many weekend opportunities that he could take advantage of even at this young age (soccer, dance/movement classes, toddler yoga…). The only thing we do is a 30 minute swim class on the weekends. Neither my husband nor I swim (well, barely) and we both really want our son to swim very well. Otherwise, he is at the playground or playing at home or we’re going somewhere as a family. I’m trying hard not to buy into this “multiple activities so that your child will be “well rounded’ model”).

  5. Meg Murry says:

    We’re trying not to overschedule, but my kid is just so interested in signing up for activities (and he’s not even into sports) I feel like we are constantly saying no.

    Right now we have for my 8 year old:
    Tuesday night karate
    Thursday afternoon piano (grandma picks him up from school and takes him)
    Friday after school art class (in place of the school aftercare program
    Saturday morning: Karate and then swimming lessons (at the same place, and I can drop him off)

    And the almost 4 year old has only a casual, run around and blow off steam indoors gymnastics class at the same time as the oldest has karate, so that works for us.

    My problem is the homework. In 3rd grade, my son has almost every night:
    -at least 1 page of spelling
    – 2-4 pages of a math worksheet
    – minimum of 20 minutes of reading
    – a reading log of 5-7 sentences on what he read

    I’ve got him used to doing at least the spelling or math at the after school program he goes to, or to do the reading. The hardest/worst part is the stupid reading log – there are guided prompts, like “write a letter to the author” or “write a summary” or “write about the main characters and their traits”. It’s like writing a damn book report, every single night. In 3rd grade! He hates it (and so do I, but I try not to show it) so many nights we spend more time griping about the darn thing than he does just doing it.

    If I was able to pick him up directly after school at 3:30, I might be able to hack it a little better. Or if he would just do the homework with minimal guidance or whining. But right now we have to fit cooking and eating dinner, doing homework, relaxing a little, and bathing/cleaning up, etc between when I pick him up from the after school program (5-6 pm) and when he goes to bed (should be around 8-3:30, usually closer to 9 by the time he’s done with homework). And that’s rough when we don’t have activities scheduled – nights with them are just hard. And that also doesn’t include the things I feel like he “should” be doing, like practicing piano more, having time to read or ride his bike for fun, or any chores beyond taking his dishes to the kitchen.

    This week he brought home fliers about an after school choir, soccer, another after school art program and Cub Scouts. Cub scouts is the only one he’s interested in, thank goodness, but I don’t know if we can find a way to swing it. And I feel like we aren’t really all that scheduled at all, compared to so many of his friends that do soccer where they have practice and games multiple times a week. Luckily, our Sundays are completely free right now for family time, and I hope to keep it that way as long as possible.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      My kid is way too young for me to have much of value to add but FWIW – have you read “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk”? One of the lessons that resonated with me was letting kids experience the natural consequences of their own behavior. So what happens if you re-set the homework battle and stopped helping with the reading log? Let him set up a study zone, check in once in a while to see that he’s working (but don’t engage on the work product itself), and set a timer for when he has to finish so he can make it to bed on time. If he doesn’t finish in time, then he turns in cruddy work and the world doesn’t end. (Also, I wish I had learned this lesson as a kid – sometimes your priorities cause shoddy work product in one area so you can accommodate another priority, and that’s ok).

      After a while of doing this, have a conversation about whether he thinks the regimen of activities and school is working, and whether he is happy with his priorities. If he is happy and you are happy with the schedule, then great. If he isn’t happy or you aren’t happy, then rearrange.

      • Meg Murry says:

        Yes, we try that sometimes. But basically what typically happens is that my son melts down into a ball of anxiety like this:
        “I’m done. Do your homework or don’t, but it’s bedtime at X:00”
        “if I don’t finish this then I will get in trouble on Friday and I can’t let that happen!”
        “then finish it”
        “but I caaaaaaaan’t”
        “then don’t”
        “but I’ll get in trouble ……….”
        “then do it”

        and so on, and so on. Usually I just walk away. Some nights he finishes it. Some nights he goes to bed and does it in the morning (or the next day – most of the homework is due Friday). Occasionally he’ll take the “do it at recess time” punishment. But I understand that a huge part of it is just performance anxiety, and most nights if I can get him to get going, he’ll do the majority on his own, once he gets past the “I hate this, this is stupid, I can’t do it” aspect.

        I do think it’s too much for a 3rd grader though. Especially when I have to say “no, you can’t read more of your book for fun [which is a thing you only recently started doing, I used to have to force you to read], because now you have to write a book report on it” every night. We’re doing some mitigating, by starting on Sunday night, so he can have one weeknight off if he’s exhausted, etc – but it just sucks.

        And I should add that I was this way to my parents too. I hated homework that required writing, procrastinated it as hard as possible, and was overall a brat. I’m sorry parents, it has come back on me 100 fold.

        • Oh man, that brings back bad memories. We had some sort of log thing. It was much later — in 8th grade — but it was only due at the end of each term. I’d procrastinate and then make it all up in the last two days before it was due. Those daily writing tasks are awful!!

        • NewMomAnon says:

          Aww, poor kiddo. I remember that feeling of performance anxiety. I now call those projects my “too hard” pile.

          I am not looking forward to shepherding homework. I strongly believe that elementary school kids need to move their bodies more than they need to complete repetitive academic drills or summarize books. I have a feeling that I will not be the teacher’s favorite parent when homework time comes in elementary school. Or maybe there will be a parental uprising in the next five years and everything will change before we hit elementary school….*crossing my fingers*

          • Spirograph says:

            *crossing my fingers, too*

            I’m just not going to do it. My parents would remind me to do my homework maybe once a night, but it was 100% my responsibility. If I didn’t do it, or rushed through it on the bus in the morning because I played outside instead, oh well. I’d get a bad grade on the assignment, feel suitably chastened, and be more conscientious for a while.

            My mom is a late-elementary school teacher, and she tells all her students’ parents to back off. No one’s 5th grade transcript matters in the long run; if the kid is struggling to understand the actual subject, that’s one thing. But just getting a bad grade because of incomplete work? Who cares. The kid will learn more by failing than he will by being artificially propped up by his parents… and the teacher will know more about the kid’s work ethic and his understanding of the material, and be able to tailor his/her lessons to best help the class through common struggle spots.

  6. This issue is one of the primary reasons that I think parental leave/part-time schedules make more sense in the middle years than when they’re babies. During elementary school, I’ve limited my kids’ extra-curriculars to programs that either happen at their school, or transport from the school – and fortunately we’ve got a pretty good menu of choices at our local public school. We also do instrument lessons, which happen at our house in the evenings, 1 day a week. When my older daughter started middle school, it got harder (sports teams, longer schedules), and so last year I hired a housekeeper for two days a week. She does the housecleaning, laundry, kid transport, and gets them started on homework and instrument practice before I get home. It’s $$$ but soooo worth it. I used a cleaning service anyway, so I just replaced them with an individual who could also perform the other functions. It’s been great.

    • Clementine says:

      I’m glad you say this!

      I’m expecting and in a job where they basically put you through the ringer and own your life, but after a few years it’s pretty easy to move laterally into a fairly cushy position because you get just so much experience and exposure.

      I basically could move now and be stuck at a lower level, but I’m hoping we can get through the daycare years when I’m already paying for care until 6pm anyway and lean back a bit once I reach a higher level. Once you get to that level, it’s much more acceptable to work from home, work 7-3 (Heaven for this morning person!!), and just generally control your life again.

    • Maddie Ross says:

      I so agree with this and have already discussed with my husband that I would like to cut back in the middle school/pre-driving high school years to allow my child the full opportunities that I had growing up to do sports, etc. Not because I want her to be the “best” or get a scholarship or anything like that, but because my favorite memories growing up were my extra-curriculars. I played 3 instruments starting in elementary school, did county orchestra, was on several swim teams, including a competition team for a couple of years that met I the pre-dawn hours (dad would take me when he went in for his early workout and a friend’s mom did the transport to school), and then the whole panoply of trying soccer, softball, etc. Swim team for me was far and away the biggest time suck, but I loved it. If he isn’t interested, that’s totally fine with me too, but I think part of growing up should be trying a little bit of everything and following what works for you.

    • By middle school (and before) I was responsible for getting myself to my activities by riding my bike (several miles, moderate traffic) and taking the city bus. So that’s another approach.

  7. hoola hoopa says:

    I have such little patience or motivation for all of it. We do swim lessons a couple of times each year (sign the kids up for the same session time), and maybe one other activity each year. I put the ‘extra enrichment’ in summer camps.

  8. EB0220 says:

    My 3.5 year old goes to taekwondo class (30 min) once a week. My husband picks her up and takes her to class because he teaches at the studio that day. Then I pick her up after and we head home. I have resisted sending her more than once a week because I feel like a) she’s 3 and b) we don’t get enough unstructured time anyway. I know that the activity level will slowly increase, but I’m trying to resist as long as possible. I already feel guilty that she doesn’t have time to be a kid since I work. I hate to add even more structure to her day. My 1 year old’s main hobbies are spit bubbles and boobs so no worries there (yet).

  9. Seventh Sister says:

    7yo gets one weekend lesson (ballet, her request but tbh I’m delighted about it), 4yo gets nothing because he just started a new preschool and needs some downtime (or a hamster wheel). 7yo also takes an afterschool art class – nothing fancy, directly after school, not perhaps the highest quality activity but fun for her nonetheless. Swimming lessons have happened, but on a seasonal basis mostly due to parental laziness.

    I grew up in a rural area with relatively limited extracurriculars, especially if your mom worked and wasn’t around to drive you to everything. 7yo is entirely happy with a few activities and lots of time to play, I would have loved to take robotics and flamenco and soccer and have a class every day after school.

    If either of my kids was really into something (7yo has a friend who is a serious gymnast who spends about four days a week at the gym), I’d let them ramp up the activity level, but both seem like generalists. At least at this point.

  10. In-House Europe says:

    Oh man…I’m late to the discussion but this is a huge topic for me! My firstborn will start school next year and where I live in Europe school days are shorter, there are more vacations, and more homework! Add extracurricular to it and…Ugh. The. Stress.

    I really feel like the kiddos may miss out on stuff – afternoon sports teams (they are private over here so you have to transport them there yourself), music…

    I think the solution may have to be some sort of part-time nanny/helper – someone who can transport the kids but also see that they get homework done, etc.

  11. Extremely curious how working parents handle school breaks. Fall break and spring break seem to fall right in the heart of busy seasons for me, and while day care is year round, I have no clue how to manage summer breaks once he starts school. I don’t have family nearby.