School’s out or burnt out?

Is it possible for a child to have too many after school activities?


Tennis lessons on Sunday, piano on Mondays, football on Tuesdays, drama classes on a Wednesday… you get the idea. When the school bell rings, Dubai has a vast range of classes, activities and programmes to choose from that fill in the hours between school and bedtime. As parents, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer choice (not to mention the costs), but are we also threatening to overwhelm our kids by piling on the activities?

‘It’s very easy to over-schedule children, even with the best intentions,’ warns Carmen Benton, parent educator and managing director at LifeWorks.‘Children need time to play. If they have school, afterschool activities and then homework commitments that prevent them from playing freely, then they could easily become stressed.’ The perfect activity for children would be long stretches of self-selected play, both on their own and with their peers, says Carmen, who points to research that shows this is where children do the majority of their learning.

Getting the balance right has a lot to do with your child’s age, she adds. ‘A good pre-school programme should cover all the activities your child needs up to the age of five. After this, a child may benefit from between one and three activities per week. Ideally, it’s important to introduce children to a variety of activities while still considering their likes. A good balance for kids over the age of six would be to do one physical activity, one artistic activity and one social activity per term.’

When choosing the activities, make it a family decision, advises Carmen. ‘Dubai offers so much choice. It’s too much responsibility to leave this decision down to a child, especially when parents have to make a big commitment by paying high fees, transporting children, attending games and performances.’

Before you opt for private classes, look at what is offered by your child’s school. ‘Many already offer a full curriculum of music, drama, sports and language. Your child may not need any additional activities, and would benefit more from free play outside after school,’ she explains. ‘Many schools also offer free after-school activities which cater to the needs of their students.’

If you still feel that your child would benefit from a more in-depth programme, take time to consider which activities best suit their needs. ‘For example, karate combines a number of skills and purposes, such as improving gross motor skills, focus and self-discipline.’

But what if junior decides he hates it, right after you’ve stumped up the cash? ‘This highlights the importance of ensuring your child is old enough to make a commitment to an activity,’ says Carmen. ‘If this situation arises, it may be an opportunity to teach your child about perseverance and honouring commitments. It’s important to talk through their fears and concerns and see what it is that is preventing them from enjoying the activity. Together you may be able to come up with a solution that fixes the problem.’
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