Child developmental experts warn us that children in present day America are at risk because of being overscheduled with extra-curricular activities. Dr. David Elkind was one of the first to make parents aware of this trend with his book "The Hurried Child", published in 1981. (1.) Since then, books, journal articles and entire conferences have addressed the topic and warnings against over-committing children have been issued. Even well-intentioned home educators sometimes fall into the snare of uncontrolled busyness.

The Research

In researching this topic I found three excellent articles on the subject. One of them was in a column called Raising Kids by Betsy Rubiner in the April 2004 issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. (2.) That article featured psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld who co-authored the book The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding The Hyper-Parenting Trap.  His contention is that we as parents are buying into an overly busy lifestyle that is "burning kids out." Dr. Rosenfeld believes that enrolling children in too many activities is a nationwide problem. The same article quotes Dr. William Doherty, coauthor of Putting Family First. He affirms that it is a clear cut case of priorities being out of order and says that "A warm and limit-setting family is the most important element for kids and that requires a lot of time, not time spent running around." He says "Children need time to daydream, to chill out. We’ve reversed it all."

A second article, originally published in Ladies’ Home Journal, was entitled Today’s Overscheduled Kids. (3.) It points out how living in a constant state of stress is a potentially serious health problem for the entire family, but especially for children, who have less skills to cope with stress and fewer choices by which to avoid it. It raises the questionable trend of overstressing toddlers by expecting them to "appreciate Mozart" and learn their ABC’s before they are ready. There is also the unfortunate reality of "too much artificial stimulation and too little interaction with parents and siblings."

A third article by David Elkins, a retired psychology professor at Pepperdine University, appeared in the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of Psychology Today. (4.) He states that "...we might do well by following Aristotle’s adage: everything in moderation. Child experts acknowledge that extra curricular activities can be a positive force in children’s lives, but they also agree that overscheduling can put children at risk." 

As a grandmother of a two year old, I was most impacted by this statement:

"Middle class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no ‘nothing time.’ ...Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen."

That’s a quote by Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Apparently not only is over- scheduling stressful for parents as well as children, but research shows that children need a cushion of leisure time to be creative, to develop their interests and to learn how to think and ask questions.

The Application

These are the warnings from the experts, but how does all this apply to those of us who name the name of Christ and are raising our children to serve in His kingdom? First, shouldn’t we always be willing to look for any truth that we can apply? In this case, if it’s true of many families in America, there is certainly a number of home school families for which this is true as well. Second, by keeping abreast of what plagues families in our society we can specifically take precautions to stave off the effects of overscheduling stress that might threaten our family in the future.

From a positive standpoint, those who have chosen to home school their children have already embraced a good thing. We are doing something that colonial Americans did, and with good results. We have the advantage of so many tools that they did not have: textbooks, the internet, support groups and a plethora of Christian curricula and experts to guide us. We have God’s Word and the Bible software and teachers to explain it and build it into our daily lives.

However, we also live in a time that has something else they didn’t have to cope with: the information explosion with all the fast-paced expectations and opportunities that time does not permit us to explore completely. That boils down to choices. Lots of ‘em! That, my friends, is one of the biggest challenges of home schooling your child. Are you willing to take a quick inventory and honestly look at how you are doing with your choices and the overall pace you are maintaining in your home?

The best question to ask ourselves is: "Do we as a family keep a pace of activity that is challenging but not frantic or hectic?" If you are not sure of your daily pace, try this experiment for a week. Put an "H" for hectic on the calendar, (and the time of day), every time you feel stressed by too many things to do. Then go back and look where the stresses seem to appear in your school week. Here’s another good barometer of the "too much going on" syndrome: ask yourself or your partner "Are we starting projects with enthusiasm and finishing them in a timely manner?" If your answer is "no" , then perhaps you need to cut some of the "good" things to make that cushion of leisure time that your children definitely need.

The Impact On Home School Families

Just as we are tempted to overeat when presented with lots of good choices at the holiday buffet, so we are drawn to over do it when stimulated by the opportunities brought on by the "information explosion." Paul warned the Roman believers:

"Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity." Romans 12:2 (Phillips Modern Eng. Translation)

Think of it this way: You are the one God has called to love and nurture the children He has put in your care. Trust Him to guide you in the task. He has promised to equip you for it. Kneel before Him and search out His plan for your family’s schedule. More than activities, children need relationships. Good relationships take time to be quiet and listen to each other. How will they know how to listen to their heavenly Father if a hectic pace is the way they see their family life modeled?

Part II will explore strategies to avoid over scheduling our children and examples from Scripture to keep us on track.

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JoAnn Dorrepaal is a born-again Christian and a teacher who lives in Norfolk, Virginia with her husband, Mark. During her career, she has worked with students in public schools, Christian schools and has also enjoyed some time teaching her own three children at home. JoAnn is a speaker, writer and advocate for today's Christian women to live the abundant life. You can email JoAnn at Teacher1jd@aol.com

Footnotes:
1. Dr. David Elkind, The Hurried Child, (Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 3rd edition, March 2001)
2. Betsy Rubiner, Raising Kids, April 2004 edition of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine, Meredith Corp. Des Moines, IA
3. Patrick Kiger, Today’s Overscheduled Kids, June 2004 edition of Ladies Home Journal Magazine, Meredith Corp., Des Moines, IA
4. David Elkins, The Overbooked Child, Psychology Today Magazine, Sussex Publishers, New York, N.Y. Jan/Feb 2003