Last January I asked the question – are we going too far with our children’s after-school activities? I had been talking to some mums who had literally crammed every spare hour with a sporting, musical or dance-related hobby for their kids.
This is on top of all their school work and the twice weekly PE sessions they attend. From next week, Ieuan will have 3 swimming sessions with the school too.
A new survey asking “are we overworking our children” confirms my suspicions.
Some exhausted kids are actually putting in more hours that the average working parent who completes 37.5 hours a week at work.
The survey of 2,000 parents carried out by Center Parcs found that the average child already completes 30 hours and 50 minutes a week at school Monday to Friday, as well as seven hours and 51 minutes of clubs and homework each week.
Actively reading with parents daily accounts for a further five hours and 49 minutes a week and the average child also helps with housework for up to an hour and 37 minutes each week.
In response to the findings, Center Parcs commissioned Channel 4 child psychologist Dr Sam Wass to develop a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Free Time – which equates to three hours and 51 minutes every day.
The RDA, which was inspired by the government guidelines we use for fruit and vegetables, is based on three hours on a week day and six hours a day at the weekend, calculated using time needed for a variety of free-time activities which will allow children to use their imagination and develop their creative thinking.
Dr Sam Wass said: “…research suggests that it’s much more beneficial for children if their time is not always so structured. It’s the down-time, when there is not such much going on and the child has to entertain themselves, when they do their best learning.
There is a huge amount of research that suggests that this child-led, unstructured free play is vital for stimulating imagination and creativity, as well as helping the child to become more self-sufficient.”
Ironic, don’t you think?
But actually there’s an elephant in the room, isn’t there? Childcare.
If we’re honest, aren’t lots of kids sent to clubs because employers simply aren’t flexible enough to allow working parents to combine their work with their family life?
Lots of after school activities still work out cheaper than childcare, although arguably these clubs can be even more expensive if you have to pay a childminder to deliver your kids there in the first place.
Researchers for Center Parcs also polled 1,000 children aged six to 11, to find out their views on how much they have to do in a day – it shows 44 per cent of kids reckon they do more in a day than their own parents.
And a quarter of kids questioned admitted they only take part in after school activities because their parents tell them to.
In particular, children most dislike swimming lessons, followed by football and foreign language lessons.
This was the average child’s weekly timetable:-
30 hours 50 minutes
Clubs & Homework
7 hours 51 minutes
5 hours 49 minutes
1 hour 37 minutes
46 hours 7 minutes
Since the survey was commissioned by Center Parcs, it is entirely likely that these ‘average’ children fall within quite a specific socio-economic bracket (dare I say the words “middle class”)?
After school activities are probably a luxury for many.
That said, there is certainly a question mark over the balance between family and work time for many – with kids being shuttled off all over the place so that parents can keep juggling the balls of work and home life as best they can.
You may say it was ever thus.
I say it’s time we took a collective breath in and look at ways to improve the quality of time we spend with our children and how exactly we’re filling theirs.