When I was growing up in the 70s my extra curricular activities amounted to begging local horse owners for the chance to muck out their stables in exchange for a pony ride. That was it; no music lessons, no extra maths, no ballet, or exotic foreign language, no drama classes or judo sessions.
Did my parents feel bad about failing to help me live up to my potential? I doubt it. When I was young the normal school times were considered quite enough time to take out of a child's day for learning.
As soon as that final bell rang my time was my own. I could waste it playing out fantasies of becoming a top show jumper by building and leaping over intricate jumps in the garden, or riding my bike with my friends, or even, dare I say it, watching TV.
By today's standards such a childhood bereft of organised after school activities would be considered deprived. Surely without afternoons and weekends crammed with Kumon maths, Mandarin and violin lessons I was destined to fail? Actually despite such neglect I got a good degree, prestigious post-graduate qualifications and have had an unbroken career as a writer.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to the lack of extras in my childhood rather than despite of them, because I firmly believe that most extra curricular activities are a waste of time. It's not just a personal opinion either as a recent US study found that too many out of school activities are more likely to harm than help your child's educational prospects.
I believe that by leaving me to my own devices my parents allowed me to develop my imagination, to discover my own passions rather than having them determined by the selection of classes on offer in my local area and to have the time and space for much needed rest and relaxation after school.
This type of down-time is what is lost in the constant round of classes and clubs that fill most modern children's over-timetabled after school hours. I include my own sons in that group as I am as guilty as the next mother of signing up my offspring for a plethora of activities.
I blame peer pressure for my inability to stick to my principles, as it is hard to be the only mother in the class who can't boast of all the extra skills her children is picking up. It seems as if from the moment you sign up for that first baby massage or Gymboree class it ignites intense competition over whose baby is building the best CV.
My boys do music classes, piano lessons, yoga, judo, football and ballet and while they love most of these activities, they are frequently exhausted by their hectic schedule. I have often guiltily closed my eyes to the yawns from the back seat as I ferry them to an evening class, reasoning that they will enjoy it once they get started.
But should a five-year-old really have to muster the energy for martial arts after a hard day at school?
Also even if my boys do enjoy their extra curricular activities, I certainly don't. According to recent research, working mums like me usually only spend around an hour a day with our children and I for one don't want to spend those precious minutes taxiing them to and from classes.
I hate the fact that every Saturday I have to leap out of bed at an ungodly hour to fling my son into the car and race to a ballet class, while my husband is left at home to wrestle our other son into his football kit, ready to dash out of the door as soon as we arrive home. By the time they get home the day is almost spent and our weekend has been decimated by activities.
I think the time has come to put my money where my mouth is, instead of into the pockets of those providers of after school classes, and cancel the lot of them for all our sakes.
Do your children have extracurricular activities?
Have you signed your children up for classes, then realised they're exhausted and you're stressed?
Do you think some activities can be beneficial? Tell us what you think..
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