07/10/2014 13:25 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

After School Activities And Why I've Banned Them

Outdor action shot of a little girl in pink doing a cartwheel with motion in her legs

Our week of after school activities used to look something like this: Monday - football (oldest child); Tuesday - this would usually involve a (groan) play date as it was the only free day; Wednesday - swimming (oldest child);Thursday - gymnastics (middle child); Friday - swimming (middle child) followed by a fraught, wet-haired journey to the other side of town for gymnastics (oldest child.)

My main facial expression was one of harassment and the words I was most likely to utter between the hours of 3.30pm and 6pm were: ''Hurry up, we're late.'' As for the baby, she just got ferried from one car park to another with a box of raisins and a dog-eared copy of 'Where's Spot?'

Yet our schedule was nothing compared to the extra curricular activities many children had to cope with: cookery (don't you have a kitchen?) French (really? Your child really wants to learn another language on top of spelling tests, SATS, learning to read and just going to school?) Tae Kwon Do (seriously, what's the point?) trampolining (just stick one in the garden) not to mention the obligatory ballet/ball skills and all those 'X Factor contestant-in-the-making' clubs, combined with recorder/ukulele/piano (just pass the ear-plugs.)

I shudder to think how many hours I've sat on damp, slat-deficient benches outside swimming pools, or shivered on the edge of a drizzling football pitch waiting for someone to blow the final whistle.


And I don't even want to weigh up how much it all cost to get my kids spluttering across the pool or turning shaky cartwheels in the gym. The amount I've spent they should be swimming the bloody Channel by now or walking on their hands to school.


I can't deny, the day I watched my son stand on the podium and collect a silver medal for gymnastics, I had to dab my eyes with a baby wipe. (Don't worry, that's not a stealth boast - there were only four in his category.) But I was still proud.

Yet apart from the occasional misty-eyed moment, after school activities were generally a massive, time-consuming, debt-enhancing, mood-depreciating exercise in stress-management. An exercise I usually failed.

I remember at the aforementioned gymnastics competition, crouching down to capture my beaming son with a click of the iphone, only for another mother to barge right in front of me, wielding a zoom lens the size of a baguette, ensuring I got nothing more than a snap of her Boden arse.

I'm surprised she didn't actually shove my son off the stand while she was at it, such is the cut-throat nature of perfection-hungry parents.

It's this parent-driven frenzy, this quest to keep up with the Jacks and Amelias, as they shunt their offspring from one class to the next, stopping only to post a few winning pictures on Facebook, that seems to be behind every over-scheduled kid.

It's as if these parents are living their thwarted dreams through their children, or perhaps providing them with opportunities they feel they were denied, in the search for vicarious success.

Admittedly, it can be hard to step back and renounce the peer pressure. I confess, my son had never shown a huge interest in football, but I signed him up because I felt like I should and because I didn't want either of us to feel he was missing out, regardless of whether he really wanted to spend Monday evenings after a long day at school getting kicked in the shins.

At three years old, I questioned the benefit of gymnastics for my daughter, but I paid up anyway just in case she was the next Beth Tweddle. A few hundred quid later, I doubt it. Does she care? I doubt it.

So this term we are not doing a single after school activity. That's right, NOT ONE, not even swimming, which I know is more of a life (saving) skill than an activity, but anyway, even that's on hold for now.

This is partly due to moving house. With a new area and new schools to get used to, the idea of new clubs just felt a bit too much. But I also felt like we - me and the kids - needed a break. A break from rushing around. A break from living up to other people's schedules. We needed to spend more time chilling, going to the park, chatting, or just being a family.


There's a fine line between building a child's self-esteem because they enjoy an activity and do well at it, and putting them under pressure to be The Best at that activity. Just like there's a fine line between children who are stimulated, happy and engaged and those who are just dog-tired, stressed-out and irritable.


As adults we constantly complain about feeling under pressure, so why subject our children to the same? Why push them to the brink of their childhood and beyond, when they'd probably be happier playing Hide and Seek?

We will take up activities again in the future when we're settled, but there will be less of them and they will be more child-led. If my kids want to do an activity or sport then great, I'll support and encourage them for as long as they enjoy it.

If not, we'll just ride a bike, read a book or spend some time together instead of stuck in the car hurtling, like greyhounds, from one place to the next, in pursuit of a rabbit that doesn't really exist.

And breathe.

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