David's Blog | The Simple Math of Extra, Extra Activities
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There is only one success--to be able to spend your life in your own way.-Christopher Morley
The Simple Math of Extra, Extra Activities
By David
Posted November 17, 2009

There is a saying I enjoy: You can't fit a two-pound salami into a one-pound bag. For some reason, the imagery always makes me smile. The saying means that if something just doesn't fit, no matter how hard you try, you will not succeed in forcing it to fit beyond a certain point. This is true not only with physical objects, but with time, as well – a lesson that so many parents learn. I'll explain...

For the last few decades, it's become fashionable for parents to pick up their kids from school, then whisk them away to all kinds of extra activities, from baseball and soccer leagues, to piano and dance lessons, and the list goes on and on. If you think about it, there are so many worthwhile skills that children can really benefit by learning. Team sports help build cooperative skills, discipline and fitness. Learning the arts helps foster creativity, self-confidence, and so many other important attributes. It's all good. Really, it is. Except for one small thing: There's a whole other list of after-school activities, such as homework, dinner, more homework, baths, reading, more homework, and catching up on what happened to the children each day. Not to mention down-time. A little piece of the evening during which nothing is required of the child.

So, let's do some simple math. When children get home from school, they're ready for a small snack. That's easily 15-20 minutes to prepare, serve, and be eaten. Then there's homework. By third grade, it's a two-hour ordeal on a good night, a 2.5-3-hour ordeal on a bad night, considering general studies and Hebrew subjects, as well as a torturous amount of “special” projects.

Somewhere in there comes dinner. That's another minimum of 30-45 minute affair, including preparation, eating, and cleanup. This is often sandwiched between homework sessions.

Baths or showers take somewhere around 30 minutes, maybe more. At that point, isn't the child entitled to 30 minutes of relaxation time before heading to bed? I think so. And, then comes the time of the evening for time spent with the child. This may include reading a story and discussing what happened that day. That's another 20-30 minutes... per child. And let's not even count the time spent preparing for the next school day: Outfits need to be chosen, lunches and snacks need to be assembled and packed, and backpacks need to be inspected to make sure that no unpleasant surprises lurk in them.

It Doesn
It Doesn't Add Up

I did mention doing some simple math, and now would be a good time to do it: .25 + 2.5 + .75 + .5 + .5 = 4.5, but let's even call it 4 hours of time required by the most basic of school requirements, not including preparation for the next day.

Still with me?

Okay, so now let's look at those extra, EXTRA activities, like sports and arts. There is no way those could be accomplished in less than two hours, door-to-door.

So where does one come up with 4-6 hours to dedicate to all these activities? Well, there's only one way to defy the laws of physics to fit the six-hour childcare salami into the 3-4-hours remaining in the day, and that's to extend the day into the night. Bye-bye reasonable bedtime and hello too-tired-to-function-normally-the-next-day kids.

I dunno about you, my dear friends and fellow-parents, but having had the distinct pleasure of dealing with over-tired children, I've learned that there will be hell to pay by all involved.
Yet, so many parents push the envelope with those extra activities. So many in fact, that we decided to enroll our children in such programs this year, mostly out of guilt that our children were the only ones previously not signed up for those. Oh, those poor, deprived kids... So now they're no longer deprived. Now, they're just as over-scheduled as all their classmates, leaving me with just two questions: 1) Has the world gone completely mad? And... 2) Where's the nearest pillow?

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