Paradise and Parenting: Extra Curricular Overload

September is an interesting month of dichotomies in our family, as it is for many families living in Puerto Vallarta or any town which relies on tourism as a major economic resource. On the one hand, it is Septhambre, which means to the locals “hungry September”, because the tourist economy hits a low point when everyone goes home for the start of school. We all tighten our belts and Google recipes with the search heading “50 ways to make rice and beans”.

On the other hand, all of our children have also started school, which means it’s one of the priciest times of year to be a parent. You spend and spend and spend just to get those kids back in a classroom with enough supplies to succeed, or at least to not make you look bad. There are uniforms, backpacks, lunchbags, notebooks, lab coats (Lans department store!) other books, more books and probably a piece of technology or two (because we are in exciting, 21st century times, and exciting is going to set you back at least 7,000 pesos).

One of the other pricey things about September is the beginning of after school activities. I know many parents who want their children involved in after school activities. My husband Gilberto is an after school music teacher at the American School, and he always has a full class load. They want this for a few different reasons:

So they don’t have to worry they are playing too many video games

So their children are able to find out what their passions are and thus become interesting people with whom they wouldn’t mind living in their old age

So their kids can learn about the joys of a healthy, physically fit lifestyle

So they go to sleep without twenty stories and sixteen glasses of water

Search your heart and your soul, people. While all of these reasons have merit, you need to be careful about overloading children with too many after school activities.

I’ll tell you why. First of all it’s because for anyone to live their best life, they need sleep.  Kids need more than most. The  HYPERLINK “http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=6326” American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children between ages three to five need ten to thirteen hours of sleep, and  kids up to age twelve need nine to twelve hours. After the age of twelve, your teen will need eight to ten hours per night. If after school activities are interfering with these numbers on a daily basis, it might be good to cut down a bit.

Secondly, if your child is younger than twelve, they need some time to play each and every day. And by play I don’t mean play a game of organized soccer. That’s good too, but kids need to have that unstructured time to just kick back and build, or draw, or make you soup out of twigs and bugs (you don’t have to really eat it though). You will probably say, “But they just say they’re bored!” Yes! I hope they do! Because when they’re bored, they’ll be pushed to solve that problem ALL BY THEMSELVES. Boredom is your friend. Give it a hug and bring a bunch of old boxes home from the grocery store.

Older children need time to do absolutely nothing, whether “nothing” refers to laying on their bed checking their Snapchat messages or kicking a ball around. They have a full time job all day at school, they need that down time.

Thirdly, if you never sit down as a family to eat, then you may want to rethink the schedule a bit. Sure, it may be impossible to do that every single day, but if it never happens, you might have to cancel archery class this semester so that it can.

My kids normally have two after school activities each. We requested that they choose one instrument and one sport. We are flexible about that. For example, my son started a German class after school. That and taekwondo might be our limit, but we’ll let our teenager play it by ear for awhile. My daughter sings and takes swimming classes because she’s pretty great at both.

Of course, it’s your family and you know what works for all of you. Just remember what you promised yourselves when you pulled up stakes and moved to the  beach. Remember it was all about the quality of life you desired for your family. And then make sure that’s what happens.

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