Children playing freely

Guest Post by Karen Trefzger of Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and purchase something, I may earn a small fee from the said company/manufacturer/seller or individual, from who you make the purchase.

I guess it’s no surprise that our children are becoming super busy, since most adults today are extremely busy and proud of it. We believe that busyness is a mark of talent and importance. And while we think that all of this activity brings fulfillment and success, too often the result is an inability to listen, to observe, to pay attention, to reflect, to imagine, to care about others, to entertain ourselves, or to properly rest. 

The conventional wisdom is that we must multi-task, we must be on the go, we must push to have a valuable life. We teach our children that they must do the same – reach for the proverbial stars or be doomed to a second-rate existence. We use social media to advertise our successes, making sure our activities, achievements, vacations, and celebrations will be envy-worthy. What a false and dangerous pursuit. As a result, we are all anxious, acquisitive, insecure, and unsatisfied. 

Do yourself and your family a huge favor – resist the pressure to let your schedule become non- stop hectic. 

A minimalist lifestyle can really help. You might think that minimalism is all about clearing the clutter, but it impacts much more than your physical space. Decluttering helps you choose the things that are most important to you, and you can apply that to your schedule as well. Limiting your commitments and your child’s commitments not only reduces stress, it also lets you focus on the activities you truly value. 

By setting limits, you give yourself and your child the space to fully engage in your chosen activities. 

The fear that you or your child will miss out on something is understandable, but ultimately damaging. Of course you will miss out. Your time and energy are finite, and so you cannot do everything. 

But when you let FOMO drive your family schedule, it leads to burnout. Such a blur of activity is more stressful and tiring than most children can handle, and it certainly adds stress to parents’ lives as well. It’s the very definition of a rat race. 

Learning requires energy and focus. It takes practice to become proficient at any skill, whether it’s reading, writing, sports, music, baking, sewing, handling tools, learning to drive, or any other endeavor. Only regular practice brings improvement. 

A child involved in a different after-school activity every day of the week has no time to focus on acquiring skill in any activity. 

It’s hard to become really competent at anything if your family schedule is too rushed and cluttered. This level of busyness also means that homework and family time have to be squeezed into the evening schedule, which makes it tempting to skim over these most important components of a child’s life, or to short-change sleep instead. 

Your child will feel so much more secure and capable if she is allowed a choice of one or, at most, two extra-curricular activities per season. She’ll have a chance to look forward to the days when these activities take place, rather than being on the run every day. Read this post, if you want guidance on how to decide whether piano lessons are right for your kids. 

But even one activity might be too much if it crowds out everything else. 

Competitive teams that require a huge time commitment and a lot of travel might essentially destroy family life, or cause it to revolve too much around one child and his team. Watching your child play soccer or volleyball is no substitute for time spent talking, listening, playing, and building memories together. Do you really want all family memories to center on the activities of one team, or would you rather remember good times that include sports along with inside sayings and jokes, holiday traditions, friends and relatives, camping and other trips, making things together, volunteering together, worshiping together? 

You may have heard that repetitive stress injuries are becoming more common in overworked young athletes. Apparently, even over-zealous music practice can sometimes cause similar problems, as it did for a 15-year-old cellist recently featured on NPR’s From the Top. So it’s important to take breaks from organized activities. The athlete can still enjoy lower-impact options like biking, hiking, and swimming in a non-competitive situation; the musician can listen to recordings and attend concerts. Both should occasionally participate in something unrelated to music or sports. 

Sometimes our egos are tied up with how well our children perform, and the pressure to compete and succeed is really coming from us. We may be (consciously or not) sending the message that quitting isn’t allowed and that failure is not an option. 

But real success comes from learning how to deal with failure. Real success comes from improving your skills whether you compete or not. Real confidence blooms when you’re allowed to experiment and find what your interests and talents actually are without pressure to succeed in a certain area or to be “brilliant” at anything. 

Childhood is short and marked by constant growth and change. So if a child doesn’t enjoy one sport, she should be free to quit and try another; if she doesn’t like playing one instrument, she should be able to pick up a different one, or to explore dance or theater or cooking or small engine repair. Such freedom of choice does not teach your child to be a “quitter.” It allows her to start to understand herself, to discern what matters to her, and to use her time, talents, and energy wisely. 

Those afternoons which are not filled with planned activities (and there need to be some) allow more time for your child to finish his homework without rushing. They allow time for freely choosing reading, drawing, and other creative pursuits. They allow time for him to ride his bike, climb trees, or play tag with neighbor children, providing some relaxed exercise and fresh air. They allow time for games and other activities with siblings, something that can otherwise become extremely rare as each child matures, makes their own friends, and develops their own interests. 

Free time allows your child to be self-directed, something lacking in all of the adult-led planned activities. 

If you want your child to be able to create her own entertainment and be happy in her own company, there needs to be a balance between free and organized pastimes. 

In fact, it is the freely-chosen activities that will more likely inspire lifelong participation, and that will bring much more happiness and satisfaction to your child than any number of dust- catching trophies. 

Karen Trefzger is a writer, credentialed teacher, former opera singer, mother, and grandmother who homeschooled her children from birth until they went to college. Karen is the author of several books about minimalism and blogs at Maximum Gratitude Minimal Stuff.

Karen Cadera

Karen Cadera


Mom, Teacher, Minimalist, Zero Waste Enthusiast, Multi Pod.

My daughter loved the games, but there were also worksheets and videos. The weekly lesson plans were complete, and I never questioned what I should be doing next.

Lisa Tanner

Homeschool Mom

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