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Over-Programmed? Why My Kid is Taking a Break from After-School Activities

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By Wendy Widom

CHICAGO (CBS) — I am doing something revolutionary with my daughter at the beginning of this new school year and that is… nothing. She is about to enter second grade and, at least for now, has not one after-school activity lined up. No soccer, gymnastics, guitar, religion or French conversation class. My kid’s foreseeable future will be filled with school, homework, age appropriate chores and play. That’s about it.

I state this with more confidence than I’m feeling, especially after watching the Jackie Robinson West All Stars advance to their third game in the Little League World Series. In the last week, their triumphs and disappointments have transported me back to my younger days of dance recitals, gymnastics meets and basketball games. Through athletics, I learned how to be humble when winning and graceful when the inevitable losses came along. During the more turbulent times of my childhood, sports were my anchor.

The decision to not enroll my daughter in after-school activities is a tough one. Part of me wants her to experience team camaraderie, especially since she’s an only. But the cost seems too high. Weighed down with heavily padded academic days and homework, she already has little time to be a kid, free of competition, rules and an adult telling her what to do. At seven, she already feels pressure to perform well academically. She needs a break.

But then I watch Jackie Robinson West’s ascent in Williamsport and know my daughter is missing out on something extraordinary. Even for young players who don’t make it to the Little League World Series or another sport’s equivalent, athletics teach mental and physical discipline and fortitude. They instill in children an understanding that losing is part of life. Sports bring about lifelong friendships and a healthy respect for authority. Sports teach us that there is no such thing as “I can’t.”

Yet despite all this, my mama’s instinct is telling me that my kid needs some downtime after school. She needs to be so bored that she watches two raindrops chase each other down a windowpane to see which gets to the bottom first. Perhaps in the future her afternoons will be filled with track, Latin, stamp collecting, debate team, violin lessons and so on. But for now, my kiddo gets to come home, read a book or feed the ducklings in the lake outside our place. After her homework is done, she gets to create fluffy makeshift beds for her stuffed animals out of the cotton balls she discovered under the bathroom sink.

Will this choice ultimately be the best one for her? Like much of my parenting experience, the answer is I don’t know. The guilt is there. The worry that she’s missing out is there. But for now, not having an over-programmed kid or family feels right for her – and for us.

In the meantime, like the rest of Chicago, we will be proudly cheering for Jackie Robinson West today. These awesome boys, their coaches and their families remind us that sports can be a glorious experience, whether you’re on the field or cheering wildly from the sidelines.

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