This morning, as I was taking my 8-year-old daughter Noff to school, I told her, “Today is a very short day. I will pick you up at 3”. As I said it, I realized it was funny how leaving home at 8:15am and being picked up at 3pm qualifies as a short day.
You see, in Australia, “normal” kids study 5 days a week from 9am to 3pm, but for our family, this is a very short (and rare) day. Our kids are very busy. They have so many extra-curricular activities they hardly ever have a regular day like everyone else. Even between 9am and 3pm, while they are at school, their days are full of things most kids do not do.
Our 14-year-old son Tsoof starts 3 days a week somewhere around 7:15am. 4 times a week, he finishes around 4:45pm and twice a week, his lunch breaks are taken over by guitar lessons and rehearsals for Choir or Brass Ensemble.
Our 8-year-old daughter Noff starts at 9am nearly every day, but 3 times a week, she finishes between 4pm and 5pm. One day a week, she also sings in a choir in the afternoon and gets back home at 6:45pm. Twice a week, her lunch break is taken over by Dance and Choir rehearsals.
Today, however, all of my kids’ afternoon activities were canceled.
You are probably saying to yourself, “Poor busy kids”, right!?
Well, I say that too sometimes (although mainly I say “Poor me” for having to juggle getting up early in the morning, even in the darkest days of winter, and to work a busy dropping off and picking up schedule. I am just lucky I can share it with Gal).
It is scary to look at them being so busy, but you know what? They are so happy that it makes me doubt my perception of busy kids.
Every time they commit to a new activity, they only want to know if we will pay for it and if it will fit into our schedule. They never ask themselves if they can survive so many activities or if they will have time to practice at home. Surprise, surprise, with their busy schedule, they still find time to have friends, excel in their schooling and do really well at all their extra activities.
Gal and I have had to come up with some rules to ensure our kids remained “happy busy kids” and do not become “poor busy kids”. We have told them they could take any extra activity they wanted (unless it was way overpriced) if they followed these rules:
- Extra activity may not interfere with their academic performance. To keep their options open in life, they need to do well at school.
- If they commit to an activity, they must do it for a whole term. The idea is for them to fully enjoy the activity and get the most out of it while they are at it. Also, starting anything new involves some degree of apprehension and requires adjustment. Once those are gone, the kids can choose whether to stay with that activity or not.
Noff wanted to join the Australian Girls Choir and half way into the term, she wanted to stop. We told her she had to finish the term, whether she liked it or not, but it gave us an indication that she was not happy with this activity. 4 weeks to go and she is out.
- Activities may not interfere with their sleeping on a regular basis. Bedtime is around 8pm and only occasional late nights are OK. If they are too tired, it would be a sign they have overcommitted.
- Every activity must match our values. For example, Tsoof was 6 years old when he and Gal performed with an adult African drumming group at a famous club in Brisbane (Tsoof was so talented only the advanced group was suitable for his drumming level). Being a minor, every time he performed, he had to stay backstage, away from where people drank alcohol. But backstage were all the performers, who drank and smoked weed. Gal and I decided he would not perform with them anymore, because the advantage of a good level of drumming was outweighed by the disadvantage of being exposed to drugs and alcohol at the age of 6.
Once, I made an agreement with my kids that if they attended school every day without taking “sick leave”, they would be allowed to pick one day each term do whatever they wanted that day (this usually meant some Mommy-child bonding time and prevented them from being sick).
However, at the end of each term, I say, “Tsoof, the end of term is coming. Would you like to choose a day off?”
Tsoof starts very excited, “Yes! Sure! Um, let’s see when … Monday’s no good – I have guitar. Tuesday’s no good – I have Drama rehearsal for the festival. On Wednesday, I have Percussion Ensemble and we’re playing a new piece, so that’s not a good day. On Thursday we’re finishing our video production in Media and Friday is no good either, because I have Choir in the afternoon and I have a solo…”
My “poor” busy kids are so busy they cannot afford a day off school.
Wishing you busy kids like mine,