I get it.  The pressure.  The guilt.  Little Suzy up the street is in dance class, on the soccer team, taking a course on scuba diving, and underwater basket weaving.  And her brother, Sammy, is on 2 traveling baseball teams.  Meanwhile your poor kid is only taking a once-a-week dance class.  She wants to do more, but you just can’t make it happen.  It’s either out of reach financially – kid’s classes are not cheap – or you just don’t have the time to shuttle her around every day of the week.

Let me tell you, it’s okay.

Your kids don’t need to be in every activity and class they show a passing interest in.  At some time or another Miss O has been completely consumed with drawing, painting, building things, detective work, cooking, dance, soccer, swimming, space camp, gymnastics, ice skating, running, and a whole bunch of other things I’m forgetting.  If we signed her up for every lesson or team she showed interest in, we’d go broke and be even more exhasu\\usted than we already are.

It’s okay to say no

Really.  It’s good for your kids to hear the word no.  And you don’t owe them an explanation either.  Sometimes grown ups say no and that’s just the way it is.  But if you want to explain it, go for it.  Make it a teachable moment.

Money.  If the issue is one of finances, you can use this time to talk about money.  Kids should know that there’s only so much money to go around, and that each family has to decide where to send its money.  If karate lessons aren’t where you want your hard-earned money to go, that’s up to you.  Living within our means and saving for the future are traits I’d like to pass on to my daughter, so why not start now?

Time.  Just like money, there’s only so much to go around.  I’ll use myself as an example here.  I teach full-time, run this blog, and am an independent Pampered Chef consultant (shameless plug).  My days are pretty full, and Wednesdays (dance class days) are exhausting.  Knowing my limit makes me happier, more involved mom because I’m not wiped out all the time.

Unstructured time is good for them

In fact, it’s a necessary part of their development.  Remember your own childhood?  My parents used to tell us to go outside… that’s it.  No instructions, no pre-planned activities.  It was the best!  My sister and I would entertain ourselves with what we had, and now that we’re grown we’re both very resourceful and good at managing ourselves and our time.

Play, especially unstructured play, is good for brain development.  Research suggests it actually changes the neurons in the brain, making kids more open to learning life skills, social skills, and even academics.  Have you ever watched kids play on the playground.  I mean, just play.  No adult intervention, no one giving instructions, no one making sure that everyone is having an equal amount of fun.  It’s truly amazing what they can do.

By sticking kids in activities every day of the week – to keep them “busy” – we take away their time for free play.

It’s okay for kids to be bored

They’re the words every parent dreads.  “I’m bored,” strikes fear into the heart of men (and women).  A bored kid can get into all sorts of trouble.  But they can also come up with things you never would have thought of.

If necessity is the mother of all inventions, then boredom is the mother of creativity.  These are words (paraphrased) from my friend Rachel’s blog post on why she wants her kids to be bored, and they’re soooo true.  When we were kids our parents didn’t bring a bag full of toys when we went out to eat.  So my sister and I built houses out of the sugar packets, or folded our napkins into odd shapes.  We were creative.

Give your kids a chance to be creative.  And not in a, “You can paint this flower any color you want,” way, but rather in a, “life is a blank canvas,” way.

It might take some getting used to if you’re a family on the go, but giving your kids to engage in free play will be something you never regret.  So don’t feel bad if you can’t or won’t sign your kids up for every team or class that comes along.  They’re going to be fine.  In fact, they’ll be better than fine.  They’ll be creative!