When it comes to extracurricular activities, how much is too much?

It’s a question lots of parents struggle with: How much is too much when it comes to extracurricular activities? Of course, there are days when the drive from soccer practice to karate to Hebrew school is enough to make any parent ready to cancel all the after-school appointments, especially when you’re eating dinner in the car yet again. But the structure, enrichment, socialization and skill development your daughter gets from those activities can help encourage healthy growth and make her more well-rounded. So where do you draw the line?

Child psychologist Dr. Janet Taylor recommends looking at your family’s schedule and then reducing commitments and activities by 10 percent.

“Overscheduled children bear the burden of stressed-out families,” Dr. Taylor writes. “After five hours of extracurricular activities, the benefit for children is lessened. Add in downtime.”

Overscheduled kids can end up stretched too thin to perform well in school and other pursuits, but living on the go doesn’t just take its toll on children. There can be negative consequences for parents, too. From the Huffington Post:

“We have a generation of mothers and fathers who want to be all things to all people,” said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, who specializes in adolescent medicine and behavioral issues at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “They are willing to do so much self-sacrificing for their child.”

Sound like you? Then it might be time to reevaluate what you’re booking this season. Now, no one is suggesting you become a selfish parent and refuse to shuttle your kids back and forth to their favorite activities. But, Ginsburg said, “There’s nothing more important for your child than for you to be doing well yourself.”

According to a 2011 New York Times article, having a warm, loving family life is as important to children’s development as all those enriching activities. If parents are stressed out over the time, money and energy that go into the extracurriculars, that takes a toll on that valuable family time.

From the New York Times article:

On a recent National Public Radio programSteven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, said he and another economist could find no evidence that that sort of parental choices could be correlated at all with academic success.

“And my guess is,” he went on, “that when it comes to the happiness of kids, that kind of cramming has got to be negatively correlated. Being rushed from one event to the other is just not the way most kids want to live their lives, at least not my kid.”

So how do you strike a good balance between keeping your children active and stressing them out? The answer is sitting right across from you at the dinner table (or eating dinner in the backseat, depending on what’s on the schedule this evening). Keep an eye on your daughter’s moods. Read her body language when it’s time for ballet, lacrosse or Girl Scouts. And most importantly, ask her what she wants to do. Not only may her answers surprise you; she may learn something about herself as she decides. According to Dr. Taylor, “The process can help them think about what they like and provide an opportunity to discuss commitments, demands and expectations.”

Giving Back is a Year-Round Activity

Halloween is over and the holidays are on their way, and now is the time of year when we start to think about celebrating with friends and family. It’s also a time of year when many families take time to give back to those less fortunate.

At Bryn Mawr, we have always emphasized the importance of sharing with those who may have less than we do. Generally, our campers are fortunate enough to come from homes where they have loving parents, regular meals, a roof over their heads, and in many cases, opportunities and advantages that not all children have. At camp, we make an effort to promote a sense of generosity among our campers, and we have provided a number of opportunities over the years for campers to help make a difference in the lives of others by volunteering and raising money for charity. This summer, we were proud to be part of the American Camp Association initiative Making a Difference: Celebrating 150 Years of the Camp Experience Through Community Service. Campers participated by making cards for soldiers overseas, making toys for a staff member’s children who recently lost his house to an electrical fire and swam laps for Project Morry.

Of course, for more than a decade now, one of our most popular community service initiatives at Bryn Mawr has been our support of Morry’s Camp (please see our previous blog called Making A Difference: Camp and Communality Service), a program inspired by Dan’s mentor, the late Morry Stein, who believed in the importance of a quality summer camp experience for all young people. Our campers have swum hundreds of thousands of laps and raised more than $110,000 to support Morry’s Camp, and many of our Bunk 1 campers and Leaders in Training have had the opportunity to visit Morry’s Camp in person and participate in the good work that’s done there. Later this month, we will attend the 15th Annual Morry’s Camp Autumn Elegance Gala at Chelsea Piers in New York, an event that benefits Morry’s Camp and its year round programs for disadvantaged youth. If you’d like to join us in celebrating 15 years of summer fun for all, you can find ticket information at www.projectmorry.org.

Of course, Morry’s Camp is just one of many organizations doing good in the world, and there are many ways you and your family can give back to your community all year round. Check with your temple or church to find out what family volunteer opportunities are available, or call your local food bank to see if your family can sign up for a shift helping in the pantry. If your children love animals, consider volunteering at or collecting donations for the local animal shelter, or volunteer to foster a puppy that will go on to The Seeing Eye or therapy dog training.  There are websites that can connect you with volunteer opportunities as well, such as VolunteerMatch.org and VolunteerNewJersey.org. Volunteering with your kids is a great way to model generous behavior and show them that giving back can be fun!

Making a Difference: Camp and Community Service

Everybody knows camp is a great experience for the kids who get to go — they learn new things, make new friends, and have great adventures. But we think camp can be more than a fantastic place for campers. It can also be a place where they learn how to give back and make the world a little bit better for other people.

Community service is an experience more and more camps are incorporating into their programming. The parents we’ve talked to say they like knowing that they’re sending their children to a place where not only are they going to get a great personal experience, but they’re going to learn that giving back can feel just as good as getting. Dan (along with many of his fellow campers and, later, counselors) learned this lesson as a young man from his own camp director, Morry Stein of Camp Echo Lake. When Morry died unexpectedly in a 1994 plane crash, Project Morry (formerly Morry’s Camp) was founded to honor his vision of providing a quality summer camp experience to all children. Since 2003, Bryn Mawr campers have been swimming sponsored laps to raise money to support Morry’s Camp. Over the years our campers have raised more than $110,000, and all of our Bunk 1 campers have had the opportunity to visit Morry’s Camp, get to know the campers and see firsthand the good work that is done there for young people who don’t have the same advantages afforded many of our Bryn Mawr Campers.

This year, for the first time, the American Camp Association is organizing a coordinated volunteer effort among member camps through an initiative called Making a Difference: Celebrating 150 Years of the Camp Experience through Community Service. This summer is the 150th anniversary of the first summer camp opening in the United States, and to mark the occasion, many ACA camps will be participating in a week dedicated to community service, July 17-23. Camps across the country — even as far away as Alaska! — will be sharing the positive impact of summer camp by taking part in projects to benefit their communities (local, regional, national and international). The ACA says:

“By participating in this week of community service, camps will honor and celebrate 150 years of ‘paying it forward.’ When we teach children and youth to contribute to the world around them, we are fostering personal growth and development. And with over 60 percent of parents reporting that their child continues to participate in activities learned at camp, you can plant the seeds that grow into a lifetime of service to communities… one child at a time.”

Camps are planning projects that include assisting with Habitat for Humanity home construction, assisting at events in communities near their camps, visiting retirement homes, restoring local trails, inviting underprivileged children to participate in camp special events, and fundraising for causes like Morry’s Camp.  More on our specific projects in the Spring Poplar Post newsletter.

We’re excited to be part of a project that will not only get campers out into their local communities and serve as an example of the positive impact of summer camp, but will give all our campers the opportunity to feel like part of something bigger than themselves and show them how great it can feel to help others — at camp, at home, and throughout their lives!