Back-to-School 101: Balancing extracurriculars with academics - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Back-to-School 101: Balancing extracurriculars with academics

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It is a busy night for the Vincents in Shelburne: dinner, homework and four kids. And this is the family's night off.

"So, we can have dinner and get caught up on what going on in their life," mom Nicole said.

It is the one night during the week without soccer, music or other extracurriculars.

Daughter Courtney sings and plays soccer year-round. The sixth-grader loves defense.

"It's the last line of defense that the player has to get by to score," Courtney explained.

"It definitely requires lots of planning ahead," Nicole said.

Keeping things on track means a full evening schedule for everyone in the family. But Jason and Nicole say it's worth it.

"I feel it's getting them out from the TV room, off their phones, stop texting and getting them exercise," Nicole said.

"Scheduled activities can teach kids perseverance, teach them to follow rules, can teach them how to get along with other kids in many ways," said Julie Erdelyi, an education and communication expert with the Stern Center for Language and Learning.

Erdelyi says getting kids active and involved outside the classroom helps kids throughout their development. But she says there can be too much of a good thing. Even enthusiastic kids can suffer from overscheduling.

"If the structured activities completely take over and eliminate any time for unstructured free play, downtime, especially for young kids growing up, they're losing the benefit of having to solve problems that come up that don't have a coach nearby or don't have rules to govern," Erdelyi explained.

She says teachers are seeing a shift in their classes to kids less able to handle changing situations on their own. Experts believe technology could be fueling some of that, but they think that a shrinking amount of free time could also play a role.

"I hear from teachers over and over again there's a difference in kids today versus kids they may have had 10 or 15 years ago, where there's sort of a diminished capacity for some of this spontaneous problem-solving, some of the communication skills, some of the self-regulation skills," Erdelyi said.

She says parents know their kids better than anyone and are the best judges of when a schedule is just too much.

Look out for increased tantrums in young kids or acting out in teens. A sudden lack of enthusiasm in a favorite activity can be a sign of fatigue. And if a child says he or she does not want to go to an activity any more-- listen and find out why.

Finding the right balance for each child is key. For the Vincents, the busy schedule is working with happy, enthusiastic kids.

"We've definitely said if their grades slip or they're not getting good grades, then something has to give," Nicole said. "And also if they complain about going to practice, or they say, 'I don't want to do that,' or we see them getting overtired or just being cranky kids, we'd just be like-- enough."

Experts say parents also need to make sure THEY do not get overwhelmed by keeping up with their kids' schedules. If you're stressed and overtired, it can impact your kids.

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