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Thoughts on the Underscheduled Child

Thoughts on the Underscheduled Child

By Kristen Chase

I’m not sure how I’ve avoided the siren call of extracurricular activities for so long.

Perhaps it’s that my ears have been plugged with memories of my own overscheduled past. Karate, drama, violin, ballet, tennis. Every week day schlepped, albeit happily, to something else.

Or the fear of my plate overflowing, as I’m just barely managing my son’s once weekly hockey practices and games.

And art therapy.

Though, I’m not sure I would count therapy as an activity because then it would be a whole helluva lot cheaper. But hey, there is art involved.

Whatever the cause, the result is that my kids come home from school, do their homework and then play or read or create gigantic messes with glue and cut paper. They hover over gadgets and watch television too. Sometimes at the same time.

I don’t think about it much until the change of seasons, when kids in the neighborhood pack up early for playdates of soccer or softball, ballet lessons or gymnastics and mine are left, again, to their own devices.

Literally and figuratively.

There’s certainly never a dull moment in my home, with Lego castles in constant construction mode and Beanie Boo cardboard communes taking over half the playroom. My oldest is an amazing artist and writer, who’s always creating something, whether it’s a Manga book or kid’s wine out of red food coloring and water.

But now with my younger girls getting older, I think it’s fair they be offered the opportunity to try something beyond chalk drawing on the driveway and scooter races.

It’s not for lack of trying, mind you. I’ve signed them up for ballet and gymnastics. There were violin and piano lessons. Baseball and soccer. They all did plenty of camps last summer. Just ask my bank account.

But nothing ever seemed to grab and hold their interest.

And honestly, I was sick of the managing and scheduling and driving, even in small doses.

When I look back at my own experience as a kid, I realize now that the activities game me a good life, a better life than I had at home. They were my savior from what was a sad, difficult childhood. They gave me the reassurance, the praise, the support, the outlet that I was missing from my family.

I actually think it was healthier for me to be dancing for 8 hours a day or playing in an orchestra all weekend long than being at home with my parents.

But my kids, well, they’re content. Happy.

I’ll always continue to offer them the chance to try something new. I might even give them a little nudge in a one direction or another if I think they might thrive in it. And I’m more than happy to encourage them in whatever it is they might choose.

But maybe for now, at least, they’re getting what they need inside their home.


About the Author

Kristen Chase

Kristen Chase is a writer, author, and a single mom of four. It’s as exhausting as it sounds (at least the mom part). Also, awesome.

Kristen is also co-founder of

Kristen Chase is a writer, author, and a single mom of four. It’s as exhausting as it sounds (at least the mom part). Also, awesome.

Kristen is also co-founder of Cool Mom Picks and author of The Mominatrix’s Guide to Sex.


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  • Lilly

    March 18, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    What your kids have sounds idyllic to me! Plenty of time when they are older to run around, and participate in all that stuff! Having several other siblings, it sounds more fun to be home. I have also read of contacting friends or neighbors and maybe scheduling a family soccer game, or basketball games, where all ages are invited. Sounds like so much fun to me!

  • Rita Arens

    March 18, 2015 at 2:25 pm

    I have gone back and forth about this, too. My girl finally found horseback riding last summer, so now she has an activity. She did ballet for a while and gymnastics for a while, but she never really loved either and eventually it became a chore for all of us. Today an activity I had planned for her with a friend (she’s on spring break) fell through and I felt only-child-parent guilt and felt kind of like crying because I worked so hard to line things up this week at places with wifi where I could work, but then she hugged me and dragged out all her Zhu-Zhu stuff from the basement and created an elaborate backstory and I decided I was more worked up about it than she is.

    Ultimately, I’m a thousand times more concerned about her learning to combat boredom in a healthy way and think her thoughts than I am about her playing sportsball or whatever.

  • cmurph

    March 19, 2015 at 12:45 am

    So my boys are young. Oldest will be 3 in June and the youngest a year in may. There isn’t sports for them to do right now, just things to expose them to and they are such outdoorsy type of boys. Getting dirty, putting everything in their mouths, testing the limits. Sometimes it seems all these moms with kids 5 and under mainly 3 and under take their kids somewhere every day and every weekend. The cost add up, it’s not something I can do nor do I want to do because of the stress of going out with such young kids. It makes me feel like I’m not doing it right. Instead we are at home playing with the trains, trucks, bikes, phones, and/or watching the 2 seasons of Jake and the neverland pirates for the—-i’ve lost count. He loves that show so much he cries when we do try to leave the house, it’s what we talk about on the way home. But they are happy. My sons are happy to go in the backyard or happy the I put on Jake and the neverland pirates. I’m glad you posted this, now I know it’s not just me who is happy with just hanging out with my kids at home.

  • Helit Shay

    March 19, 2015 at 3:30 am

    I must add that I understand that you care a lot.Parents today are facing many challenges.I think that you just have to ask if the kids if they have  some kind of hidden passion
    When I do, my boys just say it out loud.

  • Nancy

    March 19, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Thank you for this. My five year old’s friends are all signed up for soccer and karate and gymnastics and cross-country skiing and… well, it feels like EVERYTHING. And my guy is signed up for none of it (though we’re looking into piano lessons.) It’s nice to get some validation that maybe it’s not the end of the world for him not to have a bunch of activities lined up as long as he’s having fun doing what he’s doing.

  • Caroline

    March 19, 2015 at 10:11 am

    There are so many years for all that stuff. So many. Children who LOVE sport or art or whatever it is gravitate to it, and of course should be allowed to give it a good go, but here in South Africa, sport / extra-curricular’s are a given from grade 1 onwards… meaning that before then, with a couple of exceptions (like learning to swim lessons), I haven’t been very het up about getting my 2nd two kids into organised after-school activities. My 5 year old LOVES speech and drama and does that once a week, the 18 month old will learn to swim when he’s 2-2.5, but otherwise, it’s free time that fosters creativity. Boredom in moderate amounts, is healthy! You learn to do things for yourself, amuse and occupy yourself, and that is what’s missing from so many kids today, that ability to just potter. Their lives tend to be so scheduled and packed full of thrilling and stimulating activities, that just knocking about with Lego or hunting for bugs is an alien concept.

  • […] Provocative thoughts on underscheduled children. […]

  • Nikki

    March 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you for writing this. In the over scheduled world we live in, there isn’t much time for play. Play us where the magic happens, where the creativity unfolds. Kids need time to think, create, build, draw, write…..go for a walk and find a frog or snake skin!!