#61 Over-Scheduled Kids Lack These 5 Core Strengths

Aug 24, 2023

Find me a parent who could care less if their child was able to focus and concentrate in class or who scoffs at the idea of their kid having a solid work ethic. I’m sure little to none, right? What parent wouldn't want their child to have less stress and anxiety during the school day? Who wouldn’t want their kids to have the confidence to advocate for their needs in the classroom and to be able to manage their time efficiently? 


Well, one constant response I could always rely on from students was their resistance to ANY work that needed to be finished at home if it wasn’t completed in class.


Now, full disclosure here, I am a proponent for homework and I’ll tie this into overscheduling kids in a moment, but first, hear me out. I’m not in agreement with assigning tons of homework like an unreasonable amount of math problems when 2 or 3 would suffice. Not a written paragraph about the pages read. Nothing kills reading for a kid quicker than having to note the date, the time, and the number of pages read at bedtime. Real readers don’t do this, so it just doesn’t make sense to ask that of kids. Kids don’t see their parents looking at the clock before they sit down to read, and then noting the time and counting pages they’ve read. That’s just silly. That’s not real life. Requiring a kid to do that just creates unnecessary stress for them and their parents. That’s cruel.


I know there are many schools of thought out there about homework and tons of research that support the benefits of having it and not assigning it. And be that as it may, my own unofficial action research over the past 25 years of teaching has made it abundantly clear that kids who take on the responsibility of following up with their lessons at home by reading over their notes from the day because they have the time to do so are much more alert and engaged in the following days’ lessons. 


Kids who show accountability for their learning outside of the classroom and who don’t give excuses for why they can’t get the work done, have less stress and anxiety during the learning process, not to mention have the ability to advocate for their needs, manage their time on task in class, they have highly developed focus and concentration skills, in addition to an overall admirable work ethic.  


These kids will most often be able to answer, “Yes” when asked if they are given chores at home, and that’s never a surprise to hear. From the moment the kids enter the classroom, based on the way they carry themselves, the way they communicate nonverbally, the way they communicate with me and their classmates verbally, I can already tell who has been given responsibilities at home. 


Some kids will look at me quizzically, cock their heads, and question, “Chores?” And it’s no surprise the way these kids go about their learning day. It is much less efficient than their peers who have been given responsibilities at home.  


I’ve always made it a practice to build in the time that’s needed to complete an assignment within the lesson. Because I know that my time with the kids during the day, is only the beginning of what these kids have in store for themselves once our day together has ended. 


The kids who don’t finish, in most cases, because they haven’t used their time wisely and now, have left themselves no other choice BUT to finish their work at home. These kids can never seem to make that happen because of one excuse or another. What this almost always boils down to is that the student is overcheduled. Their school day is just the beginning of what their day holds for them. Sadly, their days are so packed with events that after they leave me at 3:30, many don’t get home to bed until after 9:00 p.m. They’re going and going and going and over the years, many have even cried to me about it. 


The signs from kids who are over-scheduled are glaring. Seeing these in any student has always prompted a one-on-one conversation, which often begins with tears and ends with requests for support. Parents, keep an eye out for yourself. An overscheduled kid looks

  • Tired
  • Disengaged
  • Short-tempered
  • Impatient with their peers & family members
  • Lack stamina
  • Anxious
  • Worried
  • Excessive crying
  • Behavior issues
  • Parents often reach out for support at home


They’ll tell me, “I’m doing too much,” they tell me. And when I ask if they’re enjoying themselves, they almost always answer, “No, it’s too much for me.” Between sports, gymnastics, competitive dance, chess, and other after-school activities, traveling around the country for competitions, parties, out-of-town visits, vacations in the middle of the school year, company arriving, multiple weekend tournaments on the same day, and dare I say, college campus visits?? And we are talking about 10 & 11-year-olds here people, their plates are FULL!!


When asked if they’ve ever had a conversation with their folks about their schedule and what they’ve been signed up for, they often respond, “No, it doesn’t matter. They don’t want to listen. They just want me busy. They want me to be a part of something.” 


So, what’s the point of all this? 


The new school year is upon us, and based on working with thousands of kids during my years of teaching in both middle level and the elementary school level, I’ve witnessed the VERY obvious signs of an overscheduled student, and I’m hoping this message will cause parents and family members who are listening to pause and have that conversation with their kids about their after school and weekend activities. 


The very same parents who are complaining about how kids don’t play the same way they did when they were younger are the same ones responsible for this epidemic of quiet neighborhoods. There’s no time for kids to run in between the neighbors’ houses and play tag or Manhunt, or split their knee on a rock wall because they didn’t see it when they were running around in the dark. There’s no time to build a fort in the woods, or get yelled at by a neighbor for riding a bike on their lawn or just fight with neighborhood kids over a bad call in a street game of wiffleball, or even just get to know neighbors and who lives in what house and what their quirky habits are. 


I’m not judging people here, I’m simply sharing what I’ve witnessed happen over the years. Just like there are studies to support both sides of the homework debate, there is an equal amount of research supporting unstructured and structured time for kids. I see structured time a lot differently as a teacher because I’ve seen the aftermath all over that scheduled kid in my classroom.

Of all the things that are scheduled for these kids, the one thing that my experience has shown that’s not scheduled is bedtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics posts the following minimum and maximum hours of sleep for each age group during a 24-hour period for optimal health. My focus is school-aged children and here they are:


  • Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

This isn’t happening for children who are overscheduled. Not when some of their games begin at 8:30 on a school night and the average time for playing that game is at least an hour. Factor in travel time, a shower, and preparing for the next day because I’m making an assumption here (and also a plea) that kids are being tasked at home with the responsibility of making their lunch, laying out their clothes, making sure their backpacks are ready to go for the next day, that they’re studying notes from the day, and they’ve read a few pages before closing their eyes for bed. 

Games scheduled this late at night are insane for kids!! Why isn't someone doing something about that? I question what’s most important for some families because if they saw how their children perform and how they behave in class the next day, I’m certain changes would be made.

Take another look at the suggested amount of hours of sleep for optimal health, and figure out what time your child needs to get up in the morning in order to have a calm and cool, smooth and easy start to their day. Do the math. What time do they need to have lights out? 




With everything else that’s being scheduled for them, schedule a bedtime too!

The stress & anxiety levels in students are a major public education issue today. I’ve witnessed these levels increase year after year. Lack of sleep has a LOT to do with it. These kids don’t yet have the language for how their brains and bodies are starving for the quiet time just to tune in. This presents in kids as frustration, lack of motivation, depression, stress, anxiety, and the inability to cope with minor disruptions. 


Who wants this for their kids?! 


I’m reminded of the time a student came to me after a guided mindful meditation I walked the class through and she thanked me for it. She said, “Mrs. Caputo, do you know that our purposeful pauses during the day are the only time I have to be still and with myself? I don’t stop until my bed hits the pillow.” Remember, this is a 10-year-old who’s having this conversation with me.  I was floored. I was also grateful for the validation of what I provided for the kids in class, as well as for her feedback because from that moment on, I added in a multitude of other ways my students could take control of their instructional time to get the breaks they needed. If they weren’t going to get it anywhere else. I wanted it to be in our classroom.


An overscheduled child can be an over-stimulated child and they are not able to tune in unless they have some quiet time to make that happen. 


Al-low your-kids to-have some-time to-do NO-THING.


The demands on students are becoming greater, information comes faster, and they need the guidance of their parents to teach them the fundamentals of how to find ease and peace within themselves, so they can learn how to tackle all that life and learning throws their way.


The problem with that is that parents lack these skills themselves, and without them, they can’t teach those to their children.


So, parents, I have 5 questions to ask you. 

  1. What do you have in place that helps you to have less stress and anxiety during the day? 
  2. How do you compassionately advocate for your needs at work and at home? 
  3. How are you effectively and efficiently managing your time on task at work and at home? 
  4. How is your ability to focus and concentrate? 
  5. Do you have an admirable work ethic in all areas of your life?  


These questions pair with the 5 core strengths of a successful learner. And for the next 10 months, the one job your child is responsible for is to participate in the act of learning. These 5 strengths will minimize any angst between you both, not to mention between you and the teacher and your child and their teacher. How are you modeling these strengths at home? What are your kids witnessing on a daily basis? 


Students need conscious parents who are mindful and who have developed these habits for themselves. 


Parents, please stop overscheduling your kids. Stop overscheduling yourselves.


Tune into you. 


Tune into your child.


Tune into their wants and their needs. 


And if it’s your kids who want to do too much after school, it’s up to you to tell them, “No” so they can have a more unstructured after-school life. 


The truth is your time with your kids comes to an end quickly. The time is coming when you’re no longer going to be their favorite person. They’ll get their inspiration from someone else. Use your time with them wisely, so that you can be the one, years from now, that they will always know, love, and trust in their hearts will be the person who will give them the healthy, supportive, non-judgmental advice they’re looking for. 




It is SO much easier to say, “Yes!” to your kids, but the one thing my adult children continually thank their father and me for the most, are all the times when we said, “No.”