Quick! Is Johnny signed up for daydreaming?
These days, Bobbie Eggers eats dinner with her husband and three kids - ages 9, 11, and 13 - almost every night. They read together at bedtime and play board games, especially Clue, whenever they can.Skip to next paragraph
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All unremarkable activities, perhaps, but among the families Ms. Eggers knows in tony Greenwich, Conn., such unprogrammed family time - and the fact that her kids have given up figure skating, horseback riding, and hockey to get it - is almost revolutionary.
Lamenting today's frenetic lifestyles - the 2-year-olds juggling soccer and swimming, the moms who spend their days shuttling kids between saxophone lessons, hockey, and kickboxing - is common. Despite research showing that what kids really need is family meals, or time to goof off, parents still worry that forgoing cello lessons or basketball might keep a latent talent from being discovered, might make Harvard and Yale Universities look past their children to the more accomplished offspring of their neighbors.
Slowly, however, a grass-roots revolt is brewing. Some educators and coaches are speaking out against overscheduling, even as more families sending their kids back to school this fall are finding the courage to turn down teams and tournaments, to limit activities to a few favorites so that they can rediscover time to be a family.
"I hear that from people regularly," says William Doherty, a social science professor at the University of Minnesota and coauthor of "Putting Family First." "Now that the cultural momentum is starting to turn, it empowers individual parents to say, 'Let's not do this, let's cut back. I don't want my child to be overscheduled.' It gives them the language for that."
The backlash is growing slowly. But it's also gotten national attention - Oct. 24 is now "Take Back Your Time Day" - and a growing network of community groups is calling attention to overscheduling.
• In Ridgewood, N.J., Ready Set Relax! will hold its fourth no-activity day this spring, a night that's kept practice-, meeting-, and homework-free. "Parents feel free time is wasted time, and we're trying to remind people that that time is very beneficial to kids," says Marcia Marra, who helped found the group. "Now there are pockets of parents addressing this on their own" She's heard from more than 200 communities through the group's website (www.readysetrelax.org) who are interested in doing something similar.
• In Wayzata, Minn., Putting Family First, one of the first volunteer organizations to call attention to the need for unplanned time, has been joined by two other groups. This year one of them, Family Time First, is urging people to set aside one night a week to connect with their families, promoting the idea of family meals and planning a "family day" in February.
• In Sidney, N.Y. a parent proposal last year led the school district to make Wednesday an "activity free" night. The feedback has been "exceptionally positive," says superintendent Dominic Nuciforo. This year, he's even changed the Board of Education meetings from Wednesday to Tuesday.