Can you over-schedule your child?

My son Ishmael is barely two yet he already has a social itinerary that leaves mine for dead.

On Tuesdays he has play group, Thursdays he hits the library for a read-aloud session followed by craft and on Fridays it's off to the zoo.

Last week a friend, who has more kids and considerably more mothering experience than I do, suggested Ishi needed to do more. At his age, she explained, he needed to do new and different things each and every day. She suggested I join her toddler music class and perhaps pop along to a second, more formal play group. She gave me names and numbers and because I respect her opinion I promised to call and enroll him... only I didn't.

I feel a little guilty, but the fact is right now Ishi and I have four days of the week with which to do absolutely anything we please. And that's just the way we like it. It means that on those free days, we can go wherever our hearts take us. And they take us some pretty interesting places.

Sometimes we hit the beach and build wobbly-looking castles perfect for stomping on. Other days we walk to the ferry and catch a ride into ‘the big town'. We annoy the other passengers by yelling ‘all aboard' over and over and by describing in great detail absolutely everything we see.

We like to squeeze and squash play dough, splash our toes in puddles and dig in the garden with whatever trucks we have at hand. Occasionally we stroll through the local streets looking for anything that might pique our interest. Right now we're big fans of fire trucks, street sweepers and police motor bikes. If we don't spot any of those that's okay because we're also pretty keen on leaves, random bits of dirt, gutters, bark, birds, flowers, dogs, bottle caps, cats and people of all ages... it goes without saying really - our walks are always 100 per cent satisfying.

Despite that do I feel a bit slack for not signing my boy up for more activities? Sometimes yes, but for the most part no. Our schedule might be pretty random, but I think it works for us and to me, that's the important thing. Besides, recent research has shown that if anything, over-scheduled kids suffer more than benefit.

American expert Dr William Doherty, author of Confident Parenting (Finch Publishing), says the pressure to develop a child's talents is doing nothing but producing over-stretched, stressed-out kids. So the next time my friend suggests Ishi and I sign up for swimming lessons, or gymbaroo or toddler art class I'll remind myself of that. And then I'll look her in the eye and say, no thanks. We're happy just as we are.

How you and your kids can go with the flow

  • Give your kids at least every second day off. That way they can choose to do what they feel like depending on their mood.
  • Don't force kids to do something just for the sake of it. There's nothing wrong with doing nothing. In fact, it's good for kids (not to mention parents).
  • Resist peer pressure. Just because the other mums have their kids enrolled doesn't mean you have to follow suit.