As we discussed in our previous article, overscheduling can have serious consequences for our students. Although parents make many of the scheduling decisions for our students, there are still ways that schools can help address the issue.
One way schools can help is by encouraging students and their parents to reduce structured activities. For example, schools can provide educational materials about the downsides of overscheduling or give students assignments that encourage them to consider their activities and discuss with their parents whether any adjustments are needed. Schools can also provide limits on the number of school activities that students are allowed to take on, such as through a points system where extracurricular activities are given points based on time commitment and students are allowed a limited number of points.
Schools can also help by providing activities that help counteract the effects of overscheduling. Providing regular breaks during the school day to create a balance between leisure-time and scheduled activities is crucial. Leisure experiences contribute to self-development, according to Caldwell and Witt, and provide relaxation and stimulation. In particular, as Deaver and Wright note, unstructured outdoor play is critical for overall wellness, contributing to their well-being and development across domains like physical and psychological health as well as academic progress. Montessori pointed out that play is the work of young children. Play and curiosity are foundations for learning and healthy development. Moving classroom activities outdoors and providing room for creativity and outdoor exploration as part of learning lesson content can be helpful as well.
Time spent in outdoor environments provides many benefits that can help counteract the effects of overscheduling. Kernan and Devine state that exposure to green spaces, sunlight, fresh air, and other natural elements helps maintain a healthy immune system, reduces stress levels and depression, promotes optimal skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, and pulmonary system development and function, and contributes to better sleep and eating patterns.
Research has shown that outdoor time promotes critical skills like creativity, collaboration, risk management, testing boundaries, and innovation that are not taught well through most structured activities. According to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, outdoor play also boosts social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills. Playful learning empowers children to engage actively, focus on tasks without consistent supervision, and problem-solve. It builds a sense of competence and collaboration among children and their peers. The physical health, emotional health, and social-emotional skill development encouraged by outdoor activities can help to counteract the negative effects of overscheduling and structured activities, which often cause students to struggle in these areas.
As educators, we have a limited influence over the schedules and activities of our students outside of school time, but by encouraging students to reduce their structured activities and providing more time for unstructured activities and outdoor experiences during the school day, we can help students combat the negative effects of overscheduling and encourage them towards healthy habits that will help them during their school years and beyond.