Students balance multiple activities with school, family life

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Thursday, October 28, 2010
— Last weekend was the first time this school year that Craig High School senior Tom Kitching didn't have varsity football.

And varsity soccer.

And about a half dozen other assorted activities.

The busy 17-year-old is between sports seasons, at least for a few days. So, what did he do on his weekend off?

"I think I slept until about one in the afternoon," Kitching said.

It's a blustery Sunday, and Tom is hanging out at the Janesville Youth Sports Complex in sweatpants and a track jacket. He and his parents, John and Amy Kitching, are watching Tom's sister Allie, a 15-year-old sophomore at Craig, play in a club soccer doubleheader.

For the Kitching family, it's just another day on the run. With their schedules combined, Tom and Allie are involved in 15 extracurriculars this fall.

And to think, John and Amy Kitching once believed in keeping their kids' days simple.

"When the kids were younger, we'd always heard the theory of one sport, one social activity and one cultural activity," said Amy.

"Who came up with that one?" Tom said.

He was being serious.

Kids these days seem busier than ever.

A 2006 poll by KidsHealth showed that among 882 kids ages 9 to 13 who were polled, 41 percent reported feeling stressed most of the time or always because they have too much to do and 77 percent wished they had more free time.

No time for a cold

Tom doesn't consider himself overextended, even though this fall he's played on the varsity football and soccer teams simultaneously—all while participating in Spanish club, student council, Boy Scouts, band, marching band and the service organization Live United.

"Most of my friends—my football friends, my soccer friends—are about as busy as me," he said.

Allie's busy, too. She juggles cheerleading with band and marching band while managing the varsity boys soccer team. Plus, she's a member of a church youth group and her high school letterwomen's club. And on weekends, when she's not playing club soccer, she baby-sits.

"There's really no time in their schedule to even have a cold," John said.

Jan Knutson, vocal music director at Janesville's Parker High School, said Tom and Allie's slate of activities is not all that unusual.

This fall, Knutson's worked with students who are in soccer, swimming, band and the school musical. She said most find a way to make it work.

"I see students at (musical) rehearsals, and when they're not on stage, they're studying. It's about time-management, and these students seem to have a handle on that," she said.

Knutson said as students load on activities in a quest to discover their interests and talents. It's hard to quantify a tipping point between "active and involved" and "overextended and frazzled," she said.

"It's very individualized. Some seem able to handle multiple activities, but I've seen kids who just choose one activity, and along with a part-time job it's just too much to manage," she said.

Juggling act

Allie and Tom's extracurriculars demand 30 to 35 hours a week. Yet their grades haven't suffered. Tom's maintained a 3.99 GPA on a four-point scale. Allie's GPA is 3.95. Both take honors courses.

Probably the biggest aid for the busy siblings is the family's household schedule, known as the "master calendar." Posted monthly, the calendar is a daily reminder of all activities, events and appointments family-wide.

It shows meal plans, birthdays and hair, doctor and chiropractor appointments.

Most importantly, it hashes out Tom and Ally's busy schedule of practices and events, allowing the family to coordinate transportation, slot study time and even plan school projects weeks in advance.

Amy, a college business instructor who teaches time-management strategies to adults making career changes, says her family finds the master calendar vital for coordinating their busy lives.

"It's nice to be able to see what's coming down the pike and to be able to plan accordingly," she said.

Study and run

When you're a busy high school student, it can be tough to cram in schoolwork, but John and Amy Kitching say their kids make it a daily priority.

Allie's a quick-hit studier. She grabs a few minutes here and there, knocking out her schoolwork in efficient, 30-minute bites.

The same goes with her social life. For instance, between games at a soccer tournament this fall in Milwaukee, Allie and a few of her teammates hightailed it to a shopping center to pick out homecoming dresses.

"They still have time to have fun," Amy said.

Allie said it's the new normal to be a multitasking teen.

"All my friends are this busy," she said.

Tom said he plans his social life for Saturday nights, and he puts aside a two- to three-hour block each day to crack the books.

"I usually study later at night, after I get everything else out of the way," he said, estimating that he spends about 12 to 14 hours a week on schoolwork.

But Tom acknowledges there are times when all of the activities catch up to him. Occasionally, he finds himself snoozing in class.

"It happens more often than it should. I kind of feel bad about it," he said.

Knutson said parents should watch for the following signs, which could mean their kids are overextended:

-- Decreases in academic performance.

-- Signs of frustration, stress or anxiety.

-- Fatigue or other indications students aren't getting enough sleep.

For Tom, some extra sleep would be nice, but he's not about to let up. Football and soccer might be wrapping up, but basketball starts in just a few weeks.

And that's a good thing. He was starting to get bored.

"The break in activities is weird. I don't know what to do with myself. I think I just stayed after school and shot baskets," he said.

"What else do you do?"

Last updated: 3:07 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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