Let me admit that I am not a parent and this question is about my sister.

My sister is 8 years old. With the start of summer vacations, she has nothing to do all day. She has no peers to play with, and her last resort is to spend hours on her mobile.

My parents are both really busy and everytime time I try to bring this to their attention, they just ignore it, saying that she should "study instead of wasting her time". But how long can she study? Surely an 8 year old cannot for 12 hrs. I tried to suggest having her sign-up for piano classes, swimming or ballet (she's particularly interested in this), but my parents think its going to distract her from studies. However, from my observation, not doing anything is doing her more harm; its dumbing her down.

So is it true that kids should not dabble in extracurricular activities as it would decrease their interest in studies? Does it affect my sister's development, both physical and mental, not to partake in such activities, or is insignificant?

  • 3
    Hi, Sara, and welcome to the site. I admire your concern for your sister. There are many parents here who share your viewpoint. I hope you get some helpful answers. Jul 12, 2015 at 18:01
  • Self-directed study all day every day, aged 8? Who do they think she is, Mozart? I guess not, since he'd have been allowed to take piano lessons ;-) Jul 13, 2015 at 2:35
  • 1
    I don't have a full answer for you so just leaving a comment, but regarding getting your parents to agree to some extra curricular activity maybe you could suggest they offer it as a reward for her when she has studied X amount or learned X. I personally think that the sorts of activities you mention would be very good for her as from what you say she currently doesn't have a lot of social interaction and class would help to provide this. This is an important part of a child's development if they are to enter the adult world as a well-balanced individual with social skills.
    – LauraJ
    Jul 13, 2015 at 15:47
  • @LauraJ, Good point!
    – Stephie
    Jul 13, 2015 at 18:00
  • @SteveJessop - been a while since I read the biography, but I'm almost certain Mozart was NOT (entirely) self-directed.
    – user3143
    Jul 13, 2015 at 18:09

2 Answers 2


I can only disagree - with your parents, that is.

  1. On the "dumbing down"
    That is a very precise observation of yours that is backed-up by studies and the practical observation of generations of teachers. The effect has even got a name: Summer learning loss. In short, it means a meassurable loss of academic skills over the summer holidays. This is particularly noticeable in the US where summer break is 3 months (as opposed to, for example, Germany, with 6.5 weeks).

  2. Study during summer
    To counter the summer learning loss, experts recommend that the child in question should continue to study (this is where your parents are right), but typically the recommendations are to do only a limited amount just to avoid forgetting what you learned, if necessary to close a few gaps from the last school year (according to the school's recommendation), but not to study full-time, because academic advancement is not the primary goal here (this is where your parents are wrong). Read and write a bit, so some math (probably with some real-life problems rather that from a text book), practise your foreign language and you should be fine.

  3. Subjects of study and activities
    The human brain is a funny little thing: It will be happy and awake if it has something of interest to work on, but shut down in idle mode if it's supposed to work on something deemed "boring". Ever noticed how "the bad words" in a foreign language stuck in your mind much better and faster than the "normal" ones? So even if your parents mean well, if they force your sister to study extensively (against her will and wishes, probably), this will decrease her overall impetus to learn. Give her something that interests her and her alert brain will be quite eager to repeat some school stuff, too.
    Besides I think your three suggestions are quite a good choice: All kinds of sport / movement balance the left and right hemisphere of the brain, increasing the communication between them. There is more than a grain of truth in the saying "a sound mind in a sound body". And playing an instrument is definetively good for you.

Now, what I can't comment on here are possible other restrictions that may apply - there might be financial or logistic reasons your parents face that you are not aware of and that should be discussed in your family circle. But generally speaking, spending a summer with activities that you enjoy and that are good for your overall development is an excellent idea. Who knows - your sister might even find a new hobby for the next few years.

As to your last question: Will it affect her negatively if she doesn't participate in special activities? Probably not. The human brain can find so many ways to occupy itself even without external stimuli and "boredom" can trigger surprising bouts of creativity. And "wasting time" on "useless" stuff like computer games isn't necessarily bad. (Note: Contrary to popular belief we don't have to spend all of our time with "usefull" or "worthy" activities.) But playing for hours on her mobile isn't a good way to spend three months.


What Stephie said, plus:

  1. Studies have shown that execise is good for the brain. It increases blood circulation, breathing, and heart rate so that more blood (with oxygen and glucose) gets to the brain.
  2. After a certain age-dependent point, more studying/homework has sharply diminishing returns. One recommendation (in the U.S.) for homework is the "10-minute rule": 10 minutes of homework per day per grade.
  3. Also, presumably your parents want your sister to go to university. I don't know whether admissions departments in the UK (?) are like those in the U.S., but colleges in the U.S. prefer well-rounded individuals who, in addition to good grades, have shown commitment to sports or other activities.
  4. Plus, again in the U.S., involvement in a sport in adolescence has a high correlation with building and maintaining girls' self esteem and keeping them happy, healthy, and out of trouble in this vulnerable time.
  • Extra-curriculars are not a colossal deal for university admissions in the UK. They're not always completely irrelevant, but normally they're way more interested in your aptitude for your subject (remember that in the UK you typically choose before applying to university, the subject that you're going to specialise in considerably more strongly than a US university student specialises in their major). Extra-curriculars from the summer you were 8, I can confidently guess are always completely irrelevant, although establishing a useful trend early of course is no bad thing. Jul 13, 2015 at 2:37
  • I guess I'm trying to marshal arguments that would sway parents who insist an 8 year old study every waking moment. I'd agree no university will demand to know what an 8 year old did during the summer; but if the parents think she needs more time to study now, how are they going to deal with the16 year old who wants to play a sport, with an order of magnitude more homework? And again, these arguments are meant to be added to Stephie's, because as she points out, it is possible that it's actually lack of money, not a deranged take on studying, which is behind their poor behavior. Jul 16, 2015 at 4:00

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