Do Israelis Send to Too Many Hugim?

Do kids need so many extra-curricular activities? Playing pianoWhen my older children were small, I avoided sending them to hugim (extracurricular activities). Part of it was expense, and part was that I did not want to have to wake up the baby or toddler when it was time to do dropoff or pickup. They weren’t completely deprived—I often arranged something at home or close enough for them to get there on their own.

I’ve been more “generous” with my younger two. My 10-year-old takes music lessons, which requires chauffeuring until he gets big enough to shlep his instrument himself. He rides the bus to a second class. I am thinking that this is a lot, especially since he ends school at 2:30 three days a week. My 7-year-old is in two classes that each meet weekly.  They are walking distance so any of my older kids can bring her.

Another mother, whose son also takes music, said the more hugim the better—her son thrives on all the activity and gets together with friends on his one free day. But he’s in 10th grade. Some 5-year-olds are in 4 hugim a week.

Every child is different, but I think most kids are better off with fewer hugim. They need time to read, play and just “hang out.” I love to see the elaborate games my kids come up with when they have a quiet afternoon together.  But I sense that many parents today aren’t comfortable with unscheduled time for their kids. Kids are often in school or daycare until 4 PM, and they get hugim there.

Unstructured time with kids means just that, and entertaining them is not required. Sure they may act bored at first, but left to their own devices they will usually find something to do.

Kids will grow up just fine, without extra-curricular activities. Kids can learn and create at home, as long as you limit “screen time” and provide toys, books, and simple crafts. Add supervision and a reasonable amount of interaction—sometimes much more, of course. If a child is really talented at something there is still time for it when kids are older.

Americans complain about kids being over-scheduled, but it seems to be happening here too. And things will only get worse, with the plan to make all 3-5-year-olds get free “education” until 4 PM.

Thanks to @Shiraabel for stimulating the Facebook discussion on the topic.


  1. I think the key is the “limiting of screen time” home. If that is not done, the kids are probably better off in chugim or else they will spend their down time glued to the TV or computer. I used to try to have my kids do a sport-related chug, because the extra physical activity is good for them. Now my tenth grader takes football (great for letting off steam) and my ninth grader doesn’t do a chug, but goes to the gym several times a week. Then they come home and ask when they go online….

    • Your daughter goes to the gym? I’m impressed.

      • I know, me too! If she didn’t look so much like Isaac, I would have checked if she had been switched at birth. But she enjoys it and feels great.

        (And Isaac keeps threatening that if the kids don’t use the gym/pool more, he’ll stop paying for their membership).

  2. I should edit my comments, shouldn’t I: 🙂

  3. We’ve never done a lot of chugim. My girls finish school at 3:30 and they do a ton of chugim- two on Tuesdays, and a few more on Sundays and Thursdays as part of school. We’re doing intensive English tutoring for both of them and the tutor comes to my house. Other than that, we’re not doing any other outside chugim. My son does tzharon and comes home at 4. He’s beat but i keep the TV off so he won’t fall asleep. They all need down time and I cannot imagine shlepping around with a 4 month old to shuttle 3 kids to additional activities after 4 pm. So, no chugim for us.

    • Abbi, I know many parents who do that shlepping.

      • Yes, me too. (Although many people here have a housekeeper or metapelet in the house to leave the baby with for just this reason.) I did it last year for swimming for the girls, shlepping my 2 year old. We waited at the chug because it was a 20 minute drive from the house, it wasn’t worth going back home and it was too short of a time to do anything else. I’m glad we did it because the girls are good swimmers now. Wouldn’t want to do it this year though!

  4. I agree totally . Children do not need chugim. I never let kids have chugim until 1st grade and then 1 chug per kid. Too expensive and it takes away from unstructured time.

  5. You’re mentioned in my post, From a Few Friendly Blogs. Why don’t you check out my comment on your post and read the others linked, too?

  6. There is no hard and fast rule. Each child has to be looked at individually and nurtured — but not over programmed. Everything in moderation. A suggestion for mothers with boys ages 9 & up: have your own “Construction Chug” at home. Go to a hardware store and get scrap pieces of wood of all sizes, a small hammer and nails you feel comfortable with. You’ll be amazed at what your sons will put together. Better than Leggo — and you’ve created your own crafts chug.

    • Thanks, Tami, great idea for girls too.

      • Ms. Krieger says

        Yes, construction for children of both genders and all ages!

        My husband sometimes works with my 2.5yo daughter in his workshop. He teaches her to swing a hammer, paint, and use a power drill and nail gun (the power tools scare me, but he believes that with proper supervision a child can use them safely…kind of like me working with her near the stove and knives in the kitchen. My husband says the kitchen is a food workshop, with all the responsibilities that a workshop entails.)

        My toddler daughter loves “working” in the shop. Some day I hope she will have equal expertise working with tools in the garage and food in the kitchen.

        Chugim are for learning skills that parents cannot teach. But there is plenty to be learned at home, both from parents and on their own in free play.

  7. I live in a chareidi community and it’s not common around here to send your kids to a lot of chugim. I send mine to one each – my son goes to art and my daughter goes to baking. They wait for those days the whole week! Most of my neighbors send their kids to one chug or none. Probably it’s a money issue, but I think that some sort of chug is great if the kids really enjoy it. It’s for them – not for me. Tzharon is not common around here either… Life seems to have a whole different pace here than in the rest of the civilized world!

  8. My kids are still little, but I think that Phys. Ed here stinks, and I’d like my kid to get exercise in a chug at least once a week – ideally martial arts at some point, as I’d like my children to be able to defend themselves should the need arise, and I’d like my kids to learn an instrument, even if it’s just recorder, and even if it’s only for a few months, so that they can see if they enjoy it and have aptitude for it. Beyond that, if my child shows aptitude or interest in something, I’d like to encourage it. Kinneret told us that she wants to be a dancer. I think letting her be in a dance chug next year (kindergarten) to see how she likes it is a good idea. We’ll have to see if there’s a chug we can take her to easily and how it works with our schedule, but I’d like to give her the chance to see what learning dance is like.

    • Really? Each my girls in school has phys ed twice a week and they get some sort of martial arts also (last year it was tae kwan doe, this year it’s judo). The MA is particular to her school, but i think phys ed twice a week isn’t bad and i think that’s standard.

      • US Navy Engineering Officer says

        the various sanctioned-by-yuppie-culture martial arts are harmful, as they teach AWAY from the crucial principle that bullies are cowards who will run away when handed the first good strike.

        A good Krav Maga instructor, and careful study of the life of Wingate, will guide a child along the right path.

        • Don’t you think Krav Maga is a little too angry for young children? My husband has plans to teach ours Russian Martial arts, focusing on Bio-mechanical efficiency. It’s what is being taught now to Many elite US teams for h-t-h combat.

    • there are also chugim as part of the tzaharon – eden had them in gan chova and grade 1 now. she has sport twice a week at school, and there is an optional capoeria chug (ok not judo, but still pretty good.) also she’s taking recorder. the tzaharon also has a science chug and drama chug. i was pretty impressed w our in-tzaharon, at-school chug selection. i have no need for anything more after she gets home.

    • Leah, just keep in mind that she might be too young still and if she’s not ready for dance or music now, she might be later.

  9. It depends what chug and why you chose to send them.

    Once music and art were part of school curriculum, now they are not.

    At the moment I have one child doing basketball, and my daughter doing gymnastics.
    But for many years we indeed did not send, which are important for those specific children.

    If you have a child with low self confidence, sending them to judo, or karatee can be very helpful
    A daughter with poor posture can be helped by ballet or gym.
    Music and art are often important for many families etc.
    i.e. if there is a good reason and you think it will be helpful, then chose an appropriate chug. I recently read a whole article listing children’s characteristics, and the chug that could help them (e.g. a shy child to drama….)

    • Keren, my kids in elementary school do have music and art through 4th grade. It’s one hour a week each. So much depends on the quality of the teacher, though. Not all hugim are equal.

  10. My kids have been in hugim that have pretty much been triggered by their own requests They started in 2nd or 3rd grade with hugim (and by 3rd grade no longer attended tzaharon – when they were at tzaharon due to our work hours, i didn’t do hugim beyond therapy based ones at all) but interestingly they themselves have somewhat limited what they do as they have requested to have at least a few days free for down time of their own and to hang out with their friends or just be quiet at home.

    1) Sport chug (karate, bike club, etc) – my boys are very lacking in gross motor skills and this has been really important for their development and to let them find sports outlets they enjoyed since they really were not happy with the soccer focus of school PE class. (My older son also went to a theraputic sports chug for a few years before that to add to his physical therapy hours)

    2) Music – both my kids are very musical and this has been a critical outlet, especially now that their school has no music program. (They had music when my older son was in 1st/2nd grade but the teaacher took ill with cancer and was never replaced at all :(). This was started by each boy upon their own request and is continued based on their own interest

    3) Science enrichment – my older son had attended a special by invitation science enrichment hug (citywide) for a couple of years and my younger son is in the afternoon gifted program option once a week. This is something they each have gained a lot from and looked forward to every day.

    I do think every kid is different – but I think you observation may be more accurate for merkaz ha-aretz then out here int he periphery/development towns. Around here many kids don’t do any hugim and you see a lot of kids hanging around outside from 2pm onwards every day without any enrichment activities at all. I think that is another extreme that is not necessarily any good – while I’m all about not being the éntertainment center for my kids and expecting them to find things to do on their own, I try to offer up tools and also simple things like a weekly trip to the library, taking them to the parks when they were younger,e tc

  11. This is an interesting question. Personally, I am not afraid of unstructured time with my kids – we had a lovely July and August with tons of that – but thinking about hugim does bring out the FOMO in me: My child needs to learn to swim! And of course he needs to learn to read English! And will I be depriving him if I don’t give him the opportunity to play a musical instrument? And might he be the wimpy kid who everyone picks on if I don’t sign him up for basketball and judo for motor skills and self-confidence?
    In the meantime, my laziness and cheapness have triumphed over my FOMO, and my kindergartener is only in one hug. But I’m curious to hear how other North American olim parents who grew up with all this enrichment – piano lessons and swimming lessons and art class and gymnastics etc etc – feel justified in not giving it to their kids too!

    • Chana, what’s FOMO? But I hear what you are saying! Let me answer your question. I did dance for 3 years. I improved, but I was never very good. I took a few months of flute, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t like the clarinet that my brother played so I quit. With the right instrument I might have continued.. I think that was it.

      • FOMO=fear of missing out!
        I did tons of extracurriculars when I was a kid – at any given time I was taking music lessons, swimming, something athletic other than swimming, and something artistic. And I remember my parents always talking about how other kids were so overprogrammed but my siblings and I were not. Somehow there was time for all that stuff and still plenty of hours in the week to bike around town or hang out with friends. I think part of it was that my mother didn’t work, so we only had school and that other stuff – with my own children in tzaharon so that I can work, there really just isn’t time for everything without it feeling really burdensome.

  12. i’m pretty sure that i’m the dissenting opinion kids all took english as a chug from 1st grade till 6th.they all took a musical instrument from 2nd grade til 7th or 12th grade-depending on the kid.they also had a sports chug–either tennis basketball,judo,baseball.there were no chugim available thru school(or they couldn’ttake them since they were on a bus transport home).our feeling then(and still is)that there is so much lacking in terms of sports,music and english for english speakers in the israeli school system–the only place they would get it would be at a chug.
    for the most part i am happy we did this–one of my daughters did a music bagrut(in addition to her regular bagruts),my son coaches and umpires baseball and my youngest daughter is teaching underprivelidged kids tennis as part of her volunteer work in 9th grade.all of them speak and read and write english on a mother tongue level,and my oldest has been able to use her english in a variety of ways after high school.i think they still had a lot of time for free play and time to get together with friends……but they were also able to learn things that they were not able to get in school or at home. it made them much more well rounded and allowed them to develop their own interests in a variety of subjects

    • Karyn, you ought to know by now that we appreciate dissenting viewpoints around here (generally!).
      Of course, hugim can be very valuable for kids–my point is that there is always a flip side. Kids who are in a lot of hugim gain in one way but may be missing out in others.

  13. From about 3rd grade I allowed my kids to choose 1 chug – they did not all choose one every year. Additionally, I sent them all to swimming classes until I was confident that they could all swim and had basic water survival skills. Those that enjoyed it and wanted to continue did, and those that were tired of it stopped once they had achieved a level of competence.

  14. This is the first year we send our daughter (gan chova) to a chug. We send her to dance. I chose it for her, didn’t even ask her. We did it to improve her motor skills and balance, which have never been great. Here in the Golan, most people don’t do too many chugim, I assume mostly because of the cost. I am willing to send my kids to 1-2 chugim per year of their choice as long as we can afford it, plus the required english enrichment chug.. My daughter loves her chug and I think she’s gaining a lot from it. There is still plenty of unstructured time anyways. My plan is to see what each kids needs, maybe one will never take a chug, many one will want and benefit from 3.

  15. – What are the approximate costs for various chugim?
    – Interesting that no one mentioned Scouts, but perhaps because the focus here is more on younger children

    ~ Maya

    • Maya, thanks for all of your comments today. I think youth groups need a separate post! Costs vary widely, especially by location. An hour-long weekly chug can cost 100-160 a month around here, or more depending on the equipment, number of children, etc.

  16. the need for hugim is a reflection on what schools have to offer in terms of a rich and varied curriculum
    and of course chugim like english reflect on the the advantage which kids from higher income families have on the rest , a point we see also from standardized tests – the higher the income , the higher the scores

  17. I think this was already said, but I will say it again- I find chugim a good way to keep my son from spending too much time with electronic devices. even when he has a playdate (he is in 3ed grade) this is what they do for as long as I let them. so if I have to pay and drive around for him to interact with kids on other platforms, I will.

  18. i do think part of the issue is access to things at school. we have sometimes felt our kids to be overprogrammed, but when thinking about what they are getting least out of, and what we would drop, it is always homework and school.
    it depends what your goals are – my kids have both gotten music (violin and singing, with theory and orchestra groups) in ways they never could/do in school, as well as gymnastics, involvement in theater groups, english classes or book clubs. science/history with a hands on/tiyul component.
    my daughter just wrote a whole anti-tv essay for her school english class. in our house, screen time is not the issue. sleep and homework sometimes are.