She gives her kids the option of playing basketball or softball, but leaves it up to the kids to decide. When she suggests trips, say to the zoo, she says that "a lot of times they'll turn me down because they are having fun building a pillow fort or spraying the hose in the backyard."
Sonya Penn is glad that her kids are not so busy.
"It gives us more time just to spend time together and be together as a family," she says, "and I think it helps them know who they are better."
But few parents are following in the Penn family's footsteps. In 1999, the National Survey of America's Families reported that "81 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds and 83 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds participated in one or more sports, lessons or clubs during the past year."
The new study released by the Society of Research in Child Development argues that organized activities are good for the kids.
The group went into schools and asked children to report their previous 24-hour day. This time-use diary provided a minute-by-minute account of what kids were doing, where they were, and who they were with.
"In general, American children are not overscheduled. Our research suggests that … on any given day, 50 percent of the American youth are engaged in no scheduled activities whatsoever," says Jacquelynne Eccles, one of the co-writers of the report. "The majority of time is spent on what we call personal time."
That personal time involves eating, sleeping and grooming. The next most common amount of time is time spent in school, followed by leisure-time activities -- television and hanging out.
Annalise Corriveau, 13, Nicko's sister, agrees that busy is better.
I think I'm much more efficient with my work, and I'm much more organized," she says.
When asked what she would do with her free time, she says, "I'd probably be kind of lazy, just sitting around doing nothing."
Both studies however, agree on one thing: Parents must listen to their children. Each child is different. Some might thrive on busy schedules. Others will not. And researchers say children should be taking part in activities that they want to do, not something parents are pushing them to do.
"It shouldn't be because mommy wants a soccer player … or mommy wants a basketball player," says Chris Corriveau, a pediatrician and a mom. "The kid should want to initiate the activity."
"You have to look for cues in your own child," she adds. "You have to look for cues of too much stress."
Some kids, like Nicko, 11, and Annalise Corriveau, 13, welcome a schedule-filled week, whereas Camden Penn, 8, does not.
"Having to go everywhere, 'garf' down food, go to someplace else, run all around town," he says, "I don't like stress."