Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Overworked And Under Played?

With Shortcake turning four years old, we're entering the realm of parenthood that I've been dreading for years. That "she's doing it so why can't I do it too?" phase. The run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off syndrome of carting kids from one activity to another. The jam packed days that make you want to crawl into a corner and hide for fear that one more commitment or appointment may appear.

The General and I have always had similar opinions when it comes to the extracurricular activities of our children. We both grew up with minimal amounts of after school activities with the exception of participating in summer little league and later junior high and high school sports. I remember a time when I desperately wanted to join Brownies and dance, but my parents stood firm in their refusal. I can even recall at one point in my childhood wishing that our family was Catholic just so I could attend CCD with many of my friends. I was that desperate for socialization outside of school. The General tells a similar tale from his years of growing up - aside from Little League there wasn't much running to town unless it was deemed vital (e.g., a carton of Prairie Farms milk from Clapps).

For our family, we have always agreed that we weren't going to put our children in every activity offered to them especially in the years preceeding enrollment in kindergarten. Our list of reasons supporting our decision is lengthy with the main reasons including:
  • it can get expensive
  • it's time consuming
  • the girls already receive "social exposure" to peers at daycare
  • we spend time away from them during the day so our time at night is designated for family time (even though The General isn't able to join us during the week for the time being)


We've also unanimously agreed not to send Shortcake to preschool (although this is a decision that is still being debated for Punkin). She's a fairly bright kid, she again gets plenty of social interaction at daycare each day, and I'm concerned that with all day kindergarten AND a preceding year of preschool she'll be bored (and possibly burnt out) educationally by the end of her first year in school. And given that she's got at least twelve years of schooling to follow, that's not exactly the attitude I want her to have at five years old.


I've received a few strange looks and dumb founded inquiries into why we've made these choices, and it doesn't really bother me. We may be in the minority, but that's okay. It's what we feel is best for us and us alone. This is how we've decided to do things. I've got no say in what other decide to do in their homes and with their children, nor do I have any problems with what others decide is right for their kids. Different strokes for different folks, and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other. Every parent, every child, every family is different and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Diversity is what makes life so much fun.

That being said...


I can't help but think that our kids today are given too many options. I don't remember having such a smorgasbord of fun being offered to me when I was as young as our girls are. Three or four years ago I was at our elementary school open house and I was astounded at the number of second and third graders coming to school with their parents in various uniforms - football, soccer, dance, gymnastics. Many of these families were coming in at 7 pm straight from practice, having not yet eaten dinner. I heard one girl, dressed in her dance outfit, mention that she still had to go to her piano lesson for the week after leaving the Open House before she could go home to do her homework. This girl was eight years old! I remember thinking "When do these kids get to bed at night?". At eight years old my afterschool schedule looked something like this: change clothes, snack, homework, play, dinner, play, bath, bed by 8:30. Rarely (with the exception of my Wednesday afternoon piano lesson with Mrs. Rigby) did our routine deviate.

With all that is offered to our children, some activities as young as three or four years old, I often wonder if it's too much. It's only natural for kids to want to do everything, but is it okay to indulge them in their every request? How much is too much? Do parents know when to say when? And when they start this early, do they still enjoy it when these activities at the age that I started (i.e., junior high)? What's left for these kids to do when they get older?


I often hear people talking about how kids these days are different from kids back when (circa 1988 as an example), saying things like "They don't know how to just play" or "They are always asking to do something or saying they're bored". In my mind I'm asking can we blame them?


In a slightly unrelated yet totally related question, I often wonder if families sit down and eat meals together anymore. This was a staple, a fixture, a predictable occurrence in our house growing up, and it's a tradition I strive to continue in our family. But as busy as families seem to be these days is this even realistic? Call me crazy, but I think a lot of the world's problems could be fixed if parents and children just sat around the dinner table together (talking and listening to each other while there would also be an integral part of the process).


ANYWAY!


Does this post even have a point? I think it's in there somewhere. My back-to-school brain melt is in full effect, and the alarm clock going off at 6 am for the first time since the beginning of June is not helping my muddled ramblings any. The above thoughts are just a tiny portion of the hundreds of thoughts that run in-and-out and through my head on a fairly regular basis. Other thoughts I've been pondering lately include visual supports for a fifth grade student on the spectrum, room configurations at the intermediate school, bulletin board ideas, how to streamline my documentation of progress this year for my speech students, possible tactics for improving my reaction to Punkin's strong personality, remedying and eliminating Punkin's need to scream, ways to incorporate activities which will improve Shortcake's fine motor skills including practice in writing her name, the kindness of The General for making the bed on the first day of school, the need to get on track with making weekly menus. And this is just a sampling people. It's exhausting being me, listening to all the voices ideas I have bumping around in my brain. Luckily for you I'll spare you the boring details on my thoughts and opinions on these others...for now.


Now I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on extracurricular activities for young children? Do you let your kids participate? Do you set a limit on how many things your child can be involved in? Do you think that kids are too busy today, or does it seem just right or even that more needs to be offered? Also, what do your dinners looks like? Do you eat as a family, is a free for all, or do the adults eat in the home eat (in peace) after their children are finished? Talk to me, people. I'm dying to know.

7 comments:

Devil's advocate said...

I agree with what you say and haven't considered the perspective you offer. I do, however, feel that it is important to be involved in extra curriculars as it gives kids/adolescents a competative edge...making them push themselves to that next level. My siblings and I were involved in sports, clubs, etc...but we always had the sit down meal at the end of every day. I know several families that don't eat supper until 8 or 8:30 every night...but still strive for that family meal regardless of the time. You and the General also had jobs through high school....one might argue that you have the rest of your life to work, why put that added pressure on a high school kid...instead, let them be involved in those activities that they won't have the options to be involved in as adults. At your kids ages...don't they need to explore and identify those interests and talents? I mean, what if Nastia Luiken or Shawn Johnson's parents would have limited thier children's involvement at early ages?

Like I said, I see your point of view and appreciate it immensely, but I can argue both sides of the issue...

Meghann said...

I can see both sides of the issue as well. When I was really little, I was in everything. At 4 and 5 I was in ballet, tap, gymnastics, and swimming, as well as being in private school. then my parents divorced, and my mom didn't have the money for me to really be in anything until I joined band in junior high. I remember being pretty sad about not being in girl scouts, but other than that, I have no ill feelings toward either time period in my life.

Money is a big issue with us, and having 4 kids, we can't put them in everything they all want to do. So our rule is one activity per kid. They can switch around if they decide they don't like it, although if it's something we had to make a huge investment in, then they will have to stay in it for a set amount of time. Also, this keeps our schedule from getting too full and whacky. Someday we'll have 4 kids in 4 different activities, and I am sure that will be enough to deal with.

tlk said...

Benny had his choice between teeball and soccer. He picked soccer and swimming was put on hold until soccer is over. No way I'm spending every night of the week at a different activity with only one child. And as for when they get older and can get themselves to all the activities, they can do as much or as little as they want. I will take a page from my father's book and tell them if they aren't involved in any extras they are darn sure going to have a job. That devil's advocate is a wise person. Maybe the wisest I know.

Tina said...

I grew up pretty much the same way you did, Mrs. (Weird, I know....) Anyway, I think there is certainly something to be said for having your kids both in and out of activities. While it is important to have family time (something that does not happen as much as it used to), it is also important to find out your child's talents and help them to develop them. Clearly Mrs. Rigby's piano lessons were pretty important in my life! A variety of activities also helps them to become more well-rounded. I'm not sure I agree with devil's advocate about the whole competition thing - I think there is plenty of time to develop that - activities are important for many other reasons other than just that, especially non-athletic activities. I do feel it is important to not indulge your kids in everything they want to do. Kids are entirely too overscheduled. I like Meghann's decision to limit her kids to one activity.

But what do I know - I don't have kids - yet. Certainly something to consider, though! (What to do with the kids when you have them, not the actual having them part.)

Mitch said...

Is there a legitimate worry about your kids being left out of cliques and groups if they are not involved in extra curriculars these days? It seems like (especially with girls) that they might form tight groups of friends at a younger age then we all did and may not socialize with others.

Michelle said...

I could have written your post! I agree with all that you said and our lives growing up was similar to yours. We were involved in very little until high school. Our children are involved in very few outside activities (sports/clubs), although we do a couple things (Irish step dance during homeschool group and a young girls club called Little Flowers as well as church youth group) but they are well socialized and are pushed by their peers all the time to excel at just about everything, even though we homeschool! I also think that kids are way too overstretched these days and most attitude problems are a result of much of this (and the lack of the family dinner table, but that's another post in itself!).

My children are well socialized, never lack for something to do and yet we don't run around town stressing out about who needs to go where. They are allowed to just be kids... they school, do their chores, play outside with friends, eat meals as a family and are so much better off than many of the kids/families we know. I think all of the rushing around is taking something vitally important from kids today. Parents need to slow down, realize that their kids aren't mini adults and that these kids need down time to just be kids! If you are going to do activities just limit the amount so that they still have time to play outside, to entertain themselves and to enjoy just being a kid.

jen said...

Mrs I am recalling a certain young man you and I both have a history with and the number of times we asked each other, "When does he have time to just be a kid?" While I appreciate and have taken advantage of the benefits of getting my kiddo involved, I certainly agree that it's possible to over-schedule your kids to the detriment of your family. Peanut participates in swimming lessons and soon to be dance class too. She will be going to pre-school with 2 other kids from her daycare this fall. It's a fine line to walk and a balance that can be hard to find--involvement versus just being a kid. Still, our family sits down at the dinner table each night. The only time someone is missing is if Swanny is at work or if I am at yoga. I feel it's a valuable time that we have to connect as a family and I will fight for that to be in all of our schedules for years to come....let me tell ya, Shortcake will LOVE her kindergarten experience and do well, preschool or not. (Plus she can come visit me!) And fine motor skills, I got-ya covered mom!

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