Do kids play anymore?
I read an article recently that hit on everything my husband and I struggle with raising kids today. Especially in a success driven culture that seeks to raise every kid to be mini adults. Everyone's kids are scheduled to the hilt. There is no room for free play. After school, parents run their children from activity to activity, with barely time to eat or do homework in between. Let alone read a book for enjoyment, or god forbid, be bored. I don't know how many times I've heard an exasperated sigh as a parent describes the 4 places they need to be in an evening.
Why are parents so focused on organized activities for their kids? I've heard a lot of reasons for the schedules. My kids like sport x,y, or z; they would just sit and play video games or watch t.v.; they need to run off extra steam; they need to specialize in something and now's the time; they need to get into an ivy league school; they need a college scholarship; that's the only way they can spend time with their peers.
What about time to be a kid?
Research is starting to show that kids are less happy than their counterparts in the 50's. Childhood, is meant to observe, explore and learn. Growing up by trial and error, and exploring an unknown world around them can only benefit our kids in adulthood. But in our rush to grow kids up and make them competitive in every area of their life; we take away the one critical skill they need in order to become exceptional, thriving adults.
The freedom to play and invent.
Creativity is not something that can be taught. And we hurt our kids when we schedule them so full of school and activities, that they don't have an opportunity to climb trees, make up new games, and run around. Really they should be exploring what they love to do, instead of being signed up for another activity. They become mini-adults; over-stressed, anxious, and stifled by the environment around them.
We should be helping our kids take back their childhoods.
In my perfect world, kids would go to school and self direct their learning, with gentle guidance from teachers. Memorizing facts, and studying for tests that are only meant to judge job performance of schools would be abolished. Preschoolers would learn how to take care of themselves and the space around them; lower elementary kids could actively engage in the fascinating world of math, science, reading and culture; upper elementary kids would be ready to take learning to a higher level, for the simple joy of learning. Middle schoolers could develop the social skills they are so desperate to try out; and high schoolers could get a taste of the adult world and start finding their passion in life.
No longer would college kids have arrested development. They would springboard into adulthood ready to tackle new challenges.
What would our evenings look like if kids came home energized and ready to play. Running around outside with their friends, playing unorganized games, with nary an adult in sight. They would explore, create, and develop a world all their own. TV and video games and the myriad of distractions we present our kids with would not be the main method of play. I would see 10 year olds still playing make believe. And I would see bored kids, who would do something really cool and productive with that boredom. Instead of taking that love for music, sports, or art they have and putting it in a box, we would let them take off and learn on their own how to appreciate and incorporate those loves into their life.
Kids would no longer be tired of running around a soccer field at age 18. No longer sidelined from over use injuries during the teenage years. Developing a healthy and natural desire to move our bodies they way they were meant to, instead of only doing it to win a game. There is a place for sports, but it doesn't always have to be organized.
I see families struggling all around me. Tired kids, tired parents, and tired schools, who don't know how to get out of the trap of over scheduling. I feel the judgement when I don't sign my kids up for activities, and I talk to many parents who want to stop, but can't seem to. All the opportunities out there are good opportunities, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.
The antidote to this problem is taking back childhood. Letting kids be kids and all the messy awesomeness that entails. Let them play in mud, ride bikes, kick a can, and create a new world without our intervention.
Let's give our kids their childhood back, and stop overscheduling them.
Jessica blogs on Long Days, Short Years, where she talks about the highs and lows of parenting.
More from parenting