The spring of the year is a “busy” time. Students are firing on all cylinders and teachers are striving to get through the remaining curriculum or final assignments in an attempt to reach the finish line. Parents are juggling duties and deadlines – and lawns still need to be mowed and errands completed while sports and music schedules compete for the remaining time in the lives of many young families. From an early age, children learn that being “busy” is an acceptable, and even desirable, way of life – a life in which they are swept along in a frenetic pace of “busy-ness” determined largely by adults as they run from activity to activity on evenings and weekends.
What are the reasons for over-committing our kids to so many activities?
As parents, we may feel pushed to enroll our kids in activities, not because they always want to participate, but simply because so many other children are so involved. We can also be pushed by our children themselves (against our better judgment and intuition about what is right and balanced) to have them do more than feels comfortable to us. Society puts a great deal of emphasis on children’s “achievements”, both in school and in extra-curricular activities. The resultant pressure for children to acquire skills and experiences too quickly is often overwhelming and unhealthy. It risks substituting being productive with being busy.
Over-committing can have a negative effect on the development of children, causing them to grow up faster than is good for them or to be overwhelmed by the expectations placed upon them. Over-committed children often don’t have the opportunity to relax, play, be quiet and be unscheduled. In other words, to just be kids.
Jean Piaget, the well-known Swiss child development expert, believed that “play is the work of childhood”; however, in our increasingly competitive and résumé-building culture, play can often get a bum rap.
Play is the “work of children” and those who play freely are likely to be more emotionally healthy and creative than those who are not given the time to do so. Kids who are encouraged to play nourish an innate sense of wonder (inquiry). What are the things that risk diminishing this sense? Not having enough time to play outside. Excessive screen time inside. Adults constantly dictating play time in an attempt to “educate”. Having too many manufactured toys that do not stimulate creativity. A hectic lifestyle, packed with structured activities and instant gratification.
In school, as in life, balance is the key and a middle way is usually the best way. We can boost a child’s inclination to “wonder” by ensuring they have ample time to explore the natural world “hands-on” without having a particular agenda when they are playing. When we as adults accompany kids as “co-discoverers”, we encourage inquisitiveness.
In a culture that seems to rush at times toward the finish line, the experiences we thought kids had to have before finishing high school have moved down to elementary school in some cases. And, as William Doherty, professor of family studies at the University of Minnesota, cautions, “We may soon be talking about leadership opportunities for toddlers.” And that would be madness!
Food for thought as we enjoy some time with our own families this weekend!
Ric Anderson, Head of School