Monday, October 29, 2012

Just Being Kids

I am sad. Not for me, not for my kids, but for childhood in general. Our chemistry class has wrapped up for the semester and many of the kids were sad we wouldn't be having class again until February. I didn't at all get a bloated ego and think it was because I was such a wonderful teacher, I know its because the kids play outside with each other after each class. And when I say "play", I mean full force, go for it, running and being a kid without adult intervention play. I sat back and thought about it and that was the first time I have seen kids just playing together outside of my three in almost ten years. That is no exaggeration.
My husband and I play with our kids all the time. We swing with them on the swings, play soccer and football in the yard, and even have family races. However, in a neighborhood full of families with kids, we never see other families out playing together. I think most of the reason is because kids are too darn busy. Yes, not parents, but kids. After school there is soccer or gymnastics or football or cheerleading or some other organized activity. Even home schoolers are guilty of have amazingly over organized children.
For several years now one child or another had to decline a birthday party invitation because they "had" to go to practice or play a game or do some other really grown up stuff to do. It's sad because birthday parties are the only time they see some of their friends. It seems you have get on the "schedule" of other children today and "just to play" isn't a good enough reason to get penciled in. "Just playing" isn't seen as important and can always be interrupted at a moments notice if a coach calls an extra practice (for whatever reason he sees fit), or there is dress rehearsal for a dance recital (no matter how far away the recital might be) - being friends, being kids, having unorganized fun has been put on the back burner in an effort to teach kids "responsibility". However, what is more responsible than being a friend? What is more important than teaching kids to control their own life and not get bogged down in meetings and schedules and "stuff" and neglect the development of health relationships with PEOPLE instead of teams or clubs or organizations. By the way, we aren't talking about teenagers, we are talking about children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old.
What are we really teaching children? Are we teaching children that being an individual is less important then being part of a team? Are we teaching children that other people get to control their time and tell them where they need to be, when they need to be there, and what they need to be doing when they get there? Isn't that the part of "your" life that you hate so much now? I don't know one person that enjoys meetings. I don't know one person who likes it when the boss changes the schedule, or cancels your vacation because something "important" came up. I see adults absolutely hate all the weddings, retirement parties, banquets, and galas they "have" to attend, when they would really rather be home enjoying the house they worked so hard to buy, or smelling the roses they wished they had time to plant. Why do this to our children? Why take away the few precious years of freedom you get and force them into the roles we despise ourselves.
Many people say their kids "want" to play sports or be involved in drama and dance or any of the other myriad of things that are finding their way onto the schedule of children. The truth is, you child does want to play soccer - just play soccer. They don't have to go to the Olympics or even the state championship. They want to join that league soccer team because all the other kids have parents that will only respect a good soccer game if it is league (adult) sponsored. Admit it - would you interrupt your child playing basketball in the driveway with their friends for them to wash the dishes? Now, would you pull them out of basketball practice at school (with a coach and uniforms) to wash dishes? What changed? Isn't it just basketball? Why have more respect for a basketball game organized by adults - where children are forced to play a certain position and get pegged by "talent" but not respect a game where kids are looking at each other as equals and anyone with the ball can try and make the shot and the teams were picked by kids who value people for who they are, not just what they can do? Your son probably picked Little Johnny to be on his team because Little Johnny is a nice guy while at school he may be "teammates" with Big John - the school bully.Yet the message they are getting at this young and tender age is that liking people just for being people isn't enough, that spending time with friends and family isn't important, that doing what you like in the moment isn't a priority. What is important is having a boss (coach), hanging out with the people you are assigned to (co-workers) and your "real" friends, the ones who you chose on your own should be put on the back burner while you go out and win a trophy.
Another issue this lack of free time has brought about is children that don't have the capacity to self direct. They don't know what to do unless they are being told what to do. This is why children appear so wild and out of control when adults aren't around - they never learned how to self direct. If a child has had their entire day mapped out for them since they were three years old, never having an opportunity to play with no adult intervention - when do they learn how to be free, independent people? I am not saying adults shouldn't be there watching, observing, and making sure everyone is safe - but let them make up their own games, with their own rules, and their own teams. Why not give them a few hours each day (yes, multiple hours every day) to find their way.
Finding their way leads me to yet another big thing children miss out on when they are over scheduled - alone time. Yes, I started this post about kids playing together and that is important. But sometimes there is no one to play with, what do you do then? If children are always scheduled and organized - they are always together. No time for being alone with ones own thoughts and ideas, no time learning how to entertain oneself, no time to appreciate the differences of playing alone versus playing in a group. Both are fun, both are important, both are necessary.
I understand - there is so much available for children to do today. My children are involved in multiple activities. However, they also get multiple hours each day for self directed, self managed play. I noticed an amazing thing happening in their behavior - the more self directed time they had, the more their behavior improved overall. Self direction and self management are therapeutic and some of the best learning a child can do. I fear greatly for children that have every hour of their day mapped out for them, what happens when the map maker is no longer there? What happens to children who have been taught to value organized interactions over personal relationship development? What happens when the team is gone and they have no deep friendships to carry over into adult life? How does an adult child value an aging parent who simply contracted out every learning experience to someone else? How do they value siblings they never got a chance to know - because they were always assigned to different teams or clubs, or scout troops because they were different ages? Being young is a temporary thing, but family isn't and friends don't have to be. Why are as parents putting so much emphasis and value on temporary teams, clubs, and organizations instead of encouraging our children to develop relationships that can last a lifetime? Think back on your childhood. What are the memories that matter to you? Sure, I won some trophies when I was little, but that isn't what I look back on and cherish. What I remember in the core of my being is my time playing with my sisters and my friends. I can remember playing double dutch, riding bikes, playing kickball, have slumber parties, making up dances to songs, having singing contest, and even "playing the dozens". It all happened outside of school and while we had adult supervision, there was little to no adult intervention.
I am not saying organized activities are bad, but think about how much of your child's day is scheduled. If they don't have at least a few hours every day where they can just be a kid, maybe think about easing up a bit. There is just a short window of time. My mom is now 71, I can still remember her teaching us cheers they used to do when she was little. I still remember her building a huge white boat out of Legos with us. I still remember playing cards together. No pictures or videos to spark the memories - those experiences are a part of me. I am 37 years old and I remember those times like it was yesterday. 

No comments:

Post a Comment