Overscheduling Our Kids


I signed Daughter (3) and Son (5) up for soccer this Spring. Many of Son’s friends have already played a Spring/Fall season or two so we’re late to the game. But I’ve also heard that some of these same four year olds were in tears or unwilling to play last year. So balancing my fear that I’ve held Son back too long is my instinct that I waited until the right time when he was ready to join an organized sport. (And my memory of our attempt at a week long summer soccer camp when he was two. He refused to play, I hustled around the field with infant Daughter in Baby Bjorn, and we stopped going by the third day.)

Now, I’m also fretting about what summer camps to put them in. This has become the discussion of the month as we mommies feel the impending open ended days looming a few months from now.

What will I do with them all day?

I don’t want them to be bored!

I’ll go crazy!

Last summer, I opted for the “let’s have lazy days of beach combing, playing on the backyard, swing set, picnic dinners and play dates with friends” approach. Lulling me into this fantasy was a hazy memory of my own idle summer days in childhood. Wasn’t this the way it’s supposed to be?

Well, there were two faults to my delusion. One: Few of Son’s friends were around for play dates (and mommy company for me) because they were all in camp. Two: I did go just about crazy by mid-summer from our long idle days together.

So, this summer I’m opting for a combo approach that will hopefully engage their little energetic bodies and creative souls yet leave time for free play.

At Daughter’s three year check up yesterday, I asked Doctor how much camp to put her in. “I don’t want to over schedule her at such a young age,” I proclaimed.

“You know, people complain there’s not much to do in our town,” she replied. “And while I agree this can be a problem for teens (her daughter is fourteen), I tell them to start something themselves. Come up with something to do. But, many kids don’t know how to do this because their parents have always scheduled activities for them.”

Hmmmmm. Her comment reminded me of an article I read in an old Redbook Magazine at the nail salon. Titled “How to Let Kids be Kids” it discussed the pros and cons of over scheduling. The author, Judith Newman, was fighting the same fears we all consider: Don’t our kids need more stimulation and challenge? “What, I wonder, will they be missing if they come home from first grade and do what I did as a little kid: nothing?” She asks.

The article goes on to quote several experts on the subject. “Children learn through playing, through active exploration that feeds their imagination, not by always having others organize the world for them.” Said Susan Linn, a psychologist at the Judge Baker Children’s Center at Harvard Medical School and the author of The Case For Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World

That makes sense to me and has been my predominant philosophy with my kids so far. But am I being too old-fashioned? Am I kidding myself that my summer experience from the 1970s is the right one for my kids in 2009? Do idle summer days prepare them for a Facebook, Twittering, only-a-Google-search-away, who-knows-what-else-will-be-invented-by-the-time-they’re-ten world?

The truth is, free play is a perfectly valid skill for a hyper-connected world. I can give my kids some organized activities that weren’t available to me when I was a kid and make sure they also have free time for creative play. As Linn goes on to say later in the article, “Play is about discovering what the world is for yourself.” Not what programmers, producers, teachers and coaches make it for you. “…To develop into a creative being in this noisy, fast-paced, electronics-filled world, children need ‘time, space, and silence.”

So, I’ll take them to camp in the morning for a few weeks. We’ll go to the beach some afternoons. Run through the sprinkler on others. And, I’ll probably hire a mother’s helper to help ensure my sanity and “encourage” their free play.

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