I am a former Division I college athlete. And so, when I tell people, "I'm not sure if my kids will play sports or not ... we'll see," I often watch as their nose crinkles. Their jaw drops, just slightly. I'm a 6'3" All-State Volleyball and Basketball player. While I don't often talk about my past accomplishments in sports, it was my entire life for over a decade. Not push them into athletics? It's as if their eyes are saying, "Girl are you crazy!?"
Maybe I am. But I just think kids playing soccer at three and the parents standing on the sidelines as if this is the end-all, be-all, is just too much for me. If my children want to play a sport, that's fine. But if they don't, that's fine too. They aren't going to sit around and play video games. But if they enjoy working on the farm with their father, or volunteering down the street, that's fine too.
I recently read a fantastic article by Paul Tough entitled: "Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race'". You can read the article in its entirety here. It really echoed the way JB and I feel.
I would love to open up a dialogue about Tough's article. But I must emphasize that I am not judging parents who do it different than me. I am simply interested in how you decide the right way for your family.
When I started kindergarten back in 1983, very few of my fellow classmates had been in preschool. In fact, I had attended a small Christian school preschool during my family's attempt to return to their extended family in Chicago, and I think I was one of the only kids who had been in a preschool proram. Kids didn't read by the time they entered kindergarten. They learned to read in kindergarten.
But today, if your child doesn't know their letters by the time they start school, they are considered behind. I, personally, have a problem with this. And this isn't too say I am not working on letters with my kids. (I am!) But I am working on them for the joy of learning. Not for the pressure to keep up with anyone else.
Paul Tough's entire piece can summarized with the following statement:
"What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years of life. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character."
People have asked me why our kids aren't in preschool. Don't get me wrong. John and I see nothing wrong with preschool. My statements are in no way meant to judge people for choosing to put their children in preschool. However, when we thought about it, we realized that what we wanted to instill in our children was not something they needed preschool for. We felt that we were able to provide them more at home, with us. Tidepools. Trips to the garden. Discussions in our living room. That seemed the place we wanted to educate.
Only children may need the socialization. Working parents may face no other option. No argument from me on that. But this doesn't change the fact that kids are being pressure to do more and be more from an even younger age.
I was a Division I athlete and yet, I didn't participate in any sports until I was nearly 10 years old. And that was a fun, community softball team. Why are three-year-olds playing soccer? Do kids really need gymnastics before they can walk? Learning athletic skills are important. But when is the right time? And when is it too much?
So what can parents do to help their children develop skills like motivation and perseverance? As Tough writes: "The reality is that when it comes to noncognitive skills, the traditional calculus of the cognitive hypothesis—start earlier and work harder—falls apart. Children can't get better at overcoming disappointment just by working at it for more hours. And they don't lag behind in curiosity simply because they didn't start doing curiosity work sheets at an early enough age."
Tough suggests, instead of trying to do everything, maybe instead, do nothing. Back off a bit. "American children, especially those who grow up in relative comfort, are, more than ever, shielded from failure as they grow up. They certainly work hard; they often experience a great deal of pressure and stress; but in reality, their path through the education system is easier and smoother than it was for any previous generation. Many of them are able to graduate from college without facing any significant challenges. But if this new research is right, their schools, their families, and their culture may all be doing them a disservice by not giving them more opportunities to struggle. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success."