Friday, September 21, 2012

Opting Out of the "Rug Rat Race"

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."


MtnGirl said...

A friend of mine has two boys - 8 and 11 years old. Their Dad was a football, basketball and baseball player in high school and college. Right now they play football - the younger one in flag football and the older one in tackle. I love to watch them play on Saturdays, but they practice all the time especially the 11 year old who has practice (I think) every night of the week. I'm not judging them, but it makes me weary just to think of having to do something after "work" every night of the week.....

I guess my point is I think young kids are so over scheduled they don't have time to just be kids.....just an observation!

Reagan and Trevor's Mommy said...

My 3 year old daughter plays soccer. She's wanted to play since she could talk because she has watched her older cousins play. She enjoys it but I do cringe when I see some of the other 3 year olds clearly not enjoying it. All I focus on with her is listening to the coaches during practice and the games. Skills don't matter enough to us for us push her. As long as she continues to have fun we will keep signing her up. Little brother is too young yet but we plan to take his lead as well on what he might be interested in for fun.

TAV said...

Love these thought-provoking posts!! I am pro preschool and Public school but definitely feel that parents go overboard with the activities.

Beth said...

We try very hard to stick to a one activity at a time rule. Our daughter's current choice is gymnastics, a year round commitment. It's more hours than I like, but the gym down the street has kids the same age going double the amount of hours! We are constantly evaluating if Sarah is really enjoying it or not. Judging by the amount of time she practices at home with no one mentioning it shows us how much she loves it. In general though, I agree that kids lives these days are over-scheduled. We know how fast these young years go by, and I don't want to miss a chance to be a family because we are so busy running to all of our activities.

We did preschool for both our kids, for different reasons. Our daughter was bored at home and I didn't know how to challenge her. Her teachers were a great source of ideas for me to continue at home. My son has special needs and preschool is very important for him to make gains in several areas...especially socially.

Sarah A said...

I completely know I don't want to overschedule. S is in preschool, just because he is so beyond ready, enjoys it, and despite any effort AT ALL on our parts, is reading...yikes. LOL It's just who he is, and I'm okay with that. (Wasn't I supposed to be able to fib about the store being closed or out of ice-cream for a couple more years??)

Thinking about soccer for the spring, but just a thought. I think he would enjoy it, but if not, we'll can it ASAP. 4 year old soccer, from what I hear, is pretty amusing to watch! ;)

Joy Z said...

This is slightly off topic, but one thing that bugs Vic and I tremendously about the young sports is what we would call "rewarding mediocre performance". We hate that every kid gets a trophy even if they don't win and the team who actually wins isn't recognized differently. We are all for just playing for fun and we are the furthest thing from "those parents" on the sidelines who are yelling at their kids for not making the best play. But we do want to encourage excellence and help them to understand at a young age that we don't all get rewarded for everything. I think this might be in line with what you quoted at the end of your blog post.

Joy Z said...

Oh and on the topic of teaching children early:

(this is just my personal experience)

I have been home schooling now for 11 years and have taught (so far), 4 of my 6 children to read and am currently working on number 5 who is in kindergarten this year. Some of them got it easily around age 5 and some of them didn't "get it" until age 7 or so. Guess what? Now that they are older, you'd never be able to tell who learned to read at an earlier age. By age 9 or 10, they all level out and it didn't matter. What DID matter though if if they had a bad experience learning early on. If a kid learns his times tables in 2nd grade or in 5th grade, seriously who cares? They both know it, don't they?

And again, this is just my personal experience and thoughts.

animalcrackerkat said...

When I heard that you can teach babies to read, I didn't think: "Should I teach my baby to read?" My thought was, "Wow! That's so cool!"

We all do what we can for our kids. We want what is best for them. We want them to be happy.

When Joshua was 8 months old, my husband and I met Dr. Bob Titzer (the guy to created Your Baby Can Read) at a baby expo. Talking with him kind of shaped our philosophy for a while. The idea behind what he does is teaching babies the written language while you're teaching them verbal language. It's basically labeling. All the experts say talk to your child a lot about things that are happening right there. When you see a dog, say "That's a dog". Your Baby Can Read is the same concept only it shows the word as well. It includes DVDs, books, and flash cards. Your Baby Can Read videos are about 20 minutes. I let him watch them and not any other t.v. I was raised to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I watched so many hours of Tom and Jerry. My kids don't do that. I figure that they enjoy educational tv and junk tv. Why not give them educational shows exclusively?

animalcrackerkat said...

My babies love flash card time. They love it because it's fun. They get to look at pictures, mom looks all crazy excited and they get to learn. My sons are now 2 and 4 and they still love flash card time even though they can read all the words. The number one misconception about teaching young children things, that it's not fun. Learning is fun. Kids love to learn until someone makes learning a chore. Number one rule: If it's not fun, don't do it.

I didn't start teaching my kids to read so they could get into Harvard. I taught my kids to read because I found out I could. Reading is an adventure. Reading is awesome! Joshua's new favorite book is called Pumpkinhead by Eric Rohmann. It is a book about a boy with a pumpkin for a head who gets his head stolen by a bat. It's a super strange book. Joshua read it at least 5 times yesterday. He read it once with me, once with my mom, once with my husband and a few more times by himself.

There is this idea out there (I've seen it a lot on the internet lately) that kids who read don't do anything else and that they're not really allowed to play. My kids read. They also play with clay and play doh, color, paint, stamp, run, jump, swing, pretend, dress up, board game (Joshua's favorite is Scrabble), ride bikes and play sports.

animalcrackerkat said...

Joshua is signed up for soccer this season. He's 4. The soccer program here for 4 year olds doesn't even have games. They focus on soccer skills like dribbling, stopping the ball with your foot and kicking. Joshua thinks it's fabulous. Joshua thinks all sports are fabulous. He wants to play them all. I find this to be particularly great because I'm not good at any sport. I don't like sports. I want my son to be happy and sports make him happy. I will sign him up for whatever he wants to try. I think maybe the difference in attitude probably stems from my complete lack of competitiveness in sports. I was never pushed to be good at anything really. I never competed for any title or position. When I was a child I won a ribbon for hula hooping at field day and I remember this because it's the only physical thing I have ever been good at. I don't have any fears about pressuring my children because it would never occur to me to do so.

I would love to teach my kids about gardening. But I can't keep a cactus alive in the desert. Really. We lived in the desert for 3 years and I couldn't keep cacti alive.

I would love to teach Joshua how to skateboard. But I don't have the balance I used to.

I would love to teach my kids patience. But I don't have any.

The thing I have learned from all this early learning stuff is that kids have such unlimited potential. They can learn almost anything, easily. And they love it. I will continue to try to teach my kids as much as I can every day, while they still think learning is fun and while it's effortless for them.

John K (Temperate Climate Permaculture) said...

Animalcracker, I completely agree with you. You are learning for fun. You aren't trying to get your kids ready for any big college entrance examination. That's exactly what I meant ... we need to be doing things for fun. I do think that getting kids outside and into "nature" is incredibly important too! Learning needs to be fun. But I am meeting way too many parents that are shoving it down their kids throats. And that's just NOT fun!

Joy, I never thought about the "rewarding performance" thing like you put it. That really has me thinking. And Joy, I think you, with 6 children, are proof of the fact that it is okay if they are learning at different rates. That they all turn out the same -- someday!

Anonymous said...

Sorry,that above comment was from me (Wendi) not my hubby. Darned signout thingy.

I have no fear of learning in anyway and do think, you are exactly right. Children are a sponge. We should give it all to them. But I do think we have to keep them really LOVING to be learning -- not getting them involved in so much so young!

Anonymous Wendi

Patty PB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patty PB said...

I dunno why it erased my comment above... ;(

I went to a Montessory school from Pre-School age until about age 10. The traditional Montessory Method focuses on (among other things), individualized learning, and practical applications of concepts onto daily life. (There are a lot of coordination and manipulation projects that kids do, such as, for example: tending to a plant, later a garden, and later cooking from that garden, etc...)
I still, to this day, remember things I learned there, and most of all, the feeling that it evoked every time I would enter the classroom...
I think that if I can find a Montessory for T, I would definitely go for it... However, I agree on the disfunctionality if the public education system in regards to Early Childhood education (including the 'forceful sports' routine). I NEVER played any sport (other than Ballet) and I was awful at anything that required a ball. I don't think it defined who I am, or than I'm a better or worse person for it. If T wants to play, great. But if he wants to be a Hip-Hop dancer, thats great too. ;)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you - kids are over scheduled and need time to be kids without the pressure of being the best at this, that or the other thing. But while I don't force sports or other activities (except piano lessons) I do strongly encourage them to participate in sports throughout the year. They do baseball in the summer, soccer in the spring and a basketball camp and flag football in the fall (football is new this year). If the really don't want to play then we don't make them. But I see the value in the sports they play. Do I want them to be the best? Nope. Do I want them to burn off some energy, keep active, learn to cooperate with others and learn that it's ok not to win every single time? Yep. I know my boys probably won't go on to play sports in college. Who knows if they'll be interested in them in high school even. But I don't have them play so that they're the best (which is the goal of some parents.)

They had been in boy scouts for 2 years and chose not to do it this year. It was fine with us. one less thing to do.

And as far as preschool - We wouldn't have put the boys in preschool if it wasn't for the fact that they needed to socialize with others their age. They were (and still are) such momma's boys that they needed to get out of the house. But they didn't need preschool. They already knew everything that they needed to just by us spending time with them.


G said...

I'm constantly torn on this one. Our kids are limited to one activity at a time (not including church groups). Our oldest has -- at 12 -- just committed to year-round swim team, where he practices 4-5 days a week for 1.5 - 2 hours each. That felt like the right time for him to make that kind of commitment.

On the other hand, a few years ago, when he wanted to play baseball with his friends, I realized we'd missed the opportunity. His friends had been playing since they were 4 and were on travel teams; he was still learning how to consistently hit and catch the ball. And my husband coaches high school girls' volleyball and, by the time the girls get to him at 9th grade, the ones who've been playing club ball for 3-4 years are just that much better for all the practice, so the usually are the ones who make the teams. It's a vicious circle.

I wanted my kids to play, free-form, with the neighborhood kids, which is what I did growing up. The problem is, the neighborhood kids are all at soccer/football/ballet/cheerleading until we're heading in for dinner....

My kids went to preschool, and I freely admit that they went because I needed them to go, not because they needed to go. I am a much more patient and relaxed parent when I can consistent count on having a few hours a day, a few days a week, when the kids are safely and happily occupied elsewhere. So, once nap-time is outgrown, they have gotta go to school! :)