Here’s an impromptu street hockey game my oldest son and some neighborhood friends organized in the parking lane in front of our street. This is far more likely to happen here than at a faraway park.
Do your young kids live within one block of a park? My guess is that somewhere around 99% of kids don’t. The best data on this comes from the Centers for Disease Control, which claims that 80% of kids don’t live within a half mile of a park.
The problem is, kids hardly roam anymore. Again, I don’t have precise data, but my anecdotal research indicates that the vast majority of kids in preschool aren’t allowed to roam on their own outside their yards, and the vast majority of elementary school kids aren’t allowed to roam more than one block.
Think about it. If you’re reading this article, you’re likely to be more open to your children roaming than the average parent, but do you let your children roam all the way to the nearest park?
Even if you do, how likely is it that your children will find other kids there that they’re familiar with and want to play with?
Here’s my son Marco and his bike right after his 80K bike ride last year. He spent the rest of the day jumping on our trampoline and climbing our playhouse.
What do you do when parents show off their children’s precocious talents?
Just this past weekend, I sat with my three kids and a few dozen other parents and kids to watch a five-year-old boy play two classical pieces on piano, then a girl around the same age play two violin tunes.
I squirmed. I thought about how I really don’t have anything comparable to show off about my kids. They do have some interesting talents, which I’ll mention later, but those aren’t the sorts of talents that could be shown off to others so impressively.
You see, my wife and I don’t force our kids to practice anything, and, trust me, no five-year-old learns to play classical piano without being forced to practice a lot by his or her parents. We don’t force our kids to do homework, either.
Nico and Leo are working on some construction project here. This sort of scene greets me every day when I come home for dinner.
My wife and I walked our three boys over to a big fallen tree this morning to sit and grab a drink of water during a hike. “I’ll do the brakes,” my son Nico (5) said as he ran toward one end of the tree. “OK, I’ll be the engineer,” replied Leo (3-1/2), and he ran to the opposite end of the tree.
Nico and Leo waste no time. They play every chance they get. They’re superstar “players.” Really…
We always hear that all kids, left alone, will play. However, as they grow up beyond infancy, kids’ abilities to play can be greatly enhanced or stunted by their environment. It’s foolish to believe that any human behavior is primarily determined in by genes.
The book Quiet is about how introverts need more quiet time. With all the distractions they have in their lives, I think all kids, not just introverted ones, need more quiet time.
At home, children are bombarding themselves with digital media – eight hours a day, according to a prominent study. Most older kids do their homework while “multitasking” with Facebook or texting on a nearby screen and music blaring in their ears.
“In terms of sheer quantity of time, I’m not sure that kids spend any more time on homework than we did,” says Janis Whitlock, Director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescence and Young Adults. “But they do feel more burned out and stressed, and that’s because their attention is more scattered.”
When they’re not consuming digital media, parents have their kids busy in lots of scheduled, adult-led activities.
Unfortunately, I’ve recently come to realize that school these days is no oasis from distraction, either. Kids don’t (usually) consume digital media at school, but they’re distracted there by the latest overdone educational fad, “collaboration” for every subject, from solving math problems to writing to reading.
Do your kids absolutely crave vacations away from home? Are they sad to come home?
If that’s true, there are two possible explanations. One is that you plan absolutely off-the-charts, world-class vacations. The other is that your kids’ home life is drab and boring.
For your sake, let’s hope it’s the former.
Our family just took a vacation to Hawaii for spring break, and although we had some amazing moments, at other moments, our kids said they wanted to go home.
That’s fine with me. You see, I put a lot of time and energy into making my kids’ everyday lives fun. Our yard is a neighborhood hangout, so that kids play there every day, weather permitting. They laugh and yell and experience real joy there practically every day.
Craig Newmark created a list and kept making it better. In other words, he just “did it” and gained success through his tenacity to process feedback and refine his list, not by following the orders of some boss (like me…). ; )
Doing has always been an important way to reach inner fulfillment. Now, it’s also the most important path to worldly success.
It’s good for the inside and for the outside. It’s a win-win.
I’m talking about taking action, but I’m not talking about doing as you’re told. I’m talking about looking inside yourself and doing things that you think will make the world a better place. And repeat. Over and over.
Marco has become a cash crop farmer at home, maintaining our garden and charging me for harvested crops. At school, instead of participating in his school science project, he plays at recess. Is he a slacker?
Am I blowing it? I let my second grader, Marco, decide on his own whether he would participate in his school’s science fair.
“I don’t want to give up any recess,” he told me. That means “no.” Participating in the science fair requires meetings during recess.
Sometimes I think I’m blowing it. A friend of mine with kids at the same school has a very different point of view. “They’re participating,” he told me. “They don’t have a choice.”
My friend’s choice certainly seems to be the safer one. What can it hurt for a kid to participate in a science project? The cost of not participating, his line of thinking goes, is that Marco won’t get a great learning experience that he can build on in later years.
While I buy the argument that great learning experiences in early years are building blocks for more sophisticated ones in later years, I’m not sold on the idea that I’m depriving Marco of a great learning experience now. I might, but my guess is that this is not so.
Marco, second from right, listens with teammates to instructions from their baseball coach, at left.
Organized sports can be great for kids’ bodies and character.
Unfortunately, they also have a big downside: they pull kids away from their families and neighborhoods, now much more than ever.
Partially due to organized sports, kids aren’t playing sports in their neighborhoods nearly as much as they used to. Almost entirely due to organized sports, they aren’t eating dinners at home with their families very much, either.
Furthermore, parents and siblings spend tens of minutes, sometimes hours, each time they drive a kid around to his or her practices and games, and then they stand around there for a couple of hours, waiting to take him or her home. This is very disruptive to family life at home.
This downside bothers my wife and me so much that we’ve had a difficult time deciding whether our oldest son, Marco (8), should play organized sports at all. However, right now, Marco is playing baseball and I’m pretty happy with the balance we’ve achieved.
Boys are doing very badly these days, relative to girls. Now, a new study helps us identify the main culprit. It’s our schools.
The study points out that, while boys get worse grades than girls in school, they do about as well as girls on standardized tests (better in math and science, worse in reading). Statistically speaking, they get much worse grades, relative to girls, than their test scores would predict.
Why the disparity?
Behavior and attitude, according to teachers’ assessments. You know, boys don’t sit still as well as girls. They are less likely to hand in their assignments on time. They’re disruptive. They don’t pay attention.
It should surprise no one that boys are way worse in behavior and attitude than girls are. If you think back to your own childhoods, you’ll recall that way more boys than girls had these issues.
What’s new, though, is that schools are far less accommodating than they used to be to kids with these issues. Consider two of the major differences between schools today and schools of decades ago:
I want my children to have playful childhoods. When they grow up, I want them to be “doers” and have happy, productive adulthoods.
One might argue that my wishes are contradictory, that “playing” and “doing” are opposites.
After all, play is free and spontaneous. It’s whimsical and carefree. Doing, on the other hand, sounds like Type-A, goal-directed stuff. Work. Stress. Drudgery. Ugh…
Well, I disagree with this point of view. I strongly believe that childhood play can form the foundation for a productive, happy adulthood. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a play advocate for my kids.
Yes, we absolutely cherish every moment of our children’s childhoods, but we would be lousy parents if we didn’t think about their futures as well. If our kids grow up to be totally whimsical and carefree adults, with no purpose in their lives beyond immediate enjoyment for themselves, that’s a problem.
We want our children to grow up to be productive, happy adults. We want them to have a burning passion to do something that makes the world a better place, and we want them to have the tools to make this happen.