Giving My Children Their Childhood
In today's fast-paced over-scheduled world, I'm doing what I can to give my kids their childhood.
In today’s fast-paced, over-scheduled world, I’m doing what I can to give my kids their childhood. It’s easy to get swept up in the pressure to do everything and be everything—and that goes for kids as well as parents.
Most of the pressure starts out with good intentions, or at least with the vibe of helpfulness. Questions from family members and other moms about when I’m enrolling my 3-year-old in preschool. Blogs and Pinterest boards filled with activities to fill every minute of the day. Sign-ups for classes and playdates.
When my daughter was a year old, I started to doubt myself and wondered if I was being a lazy mom. I didn’t have our days and activities scheduled out. Heck, most of the time when I tried to do an impromptu project I didn’t even have the “materials from around the house” on hand. Instead, we spent our days with a general routine and lots of play.
According to Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, we must give childhood back to children by allowing for more time to play. In a recent article he stated:
The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.
It’s really easy to doubt yourself when it feels like everyone around you thinks your kids need to be doing something. They need to be enrolled in this or that class and have more structured learning time. However, I found my daughter loved to learn through play. It’s also where her creativity comes out with fantastical adventures for us to go on or turning unused nursing pads into pillows for her doctor’s clinic. My 14-month-old son is not quite as spirited as my daughter, but I love to watch him explore on his own. He’ll sit quietly filling and emptying boxes, but will also problem solve how to climb over the baby gate to freedom.
I spend quite a bit of time playing with them, but they also play together and on their own. We’ve experienced an increase in “teachable moments” since my son started playing alongside my daughter—hands on social and emotional learning.
I grew up much later than Dr. Gray, but even my childhood memories involve lots of free play and few scheduled activities. I find myself concerned with this trend to increase schooling and start formal classes at earlier ages. Instead we are opting out of preschool and continuing to learn through play at home and in our community. Although going to activities such as gymnastics, dance, and story time aren’t truly free play, I find that they compliment our free time well. Preserving their childhood starts when they are babies and toddlers, not when they reach elementary school.
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