Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What should childhood look like?

This little article, supposedly written by a preschool teacher, has been floating around on Facebook. I read it last week and saw that my sister re-posted it yesterday. I loved it so much I cried. And then vowed to re-read it everyday (which I have already failed at! ha!) But, here it is...

Written by a Pre-School Teacher – It says it all!
I was on a parenting bulletin board recently and read a post by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked.
Most of the answers left me not only saddened but pretty soundly annoyed. One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only three. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.
It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our pre-schoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.
So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.
She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvellous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.
But more important, here’s what parents need to know.
That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like lego and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and books, books, books. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too– to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them. They need us to take walks with them and not mind the .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

Oh this totally put so many of my feelings into words! If I get one more lecture on the importance of kids being in sports and other "organized activities" I might just scream! Seriously! Our kiddos do not need to be busy! They do not need a schedule full of "activities". They need freedom to play and learn! They need time to be bored so that they can pick up books, or decide to write their own. Time to play pirates and princesses or both. Time to sing songs and play outside.

We have struggled to find the balance in activities with our kids. This year we have opted to do a few that our kids could do together (art class once a week and a gymnastics class once a month) and that were during the day so that they do not cut into family time. I almost cringe when I hear that families aren't able to go do fun things together, or visit relatives, go on a trip, or serve in their community because Little Johnny has a basketball game. Seriously, family life revolves around the 5 year old? I am not anti-sports. We have done a few and I am sure will do a few more in the future. But, they have taken over family life in our world and it makes me so sad. And at the same time I have been tempted to sign on for it too because it seems to be what everyone else is doing and I so desperately want to give my children a "normal" childhood.

But, then, maybe I don't. Because looking around it seems like a normal childhood is one with little to no family time. Most time at home is spent in front of the tv, XBox, or some handheld device. Childhood is not characterized by playing but by competition and trying to get ahead.

It makes me sad. And I am frustrated with myself because I give into it sometimes too. I am tempted to keep our calendar full too. And I turn on the TV way more often than I should... I should really tell them to grab a book or go make up a play to perform for me in 20 minutes. But, I get lazy and I go to the default. But, I want to be better. I want my children to have a "simple, carefree childhood". 

So, I am going to be working towards that... Working towards saying "no" to little league, chess club, and a long list of classes that promise to make my kids amazing... and saying "yes" to forts in the living room, walks to the playground, help making cookies, and just one more story...

And of course, I will keep you posted :)