I am a firm believer that kids need time to play. I'm a firm believer that I need time to play (this one's been tough this year and I'm a hypocrite).
A recent article from Scientific American titled, "The Serious Need for Play" reconfirmed this philosophy and has got me excited again and my wheels turning, more on that article below.
There are some serious doubts about my laid-back philosophy that pop up when I hear of all the activities my kids' playmates are registered in. I'm not exaggerating when I say that some of Ariel's friends are involved in 6-7 classes/week. Gymnastics, skating, swimming, dance, piano, etc, and some of these are two nights a week plus weekends (not to mention expensive)! My kids are only registered in one gymnastic class per week, on Saturday mornings. We picked gymnastics because from our experience, if you can do gymnastics well, you can conquer the world. When comparing to the normal kids extracurricular activities, it is hard not to worry that your kid is going to be left behind, his/her athletic prowess diminished, socioeconomic success forever hampered.
Additionally, these activities need to be balanced with homework and an 8PM bedtime. In our house, by the time I wrap up work at 6-ish, help out with supper and clean-up, there is little time left over for play, let alone an extracurricular activity AND homework. We start the bedtime routine around 730-745, and spent time reading with the kids before they crash. It's a pretty small window of time to hang out as a fam.
In regards to homework, Ariel usually has some, and we usually ignore it (sorry Madame Karine!) Ariel is super smart, his reading and writing in English and French are developing at an astonishing pace, he loves math and social studies, and most importantly he is HOOKED on learning. He brings home books on ancient Egypt and Forest Life Cycles for us to read with him at bedtime, and recites the facts back to us around the dinner table. However . . . Ariel is also super distracted, and getting him to focus on a task to completion can make you want to punch someone in the throat. He is particular about his work, which makes him slow, and if someone sitting next to him in class wants to debate the supremacy of Sonic vs. Knuckles, that debate will win over his school work every time. This means he brings home uncompleted work, one night last week an hour of it that his poor teacher insisted he catch up on. I sat with him for that hour, keeping him on task amidst the readily-available distractions, and there was not a single activity that was a struggle for him, the questions asked did not require a second thought to answer correctly. I was sorry I made him do it, I don't think it was a valuable use of time considering that it kept him up till 9PM and made him sluggish and worn out the next day.
The homework issue has collided with this new article from Scientific American and I am feeling a need to "do something" about it. I'm not 100% sure what that will look like yet. Here are highlights put forward by the article, but I recommend you read it in entirety:
- Childhood play is crucial for social, emotional and cognitive development.
- Imaginative and rambunctious “free play,” as opposed to games or structured activities, is the most essential type.
- Kids and animals that do not play when they are young may grow into anxious, socially maladjusted adults.
- Limiting free play in kids may result in a generation of anxious, unhappy and socially maladjusted adults. “The consequence of a life that is seriously play-deprived is serious stuff,” Brown says. But it is never too late to start: play also promotes the continued mental and physical well-being of adults.
- Children’s free-play time dropped by a quarter between 1981 and 1997. Concerned about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for more structured activities. As early as preschool, youngsters’ after-school hours are now being filled with music lessons and sports—reducing time for the type of imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation.
- Most essential, the activity should not have an obvious function in the context in which it is observed—meaning that it has, essentially, no clear goal.
- Play fighting also improves problem solving. According to a paper published by Pellegrini in 1989, the more elementary school boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving.
- Many parents today believe they are acting in their kids’ best interests when they swap free play for what they see as valuable learning activities.
- Some mothers and fathers may also hesitate to let their kids play outside unattended, and they may fret about the possibility of the scrapes and broken bones that sometimes arise during play fighting or rambunctious fantasy play, says Sergio M. Pellis, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. Although those instincts are natural, protecting kids “simply defrays those costs to later, when those same children will have difficulty in dealing with an unpredictable, complex world,” Pellis says. “A child who has had a rich exposure to social play experiences is more likely to become an adult who can manage unpredictable social situations.”
So, this is exciting confirmation for me, perhaps I am not ruining my children after all by keeping the schedule more open. It's also led me on a rabbit trail called "Waldorf", an education philosophy which at first glance lines up with this information.