Monday, December 21, 2009

The Newest Thing

Lately I've been hearing about the new trend in child-raising. It's called "Slow Parenting" or "Simple Parenting". It's a backlash against the high-stress, overly scheduled lifestyle we sometimes impose on our children by insisting they be involved in every activity that could possibly benefit their brains, bodies or social skills. "Let's see, little Johnny needs music lessons for his artistic side, soccer for his athletic side, scouts to learn social skills and service to others, spanish, Lego Robotics, plus twice a week in childcare at the YMCA while I work out, add in the membership to OMSI and the Zoo that we have to make use of and, what's that? How old is Little Johnny? First grade."

All those activities are wonderful in and of themselves, but when does Little Johnny get to play? Free play is essential for growing a creative, problem solving mind. Boredom is not something to be avoided at all costs. Boredom is what teaches our children to amuse themselves, to try something new, to pull out those toys and actually (gasp!) use them in a way they were not intended to be used. And that's a GOOD thing!

I guess I'm old enough to say that back in my day, things were different. I belonged to Camp Fire Girls for three or four years, and it was just okay. I took piano lessons from third grade until I graduated from high school. I had a horse (which was a family pet, nothing fancy) and a swimming pool, so that was great exercise, but of course it wasn't scheduled activity. That was about all. I remember being on a summer softball team in middle school once and I hated it. I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. I built my own skateboard and hung on to my horse's tail while she pulled me around. I rode her to the library and Seven-Eleven. I entered neighborhood just-for-fun horse shows. I read books. My friend and I put on our own dog show. I explored the hills endlessly by myself. It was fantastic, and I still graduated from high school and college even without having my life directed for me by my parents.

There are some great articles out lately about this movement to slow down and simplify. You can read an interview with the author of the book Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children From the Culture of Hyper-Parenting here. Nancy Gibbs' article in Time magazine about "helicopter parents" created some buzz. You can read that one here. Definitely some food for thought.

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