It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Fri 5 Oct 12 20:33
I'm enjoying hte book, as well. We have a 4 year old boy, and are just starting to feel like we want him to do all these things... Learn foreign languages. Play soccer. Study acrobatics. Take dance class. Play basketball. How do you reconcile your desire to give your kid great opportunities to do fun stuff and "overprogramming" Is there a magic formula? Can I have it?
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sat 6 Oct 12 07:11
We tried to let our daughter try each activity at least once but did not push. I knew going in that there was not enough time in the week for everything. In a way it was simpler for us because with two working parents, our daughter was in day care and then after-school care and that just pretty much ate up everything. The after-school did get a few programs in, but it was a very different dynamic.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Sat 6 Oct 12 11:08
Hi Adam! Im thrilled that you like the book. I think the magic formula is the notion that there is time. I also recall age 4 as an age when I thought that there might be a narrow window in which to introduce Anna to lots of activities. This may be partially true of foreign language someone here may know what the optimum age range for receptivity to foreign language is but even in that case, the range may be wider than we think and, even if a child learns something later than the optimum for maximum fluency, is the activity and exposure still worthwhile? I think it is. Scheduling activities to the point of overwhelm isnt doing anyone any favors. One or two scheduled activities at a time may be best. There are also many ways to learn through free play, family time and independent discovery, and these seem to get short shrift in our achievement-oriented culture. I suggest trying one sport and/or one art offering at a time (for your child, as your family seems interested in both). If your kid doesnt respond to it, try another the next round. My daughter loathed soccer, which she and we learned when she tried it at around age 4, when it was exceedingly popular. At a young age, she also tried gymnastics and ballet, and even French (a very cute class that involved song, dance and food). In early elementary school, she took piano for a few years and was on a softball team for two. Then she was in community plays, and that phase lasted a long time. In high school, she turned largely to sports. Each activity seemed to have a time and each one seemed to begin and end with ease (except piano which, as mentioned, we parents might have held onto a little long, *just to be sure*). We also had lots of terrific family time to do puppet shows and make clay beads and play tag. Those things are all really worthwhile, too, and some of our favorite ways we spent time. When there were opportunities to do things as a family, we took them. Betsy, it sounds like you've reached a comfortable point about this for your family. There is neither deprivation nor stress. Jessica asked about consumerism. I do advocate cutting the overwhelm that comes with too much stuff, when possible. We try to give away or store excess toys and other items. When Anna was first born, all of the grandparents seemed very enamored of electronic toys, which were often loud and called for passive play, in which kids are entertained rather than creating open-ended scenarios. We accepted the gifts graciously, but we also let them know that the best gift would be their time. Each grandparent had special time with our daughter, when possible. (Not all lived nearby.) Yes, some took her shopping, even though I tried to encourage some different experiences. But there were also meals out and mall merry-go-rounds and other wonderful things that helped reinforce those relationships and memories. I still try to encourage gifts of time or fun experiences, rather than things, in our own family. Or gifts of art supplies, games, or similar items that can be used in a variety of ways. (And, thanks, Jessica, for noting that most of the crafts and activities in my book can be done with items people probably already have in their homes.) Hanukkah is tough 8 nights! And weve done 8 nights of gifts. Some of the gifts were books and useful things, or small or homemade items. At some point we drifted toward getting Anna one or two bigger things, rather than lots of smaller gifts. Now, this is very individual. We happen to have an extremely thrifty, zero-waste-oriented child. She doesnt want stuff just to have stuff. But everyones different. For some, small symbolic gifts might be meaningful. What is extremely meaningful to us is to fill holidays with friends and food. We have a lot of traditions around cooking and gathering. At holiday time, our house smells like butter, sugar and cooking oil. That said, our house isnt the most decorated. We dont buy multiple gifts for every extended family member or send hundreds of cards or hit every local holiday pageant, though weve done some of those things at different times. (We used to send a few paper cards, to far-flung relatives, and alternate between an ice show and a Nutcracker each year.) Weve managed to choose the holiday traditions that are meaningful, joyous and low-stress to us, and shift and change when needed.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Sat 6 Oct 12 11:11
(I note that there are still a couple of questions pending. I'll be back with more thoughts, after some quality family time. :))
Katherine Spinner (spinner) Sat 6 Oct 12 18:29
I worked as a nanny for 8 years to a child whose parents enrolled him in every conceivable after-school and summer activity. My greatest contribution to Peter's upbringing: I don't drive, so on his days with me, we'd walk to the beach and throw rocks, or lie in the hammock and I'd read aloud: we had a Lloyd Alexander summer, and I read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to him and the kids, one a bit older, one a bit younger, from across the alley. After school we'd bounce a playground ball back and forth; we are neither of us terribly adept with sports. Peter was in 1st or 2nd grade when Harry Potter came out, and his parents read it to him with much more enthusiasm than he had for it. After school, we'd read "My Father's Dragon", and Esther Averill's stories about that shy black cat, Jenny Linsky.
David Albert (aslan) Sat 6 Oct 12 20:07
My dream for Ruth was that she would grow up with an E. Nesbit summer, or a Swallows and Amazons summer. The sort of thing I read about in all those books -- leave home after breakfast, bring lunch, come home on time for tea and bed. Of course those kids had mush and milk for tea, and went to bed at 6pm, but other than that it sounded like heaven. For the most part, there just weren't enough other kids around with the same sort of freedom (and free time) to make it happen. But there were a couple of glorious days when a couple of other neighborhood kids and Ruth just roamed free -- around age 9, I think -- for something like 6 hours. She had a great time. I don't know if she remembers those days as fondly as I do.
Katherine Spinner (spinner) Sat 6 Oct 12 20:54
Twice a year I work with children at a regional Quaker event, Quarterly Meeting, which gathers at a summer camp/ retreat center where a stream runs along the lawn adjacent to where our preschoolers meet. The most important activity each time is sailing boats (most made with styrofoam meat trays, string, and duct tape) up and down the creek. Our older grade school kids have recently developed a tradition of building "forts" alongside the river that runs through the camp. They also relish using glue guns to assemble creations from wood turnings (including, once, heavily armed boats which all sank.) Unstructured Messing Around is the most important thing that separates Quarterly Meeting Quaker space from most kids' usual lives.
Ruth Bernstein (ruthb) Sun 7 Oct 12 05:56
We take our kids to family camp for similar reasons. Neither david nor I love it (we're city vacationers, really) but it's the one time a year when they can be totally unencumbered--able to walk as far as they physically can, but still not be lost or unable to get back to the main camp.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Sun 7 Oct 12 07:14
I really want to do family camp. Rafe's YMCA camp in the Berkshires (brother camp of the one I went to) offers it. He really treasures the camp experience, which allows for tons of quiet exploration and play in the outdoors. There is structure, of course, but he really feels free while also deeply connected to the other guys there. Suz, what pes of community resources do you see out there for families looking to do this? What do you see lacking?
David Albert (aslan) Sun 7 Oct 12 12:11
When you come back, I'd still like to know more about the intended audience for the book, and about whether you've heard (anectodally or otherwise) that the book has actually gotten people to change the sorts of things they do, or if it has been more beneficial for those who already knew they wanted to do things like this and just needed a catalog of good ideas.
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Sun 7 Oct 12 14:39
( not pes, TYPES!)
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Sun 7 Oct 12 16:29
Katherine and David, I love your tales of blissful summers. I think thats what many of us want for our families. Im sure the children in your lives will remember theirs. How wonderful that you were able to contribute that way, Katherine. It is too bad, David, that the kids in your neighborhood were largely unavailable to play with Ruth. Anna has found that, too or she used to. By middle school, there seemed to be a larger contingent of kids who were free to bike around and spend long afternoons in a park or at a creek. Family camp is another wonderful way of having a slow experience as a family in nature. My family has actually never been to one. I wonder if others have family camp resources? I work for a non-profit called Children & Nature Network, and they are an excellent information source for another way families are getting outside together, Family Nature Clubs. These are actually surpassing more formalized scouting troops in some places, and they allow families to enjoy hiking and other nature outings with neighboring families and friends. (For more info, check out www.childrenandnature.org) David, to your question, my book has only been out two months, so Ive not gathered a lot of information from readers. A lot of people relate to the feelings of overwhelm I describe in the book and want to calm their family life in some way. Some people have told me that they like the idea of making one small change and they like that a lot of the activities are easy to do with items on hand. One woman who called herself craft averse made some easy crafts with her family. Some families who were already getting out in nature enjoyed finding new activity ideas, such as making nature bracelets and creating treasure hunts. I heard from another mom whose son liked the slumber party activities, and from a few people who liked being reminded of long-forgotten campfire songs and hand-clap games, which they then enjoyed with their children. So, for the most part, the people Ive heard back from were probably initially receptive to the books principle and have enjoyed learning about and doing new activities with their families. Time will tell if anyone makes lasting changes based on the books ideas. My hope is that some will, and that perhaps learning about some of the research regarding the importance of play time, down time and family time will help them make the sorts of adjustments that allow their families to thrive in ways theyre not currently.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Sun 7 Oct 12 17:04
Paula asked if Slow Parenting is a movement yet. I'm not sure when it qualifies as a movement, but there are certainly a lot of allied, popular and influential threads that were not in place a few years ago. I have 2 sections on my web site, www.slowfamilyonline.com, one for Resources and one for Press, in addition to my blogroll. All are very rich with allied groups and individuals, from the specifically matched Slow Family Living and Simplicity Parenting groups, which provide training and other resources, to the broader embracers of all things Slow. You'll find Playborhood, which advocates for neighborhood play, Free-Range Kids, which advocates for childhood freedom and minimal parental intervention, play advocates the U.S. Play Coalition, the Grass Stain Guru and the Save Recess group, and films such as Vicki Abeles' "Race to Nowhere", which advocates changing our thinking around education and models of "success" for children. More and more books are coming out about the topic as well, such as Madeline Levine's new "Teach Your Children Well", which has been on various bestseller lists for the 2 months it's been out. All of these efforts have tremendous, if not full, overlap with what I call Slow Parenting. In my town, many parents are indeed calling for less homework, more play, and an alternative to the chronic testing (and teaching to the test) that characterizes No Child Left Behind. (That said, there are surely parents who want the opposite.) Are slow foods, organic foods, gardening and handcrafting movements? They are all extremely popular and their popularity has grown exponentially over just the last few years. (About half of all U.S. households garden, up from about 30% just a few years ago.) I see these trends as all related. I'm happy to be part of the mix and the message.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Sun 7 Oct 12 20:07
Small correction: The areas of my blog where you'll find some of the Slow allies I mentioned, and more, are Resources, Slow News, and the Blogroll.
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Mon 8 Oct 12 07:27
Apropos of this conversation, I just came across this, from the Irish Times. Even in rural Ireland, a writer has noted "U.S.-style" trends of parental fears around safety, increased indoor and screen time for kids, and kids being driven everywhere -- to the detriment of their physical and psychological health and their connection with the natural world. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/health/2012/0904/1224323570492.html
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Mon 8 Oct 12 08:14
So how was everyone's weekend? Did you find good family time? Any challenges? We had mixed weather, so Saturday the kids got some good outdoor playtime and also played with their friend from next door in the house. Lucas went to an ice skating party and we all went out to a local restaurant for sushi. On Sunday we had a very quiet rainy day. I did a lot of knitting and cooked a stew, while the boys played in the house and went to a movie with their dad. We took in an exhibit of Chagall paintings at the very good small local museum (you can do the whole place in an hour, and they have lovely grounds for walking, so it's a great family destination and we are members) and enjoyed our stew dinner. The downside of all this unstructured playtime in the house, however, is the restoration of the carpet of blocks, Legos, markers, Playmobil guys, and toy food in the boys' rooms and the playroom. Working in cleanup time isn't so successful for us.
Travis Bickle has left the building. (divinea) Mon 8 Oct 12 08:56
That sounds like an excellent weekend. We cooked together, had a nice long ride in the car, and got my daughter's costume together for a themed party Saturday night. To which, I must note, some of her classmates brought a fifth of vodka. Keeping your kids safe and letting them have enough room to grown and develop their own judgment is a never ending series of adjustments. I want to give other people some room to chat here, but would like to come back to the question of slow parenting of teens. Also, the cleaning up thing? I feel your pain.
Holly Hayes (hollyt) Mon 8 Oct 12 10:41
I just got the book. I have an almost 2 year old, so we are not yet in the overscheduling stage, but I'm getting a head start on slow parenting. I'm one of those people sooz mentions who are really enjoying the rediscovery of old camp songs and games. I knew a lot of them from my own Girl Scout days and had forgotten them! I sing to my daughter a lot, and she's started singing along on certain songs so I'm always trying to think of simple ones that she can learn with me. I have a tendency to overschedule/overstructure myself, so I'm already thinking ahead to how I can avoid doing that for my family and my little girl as she gets older. I love schedules and structure and plans and all that, but sometimes I end up biting off more than I can chew. Or, the schedule starts running my life instead of my life determining the schedule... tail wagging the dog. I think that when I was a kid my parents were good about not overdoing it with me, they weren't the ones pushing, and neither was my school or other activities I participated in, but even then I would overstructure *myself* and get totally overwhelmed. I don't know if they could have done anything different to help me learn to set my own priorities and boundaries in a more judicious way, but I have been thinking about that a lot in this conversation.
Clean when the baby cleans. (abbess) Mon 8 Oct 12 13:23
I am waiting for my library copy of the book to arrive (actually, it's at the library, but they're not open again until tomorrow.) But it's an issue I've been thinking about quite a lot, in the past year or two. I think in our family we enjoy unstructured time (to the point where if our time was so unstructured that we didn't have to plan on preparing and eating dinner or weekends, or how our 2 year old was going to take a nap while we were all out enjoying a festival in our neighborhood, we'd perhaps have an easier time of it!). But we live in a place and time where we feel surrounded by so much cool stuff we can do - whether that cool stuff is relatively one-off and spur-of-the-moment, like "let's go eat dinner at the local Greek church's food festival, have some fabulous lamb and some fabulous baklava and visit the bouncy house" or "let's walk down to the square and listen to a bunch of activist marching bands play music on different street corners", or whether it's signing up for a chorus that meets once a week where our whole family can sing nerdy songs about science together. I feel rich and fortunate, having so many things we love to do as a family at our fingertips - and if you asked me to choose, I'd say ina heartbeat that I value culture and eating tasty things together over vegging at home with a book and a pad of paper or even watching the TV. And yet, it's overwhelming, having a few things on the agenda every day, and when we have a blank slate feeling like we ought to spend it catching up on laundry or grocery shopping or repairing something in the house. We certainly aren't doing the kid activities because we think without them nobody in our family would get into Harvard! And we're not dropping our 7 year old off at things she does alone without us, for the most part -- there are a lot of things like soccer games where the whole family is out together on a nice day, or like the family chorus where even the 2 year old has come along with us each season, the first time napping on his dad's shoulder during rehearsals and the second time with a mother's helper teen to chase him around but give him a chance to hear the music whenever he was being quiet enough. We love the things we do. And yet, my daughter's week includes - soccer practice today (even though there's no school), a class after school tomorrow in a 3-part series where they are building their own catapults and trebuchets, an art class with her good friend on Thursday, and then on Saturday a violin class, a soccer game, and language classes to learn her dad's native language (and the only one her grandparents speak), and religious ed on Sunday morning. She likes it all, and a few of them are non-negotiable like the language and religious stuff, but if we drew the line and said "that's enough scheduling" then we'd miss out on all the fun things driven by her own interests. And adding a second kid into the mix, we don't do a huge pile of organized activities with the 2 year old, but even remembering that it'd be nice to spend some time with his peers to meet up intentionally at the park or get together at someone's house requires some more entries in the calendar, and I aspire to at least one fried visit a week and honestly don't even get there a lot of the time. (I'm a full time mom right now.) So I guess my question is how to cut back when all the activities seem like so much fun, and when our whole family *wants* to do them? Or is there a way to turn marching with the kids' circus in the activist street band parade into something that doesn't feel like frenzy, rather than lose such richness of crazy fun?
David Albert (aslan) Mon 8 Oct 12 18:07
I could ask the same question. And separately: tonight at bedtime my daughter asked, "Why do they make the world go so fast? Why can't it just stop, just for a minute, so I can catch my breath?"
Katie (katelich) Tue 9 Oct 12 11:59
I thought of this topic over the weekend when I politely (I thought) declined the invitation of a mom from my daughter's old preschool to have my daughter join a new Daisies troop being formed. I said I did like the idea but we just couldn't fit in another activity right now. This mom replied with a kind of manic energy, "But if you don't start her now, she'll be BEHIND!" I said, "What, behind on s'mores-making?" and she said "behind on BADGES!" I had to take a deep breath and walk away. I think so much over-scheduling cones from this kind of inchoate fear of being "behind." (We got the same reaction when we waited to start our son on team sports until he was in *kindergarten,* for god sakes.)
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Tue 9 Oct 12 12:06
I think that is such an important point, that a lot of frenzy is motivated by a fear of being left behind or left out. I think I feel it most in terms of my kids being left out socially if I don't do the work of involving them in activities, making playdates, going to birthday parties, and so on. It's crazymaking on two fronts -- my worry for them about being left out, and my worry that IT'S ALL MY FAULT because as a mother with a full-time job away from home, I'm simply not available to set all this up for them and connect them socially to the network of other kids and their parents. So, I guess, I worry that I'm opting out by default, not because I'm being intentional about it. sooz, do you find that with other parents, that they feel that their other commitments get in the way of doing the intentional parenting they'd like to do? What would you advise?
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Tue 9 Oct 12 12:21
I love hearing about your many unscheduled, spontaneous, and joyous weekends and days! And they serve as nice examples and inspiration for others. Thanks for sharing. Katie, definitely, I think a lot of extracurricular activities for kids arise from parental fears about being left behind. The Daisy scout example is a perfect one. Many expectations and activities have slid down the age scale, so that our children's kindergarten and even preschool looks suspiciously like our own 1st grade. I remember when Scouts (Brownies for girls) didn't begin until 2nd grade. Now there are Daisies for kindergarteners. A lot of parents who enter scouting still opt not to do so until about 1st grade. The children aren't left behind. Some haven't met the other troop members yet, but at that age, friendships are pretty fluid, and there are bound to be other new kids. At that age, perhaps the down time and family time are more important to your child and family than the opportunity to add another activity. In addition, of course, it's a shame that that leader is focussed on badges as opposed to experiences. In my experience, most kids don't care much the badges, and certainly don't at that age. When they're Brownies, there's a new badge system anyway. :) Most kids just want to run around and have fun. This is a perfect example of adults putting their ideas on kids. Holly, it's interesting that you're checking in with your own tendency to schedule things. And, David and Abbe, it's interesting that you're taking a look at your own schedules and tendencies. I think there's no one-size-fits-all solution here. Individuals and families are comfortable at various paces, and those paces may change within a family at different times in life. If you like to schedule, and that's working for everyone, then continue to. If, however, you'd like to leave more room for spontaneity, then try to leave some open unscheduled time - something I personally relish, even if I end up filling it with something fun. Likewise, if the family's having fun doing all kinds of things, then by all means continue them. My ideas about slowing have to do with those times when the family feels stretched and stressed and is wondering why all these activities are in the mix. I think when families do things together, they don't feel that as much as when kids do multiple scheduled activities that require parental transport and not much else. Jessica slipped with another question. More to come!
Susan Sachs Lipman (sooz) Tue 9 Oct 12 12:39
I think it's so difficult not to feel guilty as parents .. no matter what we do! It may sound paradoxical, in our achievement-oriented culture, but it could be that what kids and families with full-time working parents need most is family time. Perhaps that can come on the weekends? When Anna was little, Saturday mornings were our time to spend together, hiking, biking, doing art or whatever else we felt like. She didn't do soccer or other sports then (and we later learned that, rather than being left behind, she eventually discovered more unusual sports that she liked and that allowed later entry.) There are always choices and everyone can't do everything. I contend that time spent as a family is highly useful, relaxing and bonding. While I do feel for parents who are not as available to physically help with play dates and activities after school, I note that there are other opportunities for child interaction. Often after-school programs provide lots of enriching activities and friendships and are a great solution for working parents - and for kids. Anna did those when I was working a longer day than the school day. Though it's not done as much in our culture, it's always an option to call on other parents to help with transportation and workday arrangements, and perhaps pay back by hosting a Saturday (or Sat. night - date night) activity at your house. I think there are lots of guilt-free, rewarding ways to make time work for your family and your kids, and to allow for both down-time and for more mediated forms of enrichment.
behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Wed 10 Oct 12 07:11
i have changed my pseud.
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