Great piece in the Westport Moms blog looking at just how busy we're making our kids (as well as those of us getting them to and from their activities):
Our Children’s Busyness is not a badge of Honor – and why we need to change it!
He was nowhere to be found. I’d only been inside for a minute.
In the few panic stricken seconds it took me to find him, I had wild visions of a cougar having leaped over the fence and snatching my four-year-old son from our backyard.
Of course, my mama bear imagination had gotten the better of me and he was simply being little and curious. Moments earlier, he’d been playing happily with his water toys on our deck but then he heard our neighbor’s little girls playing next door.
Through a small hole in our excessively tall suburban wooden fence he was trying to ask his friends if they wanted to play – only they couldn’t hear him.
When I saw our neighbor the next day I mentioned the sweet invitation and asked “Were they free this week?”
They were eager to play but neither girl was available for another six weeks. Between school and organized activities, every time slot was accounted for. Their schedule was full.
We sign our kids up for activities we believe will make them better artists, runners, spellers, etc. And there's nothing wrong with this kind of enrichment...except when it's too much of a good thing:
Children are spending more time in organized activities than ever before and it’s having an impact, both mentally and physically. Overuse injuries in kids and teenagers from specialization in single sports are escalating. Dr James Andrews, orthopedic surgeon, reports that he now treats four times as many overuse injuries in youth sports than five years ago.
What's more "enrichment" classes are not the ONLY kind of enrichment.
In trading away our young children’s down time we’re also seeing significantly lower levels of creativity in young adults. It’s not the organized activities themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play can boost children’s creativity to above-average levels.
LET GROW'S TAKE:
Think of free time in childhood as a natural resource that is dwindling away without our noticing it, like the rain forest. We call it the brain forest because it is so key to child development.
When kids are doing something just because they love it -- i.e., playing -- they are learning focus, frustration-tolerance, curiosity, self-control, creativity...you name it! It's also psychologically protective. Westport Moms quotes Let Grow co-founder Peter Gray:
Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, believes, as do I that the decline of free play is largely responsible [for increasing levels of depression and anxiety in young people]; after all, play is the only part of a child’s world in which they’re freely able to express their control.
The solution -- giving kids more free time to play -- can be hard when all the other kids are booked up (or cooped up with a device). So Gray's idea is the Let Grow Play Club: Keep the schools open every afternoon for mixed-age free play. Some adults remain on premises in case of an emergency, but they don't make up the games or solve the spats. Instead, kids are left to figure out what to do with whatever supplies the school has on hand -- balls, chalk, cardboard boxes.
It's such an obvious idea, maybe your school is already doing it, like the Tremont School, below. But if it isn't, consider starting a Play Club, the after-school activity that is the most like an afternoon WITHOUT an activity.