Enrichment activities: A deliberately controversial post

We at grumpy rumblings are pro-learning.  There it is.  We came out and admitted it.  We think learning things is great!

We also think that in many cases K-12 schooling does not actually promote learning.  Especially for kids who are different from the average (or perhaps, different from the lowest common denominator in class, depending on where the teacher and school are aiming their instruction).

We are pro-learning-outside-of-school using whatever means necessary.  If you’ve got money and time, we’re pro-traveling out of state.  If you’ve got money and no time, we’re pro- summer camp and classes.  If you’ve got time and no money, we’re pro-whatever you can scrape together.

The current trend in the media these days is a back-lash against “over-scheduling” whatever that means.  (In the interest of giving us “opportunities they never had,” my parents had us highly scheduled… yet, we still managed to watch a lot of tv and read mountains upon mountains of books.)

I’m pro-summer activities.  I’m pro-me-working during the summer (more pro- getting paid for not-working, but so far no takers), and I’d rather DC be doing something organized (even something enriching!) than, say, playing with the power tools in the shed, which would also be enriching but dangerous.

My parents valued enrichment activities over stuff, so I took a lot of fun kids classes over the summer at the local community college.  They probably kept my interest up in learning since most of my K-8 so-called education was mind-numbingly boring.  I was usually the only girl and often one of the youngest in the math and science-related classes.

I wonder what kind of activities the other girls were doing.  Or if they were just learning to do chores.  I learned how to do chores too, even with piano lessons and swimming lessons and summer classes and softball and ballet and gymnastics and the play etc.

Even with the scheduling I had crazy amounts of free time.  I started and (sometimes) completed so many crafts.  How many pot-holders does a person need?  Weaving and bead weaving and friendship bracelets and those things you make with yarn that look like carpets and embroidery and knitting and sculpy and shellacing and quilting and goodness knows what else.  Possibly good for my small-motor skills, but did not translate into anything I can do today.  Although being able to mend is still a useful skill, as is cooking.

DH, of course, was learning how to do things like computer programming in his copious unscheduled free time.

There was also the kind of stuff we could do back 20-30 years ago but can’t do without adult supervision today.  Hanging out with the neighborhood kids, bike riding, tadpole catching, exploring, going to the park alone etc.

The best part of free time, of course, is visiting the library and reading.  Mmmm books.  After I ran out of children’s fiction I discovered the humor section upstairs in adult.  Then folk-lore.  Then fantasy, and that changed everything.

So, bottom line:  we think scheduled activities mainly suck for the parent doing the driving.  Kids are mostly still left with plenty of free time to goof off.  There’s probably some line where there’s too many activities but one probably only hits that after adding in a sport on top of everything else (or one goes to a challenging school that isn’t afraid of offending parents with homework).  We also worry that there’s differential opportunities, both scheduled and unscheduled, by gender.

Do you think kids today are too overscheduled?  Too underscheduled?  Where do you fall on the debate?  And do you think the gender divide is important?  If so, in what way?

Disclaimer:  DC is not currently scheduled to do anything because hir parents are lazy and the small town doesn’t have year round swimming lessons.  One of these days we’ll get a piano or a keyboard or something.

57 Responses to “Enrichment activities: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. feMOMhist Says:

    I think there is a difference between enrichment and overscheduling. As a full time working person I am not signing my kid up for multiple things during the school week because around here stuff doesn’t even start until 6PM. Once I get home from teaching I’m leaving again for Pilates. So our enrichment comes mostly at home. Yesterday we corrected the misimpression that MLK was famous for being black. Summers are different. The kids both attend enrichment type camps.

    I mostly find it baffling that people sign their kids up for two simultaneous activities as in the kid actually has a dance class that overlaps with soccer or tball so the parent is planning to have the kid miss some of both. I’m not sure what message that sends to the kid about commitment and it seems to be a lot more about the parent being unwilling to tell the kid choices have to be made, or the parents need for the kid to have all the experiences possible.

    I’m also amazed at people who are willing to shuttle their kids around for hours each day, either to successive lessons and activities or for great distances to attend some specialized instruction. The ROI just isn’t there for me.

    Gendered yes, some things obv. gendered for you, sports over a certain age, Scouts etc, but around here mostly the girls do dance and cheerleading and the boys sports. Music seems to be the only common activity. fMhgirl is more interested in karate than anything and I have seen some girls in the classes, but def. minority. We aren’t at school club age so I can’t comment on that yet

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      At what point is the child overscheduled (rather than the parent)?

      • feMOMhist Says:

        My scheduling needs come first not the kids. There is absolutely nothing at this age that I consider so enriching that I’d f*ck myself over to get them to and I’m not sending the kids off to stuff with a nanny at this point. I suppose if I needed them to attend religious or language schools I might consider that a high enough priority.

        For me it is all about my commute and work hours and secondarily my kids’ personalities. fMhson in particular needs a lot of down time and when tired has a hard time with his ADHD behaviors so stuff starting at 630 or 7 is pushing it for him. fMhgirl is asleep by 7:30 most nights.

        For me two things/kid max per week, so scouts is every other week at this point, and then one fall and one spring sport, so far. I’d love to do music or swimming (keep missing application deadline) on weekends, but then when sports kick back in …. fMhgirl is starting art on Saturdays because her spring sport, tball doesn’t play on Saturday. fMhson would like to start karate, which I just learned can be only 1 night a week, but if he does that then no spring sport.

        I’m already missing way too many pilates classes due to the above events combined with sciDAD’s lab night, political meetings etc.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sure sure, that’s the decision we’ve made with our kid at this point. The family unit is more important than any individual member.

        But the argument (in the NYTimes and the mommy e-sphere) is that scheduled activities are bad for the kid. At what point does that happen? [See, for example, wandering scientist feeling guilty that she’s enrolled her kid in Mandarin– how horrible for her child!]

      • feMOMhist Says:

        totally depends on the kid IMHO. Some kids are unable to entertain themselves or thrive on doing “stuff.” Sign those kids up I say! Other kids are totally self directed and don’t want or need stuff.

        I seem to have one of each. fMhgirl is a do-er, although she tends to lack follow through, like profgrrl i signed her up for gymnastics only to have her come out during class to tell me she wanted to go home. Ummm no more of that. Now she was DYING to be a scout and has participated thus far.

        fMhson on the other hand really only wants to do the activities to socialize with his friends, which in this current insane climate of pressure-filled kid sports is going to be a big problem. We may try him in track this spring as it is individual or karate which is said to be good for ADHD

        so in short (HAHAHA as I’ve written almost a complete blog post in your comments now) I don’t think there is an answer to the question, and like all good humanities people I’d ask why the question is being asked now? It strikes me as just one more “panic” about the status of kids, just one of many historically (previously it was feared too much free time led to juvenile delinquency hence the many police athletic leagues in large cities of that era other historical eras “accomplishments” taught to kids as means of class mobility.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think it’s being asked now because (in many parts of the country, even my small town) kids can’t go out and play, so parents are getting less kid-free time at home and kids are bored (time-use studies are pretty clear that amount of parent-kid interaction didn’t change much from the 50s to the late 90s… only very recently has there been movement towards more– that makes one think there’s probably a natural equilibrium whether the mom is WOHM or SAHM). So they do activities to interact with other kids or burn off excess energy. But, chauffeuring is also a huge time-suck (and nobody carpools because carseats/boosters take up too much space and are a pain to move from car to car), so parents want to say it’s in the kid’s best interest to not do them because moms are supposed to be selfless creatures who sacrifice themselves for their children and never think of themselves.

        And, of course, the NYTimes and its ilk loves adding to the mom-guilt industry. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

        (A theory, anyway.)

      • bogart Says:

        The Safe Traffic Systems Ride Safe Travel Vest (google it, or try Amazon) would solve, or at least reduce, the carpooling problem if folks were aware of them and generally used them (i.e. were comfortable with them and knew how to adjust them). We have one, and it is easy to use in a car with back-seat shoulder belts and (I am assured, by trained car seat folks) as safe as a carseat. Of course, like anything there is a learning curve, and I wouldn’t put an adult not trained in how to position a kid in it and attach it in charge of using it with my kid.

        We used it exclusively on a trip last summer involving a flight and then a rental car and 3-hour drive, plus week’s stay and associated local(ish) driving at our destination. I’d recommend it to anyone contemplating plane travel with a 30+ lb. kid who doesn’t want to deal with carting a car seat to the destination but anticipates needing one once they’ve arrived.

      • Cloud Says:

        Oooh, bogart, I’m totally looking up that vest. We have the CARES thing for the airplane, and it rocks- we then rent a car seat on the other end. But if we could skip the grody rental car seat… hmmmm.

        I’m no longer feeling guilty for the chinese lessons, btw. But I do still get raised eyebrows and subtle (or not so subtle) “well, I think kids are so overscheduled these days….” comments from folks if we mention the activities she’s in. I’m getting better at not internalizing those. And OMG, the raised eyebrows we’re getting when we say we’re looking at a Spanish immersion school. I think my skin needs to get much, much thicker!

      • anandi Says:

        @Cloud, I would pay GOOD money to get BabyT into a Spanish immersion school. She gets Spanish now for 15 min/week at daycare and it’s ridiculous how much she’s learned. And she LOVES it. (she’s only 2)

        I’m with @feMOMhist that my scheduling needs come first, while BabyT is so little. At first, enrichment activities were to get *me* out of the house so I wouldn’t go crazy during mat leave. I have a tendency to want to sign up for everything (both my own life and for BabyT) and I am noticing that her personality is such that she also needs some chill time at home, with her toys. But she LOVES to learn, and we need to encourage more gross motor, so she goes to Little Gym once or twice a week. If I could swing it with my part-time work schedule, I’d sign her up for a music class too because she loves learning songs. But that’s too much for me.

        When I was a kid, my mom signed me up for all sorts of interesting continuing ed classes, crafty, sciency, language, whatnot. As a result, I still love learning and try to take classes when I can – language, or mostly crafty stuff now. I think if your kid likes it, it’s all goodness. I also think it does teach a level of commitment (you must finish out the session/year/season whatnot) and can also be a good exercise in prioritization/making tradeoffs.

        I think the NYT parenting articles are almost always FULL OF CRAP and reinforcing this weird idea (for a certain socioeconomic class) that kids must be with their SAHMs 24/7. It’s unsustainable.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    When I was growing uppe, we neighborhood kiddes spent hours per day freely running around wild in the streets, yards, and woods. Now kiddes are forbidden from “unsupervised” *anything* outside, and rather are plopped down in front of screens inside instead, because “PREDATORS”. I am convinced that this is a major contributing factor to the massive increase in child obesity and diabetes we are experiencing.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Us too. And, since there are no longer *other kids* roaming outside, it’s even more dangerous. At the very least, a neighbor is gonna call CPS on you.

      • feMOMhist Says:

        the profs in my wee village here do allow our kids to free range more or less. they walk to and from the houses (only a few blocks apart) and play in front or back yard un-supervised. Problem now is weather precludes from shoving them out of doors

    • Kingston Says:

      It may seem strange, but I solved this problem by choosing a working-class urban (small city in upstate NY) neighborhood rather than an affluent suburban or rural one when I moved. My kids now live in an environment where the other kids are used to getting places on their own steam, via bike, skateboard and feet, and also the other kids are not in tons of scheduled activities all the time. My younger son, especially, found local friends to skateboard, bike and bum around with (in a good way). Sometimes they walk or ride to the Y, sometimes to the park, sometimes to vacant lots and places I’d probably rather not know about. Once they actually travelled in a pack to the public library. Sadly, only once that I know of. I had that kind of freedom growing up in New York City and I wanted it for my kids. Their friends in “better” neighborhoods have little autonomy until they can drive. I will say that ALL the kids seem to spend too much time in front of screens no matter how much other exercise they get, but then here am I posting on a blog during the day. My boys do get to do scheduled activities if they want them (soccer, school ski club, language lessons) and some that they don’t want (math tutoring).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We’re in a rural town, so things are really segregated… we didn’t want to live near college students and we didn’t want to live near convicted pedaphiles (there are maps for them) and we didn’t want to live someplace with ginormous snakes, hawks, or coyotes… so that basically bumped us into an HOA.

      • bogart Says:

        There are maps for convicted sex offenders, not really the same thing (a — much — larger category, i.e., pedophiles are sex offenders but not all sex offenders are pedophiles). Out of curiosity, did you really look at those maps in choosing a home? And did you actually check what the offenses were or was your approach more to rule out anything within X distance of a sex offender? I’m just wondering.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ours has information on what their offense is and the pedophiles are a different color! One benefit of living in a red state, I guess. The blue state we moved from does not have anywhere near as detailed information. Not a whole lot of caring about criminal’s rights around here. (We could also get detailed info on all criminal cases for prospective renters, so when someone had been taken to court for not paying rent or child support, we were able to nix that right away.)

        And yes, we did look at the maps. And they correlate strongly with property values. And we were less concerned about incest between consenting adults or indecent exposure than the inappropriate contact with children or child rape or really any kind of rape.

      • bogart Says:

        Interesting. Admittedly, I selected the DH first and then settled for the home he came with (his claim — blatantly false even before the years of subprime — I’m the only woman in the world ever to have acquired a house without making a downpayment; my claim — I’m the only woman who’s ever committed to paying the mortgage on a house she didn’t get to choose), though obviously, I could have insisted otherwise (actually he’s advocated intra-municipal relocation and I’ve refused).

        I did look at the maps in our state (currently purple, usually red, but I’m in a blue freckle in any case), but pretty much found men who had committed violent crimes against adult women, men who had had sexual relationships with teenage girls, and a few women who had had relationships with teenage boys in our area.

        Boy would it be interesting to try to sketch the causal arrows in a model involving property values and sex offenders.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Someone has to have done it… it should be fairly easy, not the “sexual predator in neighborhood”s effect, but the “sexual predation information is easily available” effect. That would be just a simple difference-in-differences with areas that had their info come online later.

      • bogart Says:

        Sure, but what’s driving what?

        Sexual predator moves in, property values drop.

        Person is convicted of being a sexual predator, can’t find work, can’t afford decent place to live.

        Affluent person faces charges that could lead to being required to register as a sex offender, hires good lawyer…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Person is convicted of being a sexual predator, can’t find work, can’t afford decent place to live. Wouldn’t cause property values to drop, there would just be a correlation. The DD would pick up the difference between the two.

        I wouldn’t think there would be a difference in motivation to hire a good lawyer before/after for those who could afford it. Nobody wants that on their record.

  3. Funny about Money Says:

    Have to agree that a lot of fear precludes letting kids play outside unsupervised, which is probably the healthiest thing for kids to do.

    On the other hand, back in the go-play-outside days, my parents did not sign me up for extracurricular activities (they expected me to use after-school time to do homework…anyone remember that?). And I remember being surprised to learn that the city had cool arts & crafts classes during the summer, at a center right up the street from us. Felt kind of cheated that my mother hadn’t caught onto that.

    My son’s father made him sign up for soccer, and in fact was so hot to get him on a team that he learned to be a soccer coach (otherwise, no team would materialize & kid couldn’t play). Son just hated it. Took three or four years before kid was able to get himself free of that. Dad decided he should be a Boy Scout. Kid managed to get free of that experience (which another father, who had been a Boy Scout leader for years, told me was bizarrely hateful) when the idiots “supervising” them sat around gassing while the boys set a forest fire–they had to do a death-march out of there to escape the flames, and BSA had to pay the Forest Service a vast fine.

    So…I’d say if the kid wants to do it and it’s truly enriching, fine. Otherwise, why push it?

  4. gwinne Says:

    I’ll second the distinction between “enrichment” and “overscheduling.” Although I do not deliberately set out to supplement my daughter’s education, my assumption is that because I’m a professor and because she plays with mostly other professors’ (or other highly educated folks) kids, she’s being “enriched” almost constantly. We read poetry together, so she’s a second grader who has read Robert Frost and can use “The Road Not Taken” as an analogy in her class assignments. We go to museums (art, natural history, science) on a regular basis, and she reads as much nonfiction as fiction. She gives herself book report assignments. She participates in a math group held for elementary-schoolers at the public library once per month, by her own choice. She also watches plenty of TV and has plenty of playdates that take her outside.

    BUT I have a strict one-activity-at-a-time policy. I don’t care what the activity is (right now it’s gymnastics) but we only do one thing per session and so far I’ve only allowed that to happen on a Saturday morning. She needs her down time after school, she goes to bed early, and as a single/working mother I don’t have the time or energy to drive her all over town in the afternoons. She has a friend who has an activity every day of the week; her mother is stressed all the time (and she can’t figure out why!). I suppose that child is more “enriched” than my daughter, but she misses out on free play and sleep.

  5. profgrrrrl Says:

    I’m with the others, differentiating enrichment from over scheduling. My kid is still too young for most of this stuff, although I did have her in gymnastics in the fall because she wanted to do it. However, getting her to and fro proved too much for her parents and given that most days she did not listen/follow the activity (because she’s 2, and frankly I was amazed that they had such activities for the 2-year-old set), so we are not doing it this spring. I figure she’s getting to do some “enrichment” stuff at school (they bring in teachers for music class weekly, bring in people with various animals monthly, etc.), and she does more at home with us, so we’re good.

    As she gets older, I think we’ll have her try piano (we have one, she seems interested) and dance or gymnastics again (she’s interested), and whatever else she might want to try, but I’m not going to push it and I’m not going to schedule her for much because I really can’t handle it. We both work. B clearly needs down time after school. We do museums and such on the weekends or when we travel. Enrichment? You bet. Overscheduling? Why? We’ve got nothing to prove. (And I guess I do feel like when I hear some parents talking about how their 8 year old has 2 activities each day after school it is boasting. In high school it’s a bit different; some kids choose on their own to get super involved and they’re more independent.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      When does scheduling become “overscheduling”? Does overscheduling actually exist?

      • anandi Says:

        I think it’s a balance between kid/parent needs. If the parent is really annoyed about having to drive everywhere, and/or the kid is wigging out because he’s got to be too many places doing structured things, it’s too much. I don’t think someone on the outside can objectively make the call.

        For example, I have a SAHM friend who literally has her kid scheduled for some enrichment activity every single day, sometimes one in the am and one in the afternoon (our kids are 2). For me that would be sheer craziness. But for her, it works. She needs and wants to get out of the house and he loves the structure. Who am I to say he’s “overscheduled” if they like it, and are able to afford it, and are having fun?

        It’s all about the NYT being up in everyone’s business and getting all judgy. Apparently that sells papers/gets pageviews/whatnot.

        I should just write a post about this. Thanks for the prompting :)

  6. First Gen American Says:

    Kids can be over-scheduled. I have friends who’s girls do 3 hours of gymanastics a day after a full day of school and they do music and homework and something else too on top of that. The last time their kids were at our house for dinner, one of the kids literally collapsed and fell asleep in my living room around 7pm. The older kid is 12, so when I tried to engage her in conversation, she was just totally spent and responded with one word answers. It’s not that she’s introverted. She was just exhausted. This is not childhood to me.

    I have a personal rule that there is at least one unscheduled free weekend day to do some spontaneous thing together. Sometimes it’s the bouncy place, sometimes it’s a museum, but it’s never mandatory and if the kids need a break, we take one. After Christmas, the kids didn’t want to do a lot of their favorite “adventures” so I knew they needed to decompress from the running around during the holidays.

    I do love enrichment activities though and I really would love to sign my son up for some afterschool stuff, but I’m also in a small town, so my choices are limited and it would also require a nanny with a car to drive them from place to place. I can also only do one sport at a time for personal time reasons.

  7. Linda Says:

    Since I haven’t raised any kids I have no practical experience here, but in answer to the “when does scheduling become overscheduling question” I’d venture a guess that it is when any of the family members involved feel that there is overscheduling going on: when a parent feels unable to keep up with driving children from activity to activity, or when a child isn’t excited about an activity or has a drop in performance elsewhere (such as lower school performance, or irritability within the family). When people are getting snarky and cranky, isn’t that a clear indication that too much is going on? Everyone has a different threshold for that, but for me that is a major clue that I’m trying to do too much.

    Why aren’t kids allowed to play outside anymore? That’s so sad. When I was grade school age I remember running around in the summer like a wild thing during free time. We had limits: we had to stay on our block and if we wanted to go to another block or the park (about 5 blocks away) we had to get permission and have a trusted older kid go with us.

  8. Cloud Says:

    I think the line between “a healthy number of activities enriching what the kid is learning in school” and “piling extra stuff on until the kid is so stressed out he/she is getting ulcers” is different for different kids. I don’t know if the problem that happens for some kids is overscheduling or over-pressure from parents. For instance- we used to do Chinese lessons with another little girl, the daughter of a friend of mine. My daughter loved the lessons and paid attention during them, the other little girl was really distracted and tended to not pay attention. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the difference came down to the different attitudes the families had to the activity. We were doing it for fun and hoping Pumpkin would learn a little Chinese and not lose the ability to hear those sounds. So she saw the lesson as a fun thing. They were doing it to make their daughter fluent, and they pressured her to practice, etc. The other little girl saw the lesson as a chore. So- same number of activities, but a very different result.

    We are still finding our way to our balance between organized activities and unscheduled free time. I agree with feMOMhist that right now, the parents’ schedules trump, although I will tweak my work schedule a bit to allow us to take soccer with all of her friends and things like that. Pumpkin in general loves taking classes, but I don’t love having lots of things we HAVE to go to, so she currently is just doing swimming (1x per week) and Chinese (1x every two weeks). We’ll add soccer back in when it stays light after day care long enough. And we’re debating adding gymnastics. There is a good place about 5 minutes from our house.

    But people definitely feel free to expound on the evils of “over-scheduling”- particularly people without kids, I find. I think the idea of nothing but unstructured free time sounds really good to adults, and they project that back on kids.

    • anandi Says:

      YES+++. This is such a sticky point for me. I should stop ranting on N&Ms post, and just go write my own :) It falls under the category of “people should just butt out of what we’re doing”.

      Interesting – Chinese once every 2 weeks still works for her to learn stuff? That’s awesome. I sort of thought a language class would be a multiple-times-a-week commitment.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        “people should just butt out of what we’re doing”

        I like this. :)

        Though I’m sure many peeps who feel the need to butt in think the kinds of things we do are actual child-abuse, just like I don’t like seeing parents around here hitting their kids (especially really little kids).

        I really do need to write up that post about the lady in the airport and how you know, I don’t think a kid growing up “weird” is the worst fate in the world.

      • Cloud Says:

        She’d learn more if we did it every week (and we did do weekly lessons at first). We have lots of DVDs and CDs with songs that help reinforce what she learns, and we practice words during before bed snacktime sometimes. She’s definitely learned a lot. So have I, actually. I can count to 10 in chinese now, and I know a bunch of other random words.

        She’ll never be fluent with this level of commitment, but that wasn’t our goal.

        We started lessons when she was about 3, if you’re curious.

      • anandi Says:

        @Cloud – thanks! I really want to learn Spanish and T likes it too, but the only class I could find for us together is $500/12 weeks which is too expensive for us when we factor in the other stuff we’ve already signed up for plus daycare, etc etc. I need to put some thought into other ways we could do it.

        We’re moving her from her corporate daycare to a Montessori preschool and the one thing I’m sad about is no more Spanish. Sigh. There never is a perfect solution, is there??

  9. bogart Says:

    Hmmm. Of what you have posted. I am most interested in this: “There was also the kind of stuff we could do back 20-30 years ago but can’t do without adult supervision today. Hanging out with the neighborhood kids, bike riding, tadpole catching, exploring, going to the park alone etc.” I see others endorsing this in the comments. I think we should all overschedule ourselves to resist, protest, and change this.

    In my neighborhood/community, I’d say this is mixed. Many kids walk (bike, etc.) to the nearby elementary school unaccompanied; many do not (so adults are present, but not necessarily attached to each kid). There are several groups of kids in our neighborhood, probably in the 7-12 age range, who will e.g. walk down the street to a cul-de-sac where they play basketball, or ride bikes around, unsupervised (and sometimes solo). I certainly hope to promote this behavior as my son gets older though he, personally, is not ready for it yet (at 4, I was doing stuff like walking solo over to the next-door-neighbors’ house to play with the kids there, but DS has no opportunities quite so nearby as I did and is probably more timid than I was — certainly, not braver). I’ve been frustrated to realize that next year when DS starts kindergarten, many of his classmates will be in after-school programs, which I’m not opposed to (at all) but don’t really want to do (or pay for) full time — yet, who will DS play with? We’ve found one friend whose daughter skips out on her Friday afterschool schedule (for mom time) and I think are going to be able to claim that one-day-a-week slot, which may be a reasonable compromise. I’ll note that DS also rides public transport with me, and there is a bus stop near our house; as he grows older I hope to dispatch him solo. My mom had us riding the bus alone (to specified, scheduled destinations, e.g., piano teacher’s house for a lesson) by 8 or 9 and though she took all sorts of flack for it, I think that was a good thing — not the flack, the independence. This was in a college town of about 30,000 permanent residents when I was a kid and maybe 60,000 now (same town).

    I guess I do see teaching my son to navigate the world unassisted and unsupervised to be one of my primary responsibilities, so there’s my enrichment objective.

    As for activities, we’ve tried a few, but not too many. I am frustrated/scandalized by what many cost and by the way the scheduling works out (or not) for us, and I am generally not enthusiastic about driving. We did several sets of swim lessons, but I’m unimpressed by the quality of instruction provided through our public pool (which I otherwise love) and unwilling to pay on a regular basis the $30/half-hour for private lessons that seems to be the alternative. We do a lot of swimming for fun (parental supervision) and have done a few ad-hoc private lessons here and there when we have the chance. DS is a capable if inelegant swimmer who enjoys it and has expressed no interest in serious instruction, so we’re good with the current setup for now. I am looking into karate, which DS has expressed an interest in, but so far the place I’ve found that seems to have a good program charges $120/month … this allows for unlimited participation in lessons scheduled at 3:30 or 4 on weekdays and one half-hour lesson on weekends, but realistically that would likely equal $40 per half hour for us (or, best case, $20 per half hour, which is still a lot in my book); I can’t take DS to the afternoon ones, and his other caregivers may or may not be willing to deal with doing so. As it’s month-to-month, I guess we could do one month on and one off and try to cram sessions in, but it seems a bit nutty to me. We include DS in DIY home improvement projects (he has helped — I use the verb loosely — with painting the exterior of the house, with building an access ramp for an aging dog, and with repairing a damaged duct in our HVAC system), and I and other caregivers take him to the library, a good local children’s museum, the zoo (rarely, it’s a 3-hour drive, r/t), we camp (fairly frequently, like working out to about a month out of the year), and parks and playgrounds. Oh, and we’re working intermittently on the whole learning-to-ride-a-bike thing, though DS’s willingness to persist has to date been modest (improvements/adjustments to available bikes made last weekend may help). I’m contemplating braving the ice rink.

    I haven’t answered the question, have I?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You might be interested in the philosophy of “free-range childrearing” or something like that. I think that’s what it’s called, you can look it up.

      Around here, a lot of neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks, which I think is wack shit and makes it harder for kids to play somewhere that isn’t the street.

  10. becca Says:

    I do wonder about this “can’t go out to play by oneself” thing I keep hearing about. I call shenanigans on that, but it may be very neighborhood dependent. We live across one very quiet street from an elementary school with an excellent playground. If my kidlet were more like 5, I’d think I’d let my him go over there on his own (5 is how old I had to be before I could cross the street and go to the park, as long as I let my parental units know).

    That said, my son is currently 2 and already has 3 day a week gymnastics, and sometimes 1 day a week swimming and 1 day a week soccer is starting back up. And there are some library programs I try to make it to. He also goes to a very shiny on-campus daycare which has a largeish amount of structure.
    At two I had… toddling tots two (a mommy-and-me program) and a regular in home childcare provider type daycare.
    So I think he may end up being more scheduled than me.

    So this is something I worry about, a bit. Particularly since I *know* the data shows that free play is pretty crucial at this stage of development (of course, I think kidlet gets lots of that too).

    Of course, as I got older I had a ridiculous number of enrichment activities, but then, I didn’t have school cluttering up my day so I had time for camps/science clubs/competitive swimming/tae kwon do/sewing/art/drama/4-H/girl scouts/occasional extra sport/ect and a LOT of free time as well. But then, my father is a saint for taking me to all that stuff. And I did get ulcers at 17, so maybe I was overscheduled (though I think that had a lot more to do with undergrad).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Since there aren’t roving bands of kids out there, it really isn’t as safe as it once was. If a kid got a snake-bite or fell into the river or got hit and run, there would be nobody to go get help. Many of the backyards in our neighborhood have nicer playground equipment than the HOA playground does, so kids just don’t venture out and meet other kids much. We really only see teenagers out in groups. And birthday parties now come with parents instead of just kids. And unless it’s family, nobody just drops their kid off for a playdate. Playdates involve at least one parent.

      • bogart Says:

        I agree with the points you make about cultural and related changes (playgrounds, playdates), though the neighborhood where I grew up had, and has, no public playground — we kids gathered at each others’ homes and on each others’ playsets. There was a big, neighborhood-wide recurring game of kick-the-can that took place many evenings at one family home (probably just in summer and/or weekends, but I really don’t remember. I would have been going to that no later than 1st grade, because the (older, like 3rd grade) neighborhood girl I walked down there with moved away after my 1st grade year.). So it’s not really about having nicer playsets (than the HOA playset), it’s about whether you (as a kid) go play on your neighbor’s playset or not, and I’d argue that’s more a function of rules, norms, and expectations than playsets.

        I’m doubtful about this, “Since there aren’t roving bands of kids out there, it really isn’t as safe as it once was. If a kid got a snake-bite or fell into the river or got hit and run, there would be nobody to go get help,” though obviously context matters. Crime rates are down, and I don’t think the natural (or humanmade) world has gotten (inherently/uniformly/typically) more dangerous. Moreover, kids have, or could be provided, cell phones — not perfect (and carrying their own risk of promoting carelessness), but available. I think norms about how much “risk” is OK have changed, and mostly not to our (or our kids’) benefit.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        But maybe crime rates are down because kids aren’t allowed outside by themselves anymore (that could also explain why abductions are down– all that parent fear is working). And a drowning or unconscious kid can’t make a phone call, even if ze did have a cell-phone. The river and snakes are still there, just like they were 30 years ago, but there’s nobody to call for help when an accident happens.

        We don’t even know who the neighborhood kids are because we don’t meet them in neutral settings. (We did meet one kid several years back sans backyard playset after being the only kids at the regular play area enough times that our kids hit it off, but the mom graduated and they moved. We miss them.) We did introduce ourselves to a family with a couple of kids DC’s age (and their own backyard play-set— they were playing in the front-yard for some rare reason like needing to fix the fence or something) about this time last year, but then their father-in-law tried to sell us insurance so we gave up on making an effort to meet people in the neighborhood. I don’t think it matters if it’s a playground or an empty lot (hopefully dog free) or even a street corner (double-dutch!), but when the backyard is a better place to play than whatever is available to the commons, people won’t go to the commons.

      • bogart Says:

        I’m with Lifeguard Becca on the water stuff; we don’t have the relevant risks close to us in our neighborhood, but, yes (there is a pond within walking distance, or technically 3 depending how you define walking distance — but, we’re talking a half-mile away (the closest one) and the chance of DS wandering there now is .0000025. It’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind as he grows older).

        The buddy system I was taught as a horseperson (horsekid) is that you need 4 — one to stay with the person who is hurt and two to go together to seek help. Obviously that’s the ideal, and tradeoffs against it must be weighed by the person making the decisions about risk. Personally, I myself am prone to wandering off (mostly on foot, sometimes on horse) into the woods solo or with just a dog (and nowadays with a cell phone usually, but not expecting a signal) simply because I so enjoy doing so; in doing that, I am honoring my maternal heritage (and defying a controlling and risk-averse paternal heritage), but my mother has twice — twice! — fallen while out walking alone in the woods and broken her arm, so it’s not like that heritage is all sunbeams and rainbows.

        But, I also agree with Becca that it’s not obvious whether 1 more kid is a safeguard, or a risk.

        I do know the FreeRange kids website (and have read the book), but I must admit I quit going there because I found the comments annoying enough that I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. That said, the site did in 2009 address exactly the issue of whether kids are safer because we’re keeping them indoors (or supervising them), here: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/are-kids-safer-because-we-never-let-them-out-anymore/ . I personally am convinced: crime is down, period. Times, and norms (e.g. tolerance of intra-family violence, which is of course one of the major sources of danger to women and children) have changed. I’m not saying I think all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but I do think there are ways in which things have improved that merit noting. That said, I don’t dispatch my kid, who is I think the same age as yours, with a “Bye, see you for supper!” as I head out for my day, nor would I advocate doing so.

        One thing you and we do seem to have in common is an absence of sidewalks — neither our neighborhood nor the one I grew up in have them (many newer ones around us do, ditto bike lanes and speed bumps). While I agree this causes problems (I did a quick PubMed search and there’s not much there, but I did find a study using New Hampshire data in the 1990s that reports in its abstract that ” the probability of a crash is two times more likely at a site without a sidewalk than at a site with one;” Accid Anal Prev. 2001 Jul;33(4):485-98.), I don’t think the absence of sidewalks makes safe pedestrianism inherently impossible, even for kids (depending, obviously, on a bunch of stuff).

        But, again, I come back to risk/rewards tradeoffs and … if you don’t like existing norms/practice, try to change them. Thus my propensity to ramble on about this.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, we gave up. We decided it wasn’t worth getting the calls about buying insurance.

    • becca Says:

      Lifeguard becca says: No Kidlets Near Bodies of Water (in your yard or a river) Alone! Lifeguard becca says: ideally, No Adults Near Bodies of Water Alone! There should always be someone to go for help. Even if that means if you get a hankering for a moonlet swim in the lake you have to take a buddy. Romantic connotations of moonlit swim and your buddy optional
      ;-)

      Also, no poisonous snakes around here.

      Girl Scouts has instilled a firm belief in the buddy system for me (or a ‘truddy’- three kids looking out for each other). But to be honest, I don’t know if a zillion kids are safer than two kids. Two kids is enough that somebody can run for help after a snakebite, and a zillion kids just get into crab apple or rock throwing fights. Growing up, most of the hazards I was aware of in my neighborhood were actually due to the other kids.

  11. Perpetua Says:

    I agree that the line between enrichment and overscheduling differs for every child, and every family. I sometimes roll my eyes at the number of “classes” people take their 3 and unders to, because in my communit there can be a kind of affluent panic about creating uber-kids (like if they aren’t being enriched every second, they’ll never get into an Ivy league school). Frankly, I love the idea of sending my little one to a Spanish class or similar, but I would lose my ever-loving mind if I tried to do anything “after school” with him. We have a rule that he doesn’t do any late afternoon classes. We have two kids; they’re both in pre school and get out too early, and the aftercare is always a huge hassle. I simply cannot imagine having the time or energy to pick him/them up and take them somewhere late in the afternoon one time per week, let alone multiple. Most of the activities/classes for kids in my neighborhood are set up for kids with SAHMs (of the pre-school set), so they happen during the day and don’t apply to us. We’ve done Saturday music classes, and now instead of that, we’re going to do swimming. Maybe it would be different if my partner and I lived full time together, or were post-tenure.

    (@Cloud, we totally would have sent our kids to the Spanish or French immersion pre-school if we were sure we’d be in the same area for more than one school year at a time. It’s so weird that people would see the gift of bi-lingualism as something terrible. Go USA, I guess.)

    • Cloud Says:

      I know. The negative response to learning a language is weird. We looked at a “Spanish enrichment” school, too- they do ~30 minutes of Spanish per day. One of the other dads on our tour was almost offended that the school would “waste” time on this. Surely they were cutting out something more important. Gah.

      We’ve got our fingers and toes crossed that we win the lottery and land in the immersion school. Which, incidentally, is two blocks from our house.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think a lot of those under 3 classes are more for the stay-at-home parent to get out than for the kids. Though there is also something to be said for learning to not be the center of attention and to play nicely with other kids. Working parents have preschool, stay at home parents have mommy-and-me and “playdates.”

  12. MutantSupermodel Says:

    Yes kids can be overscheduled but no it’s not as rampant as the media would have us think (then again, when are they ever right?). I’m thinking of children who start their morning in the wee hours doing some sort of sport, go to school, afterwards do more sport, afterwards do an activity, go home, do homework repeat. And the weekends are jammed with additional stuff similar in vein.

    I love enrichment. My kids’ school has a TON of classes held on school grounds after school. Right now I just started my Eldest in Robotics. My daughter has been taking Ballet. And Baby is doing karate. Eldest also does karate but at an outside dojo.

    The oldest two have gone to summer camp the past two years in a row and all three will go again this year. I am currently exploring a dance school for Daughter that is outside of the school to give her more options but I can also take more advantage of the after school ones– they offer hip hop and jazz, as well as flamenco and now tap. They’re just not very good.

    My parents were believers in enrichment as well so we had busy childhoods. They couldn’t afford summer camps so we did lots of road trips with a pop-up trailer. We also languished in the library WOO HOO.

    One thing I wanted to do more of that my mother never really pushed was crafty stuff. So that’s something I want to get going with the kids. It’s on my brain as a priority for this year actually.

  13. mom2boy Says:

    We just recently moved to a stereotypical, suburban neighborhood complete with sidewalks, fenced backyards and a cul-de-sac at the end of our street. It freaks me out every time we are out walking and I see kids out playing with no adults in sight. Tate is four and these kids are six plus but still I can’t imagine just sending him out “to play”. Unsupervised in the backyard is as free range as I can stand just yet. And I never thought I’d be that type of parent.

    As for activities, one team sport through the Y and a martial arts type class twice a week is what he’s doing now. Being in school and not at a traditional job lets me get him to the 4:30 karate classes. If they started at 6, I guess that would help if I were working but it would be too late for him since he’s now at a 7:00 bedtime. I’m not sure I could over-schedule my preschooler and still keep a manageable eating/sleeping routine.

  14. zenmoo Says:

    My 2 year old has pretty much only done one swimming lesson per week for two terms. We’re pretty lazy about organised stuff – largely because she goes to daycare twice a week and they seem to do lots of singing and painting etc. That seems like more than enough for a toddler! From the start of February though, she’ll be doing swimming once a week with my husband and a program called A to Zoo (for 2 to 5 year olds) at our local Zoo with me. Apparently each session involves singing, a story & a craft themed by a different animal each week. At the end of the session, everyone walks out to see the animal the session was about. It sounds fun, Moo loves the “animools” at the zoo. I can’t lie, the fact it’s only $5/session and I already have a Zoo membership so don’t have to pay for entry had a BIG impact on my decision to sign up for that rather than the more expensive Kindermusik ($15/session + $100 materials per year!) class I was looking at.

    However – if you want to talk about being over-scheduled! I just created our base family schedule for the fortnight – factoring in paid work, unpaid work like laundry & errands, walking the dog, my husband’s running, my running, our touch rugby & my pilates, his study for upcoming exams, daycare pick up’s & drop off’s, the two aforementioned toddler classes, farmer’s market shopping…. I’ve seriously just blocked out Sunday morning as protected “Family fun time” because it’s the only time all week all three of us are awake and not otherwise occupied with fixed time activities! Admittedly, much of the need for scheduling is about me coping while still protecting hubby’s study time – he has two pathology exams this year and we both REALLY want him to pass first hit – but ooof! Don’t know about kids these days, but *I* feel overscheduled! I worked out that if I don’t do the ironing on Tuesday night (while I watch my DV-R’d episodes of Bones) – that’s pretty much it until the weekend. It actually wouldn’t be that bad, except for all the sport/exercise we prioritise.

  15. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Thank you everyone for participating in this deliberately controversial post. Great discussion!

  16. Practical Parsimony Says:

    My children were overscheduled, according to some people. Each could play one sport per season. The trouble is that seasons overlap. Park and Rec knew this because we parents complained. None were in the same age group but close together. So, there were three of everything. Plus, the two girls took dance lessons.

    They could only watch 30 min of television on school nights. They attended church at least three times each week. There were chores. I did not work outside the home.

    I taught my children all the time. Night rides anywhere were lessons. I had the only two-year-old who knew if the moon were waxing or waning and what the words meant. She knew poetry terms because I gathered them in the kitchen and read Xanadu and The Raven, amongst other not-little-children poems. They learned poetry terms as we talked. Their father refused to turn off the tv, so we talked around the kitchen table. Actually, they may have been the only two-, seven-, and nine-year-old in town who talked of this with their mothers on a regular basis.

    Their teachers did not assign poems to commit to memory, so I did. They are grown now, and the two older ones groan and and start saying the famous line of Emma Lazarus from The New Colossus. They had to repeat the multiplication fact that eluded them as we drove to skating.

    While they were always learning, they played for hours in the yard and up and down the street in a little band of children. Granted, this was in the 70s, but other mothers on the street did not allow their children out of the backyard at that time.

    Okay, I think this thread has about ended.

  17. Ask the grumpies: kids learning stuff | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Grumpy Rumblings Parenting Philosophy ™ is that people are going to want you to feel guilty whether you do or don’t have your kids do activity X (or indeed, any activities at all), so do what you feel […]


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