Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Hurry up and grow up! 17 / 30

My son is in kindergarten.  Each day he brings home his “home reading” and we do his homework each night.  His teacher gives us a lot of progress reports, as he has had some challenges fitting in with his classmates – most days are good ones, but he gets a few “sad faces” in his agenda.  Her comments usually read “Noah would not sit still today” or “Noah had a hard time remaining focused today.”

Ummm…. Duh!  He is five years old.  When did we decide that five year olds should act like nine year olds?  He wants to run and play, and the school cancels recess if it gets below -5, leaving the kids stuck in the classroom all day.  They have phys-ed, that bastion of energy drain, twice a week.  Not every day, not even every other day – twice a week.

When I was in kindergarten, we played games.  We had nap time.  We played with play-do a lot and ran around constantly.  We didn’t have desks, we had mats.  We didn’t have notebooks, we had basketballs.  We didn’t learn to read (though, for the record I already could), we learned to play and have fun, while learning how to do it in a group.

Why are we expecting our children to grow up so fast in some ways, and then stifling them in so many others?  Parents today seem to be obsessed with making sure their kids are safe – and I can appreciate that.  The thought of my boys being hurt or worse makes me choke up and I have to quickly think about something else or the old water works might kick in.  But one things scares me even more than the boys being hurt – the boys not living life to the fullest and having fun.  Now some changes, I am in favor of.  Car seats for example seem like a damned good idea.  Sure, my brothers and I all survived long road trips laying in the back of a station wagon, surrounded by books and toys, but that was damned dangerous.  Playground equipment built to certain standards?  Sign me up for no broken boards and loose nails!

But at the playgrounds in our neighborhood, I have heard multiple parents telling their children not to run – in a park.  I have seen mothers chasing their children with anti-bacterial wipes, cleaning the kids’ hands after every jaunt on the monkey bars or slide.  I’ve seen parents tell their children not to play on the ice in the park, because they don’t have their helmets on.

Jimmy Crickets people!  If you never let children take risks, and fail, you are doing nothing but set them up for huge, and potentially dangerous, failures later in life.  Children need to learn how to assess the risks inherent in any situation, they have to learn how to make informed choices.  If we take that away from them, we are preventing them from growing up.

And when we treat them like glass dolls, we do them a huge disservice.  They aren’t porcelain, though it’s true that they can break.  And my heart goes out to the parents who have lost children in senseless accidents.  I will never even begin to understand their pain and loss, but senseless accidents happen a thousand times a day, all over the world, in perfectly safe conditions and in war ravaged ones. 

Putting up safety nets on trampolines?  Wearing helmets, elbow, knee and shin pads to ride a bike?  Not letting ten year olds make decisions for themselves?? 

When I was seven years old, some friends and I rode our bikes to the other side of town.  I got spotted by my step-father, and got in a lot of trouble.  Not because I was on the other side of town, we did that all the time, but because I was buying candy in the Co-Op, which I was not allowed to do.  I got grounded for a week.  Yet somehow survived.

When I was ten, I was in charge of making supper for my brothers, usually four or five nights a week, because my parents were working, or out at one social engagement or another.  We didn’t eat cordon blue, but we ate.  I once set a hot pot on the counter top and burned a ring into the vinyl… but we ate.

When I was twelve, I babysat for a half dozen of my parent’s friends, raking in a whopping $20 on a really good night – and that meant I was on the job from about 6:00 PM until the parents got home the next morning.  And those kids survived, even thrived.

Life is risk.  Learning how to manage that risk, learning how to make decisions about what is safe and what isn’t, is an integral part of learning how to be an adult.  Giving them a measure of control of their lives is important.  Noah was recently told that he doesn’t have to clean his room up, if he doesn’t want to.  He’s ecstatic.  I explained that it was his room, and if he doesn’t care about the toys and books scattered all over the place, that was his decision.  I also laid out three rules, and one consequence, so that he knows:  no food in the room, dirty laundry in the hamper, a clear path from the bed to the door and if he loses a toy in his messy room, I will not help him find it.  If he keeps it clean, I’ll help until the cows come home.

Will that change anything for him?  Will that help him to be a better person later in life?  I have no idea.  But it has let him know that he is in charge of this one thing in his life, and he is relishing that control.  And when he can’t find Buzz Lightyear (and believe me, it’ll happen sooner rather than later), and he comes to me in a tizzy, he’ll learn about the consequences of those actions.  And then he’ll make an even more informed choice.  I know my son, I know what it will be.  But he has to make it for himself.

I think if the system is so gung-ho to make our children grow up at school, we have to back that up with helping them grow up in other ways.  Of course, I think you should just let them be kids.  But what do I know, I’m just a father.

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