Tag Archives: Imagination

Overscheduling Kids Negatively Affects Development: Parenting Without Borders, Part 6

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we’ll look at the importance of unstructured “play.”

There’s an epidemic of overscheduling kids in the US and it’s negatively affecting development. You’ve probably heard or seen the stereotype: afterschool, little Johnny is off to baseball practice on Mondays, piano practice on Tuesdays, swimming on Wednesday, every other Thursday is Boy Scouts, and on Friday, the family goes to the cottage (when there aren’t piano recitals, baseball games, or swimming tests on the weekends). Oh, there’s also little Julie who has all of her extracurricular activities afterschool, too. Don’t get me wrong, certainly those activities will be helpful in little Johnny or little Julia’s development (within those activities), but they will be harmful in other ways.

All of the activities I mentioned above are structured activities. Meaning, there are clear and set boundaries and defined outcomes contained within. Kids will certainly learn from these kinds of activities, but they are being robbed of the importance and value of unstructured play. From the book:

One survey found that 79% of middle and high school students participate in some sort of activities during the weekdays or on the weekends; 57% have an extracurricular activity every day or almost every day. As scheduled activities have increased, the amount of outdoor time children enjoy has plummeted. Today, the average American child is spending only between four and seven [!] minutes in unstructured outdoor play.

It looks like it’s implied in the passage that this is daily play (but it doesn’t specify). Four to seven minutes — are you kidding me? That’s the amount of time we’re supposed to be spending brushing our teeth everyday (three times a day, at least two minutes each). How the heck is an imagination supposed to develop in only 5 minutes a day?

Oh, I guess I didn’t tell you about that yet, did I:

Childhood play is how kids construct meaning and make sense of the world when they are little, and discover what they love as they grow. Play is a springboard for creativity: as kids pretend and make up their own games, they create possibilities out of thin air. Pretend play is an especially crucial way to hone human intelligence because of how it enables kids to envision possibilities.

So I say again, how is an imagination supposed to keenly develop in 5 minutes a day?

In this chapter, Gross-Loh also tries to draw connections to the rise in childhood obesity and increase in the use of antidepressants in American children. While those points are valid, I think the previous point — development of creativity — is a strong enough argument for more unstructured play all on its own. I mean, some parents often lament the shrinking amount of time spent on arts and physical education in schools. It turns out, children’s access to “arts” is probably getting a similar treatment (by having been overscheduled and given little time to develop their imagination).

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It turns out that part of the shift to structured activities began in the ’80s and ’90s when the media alerted us to new research in brain development. However, as is often the case when it comes to the media reporting on scientific research, there was a disconnect between what the research actually said and what was expressed in the news. The message from the research was mainly geared to “disadvantaged children” (about the importance of those earlier years) and then the message became co-opted such that all parents thought it was important to focus on those early years. As it happens, this may be to the detriment of children:

Researchers found that early-learning centers, which promise to give infants, toddlers, and preschoolers an academic head start, produced children who eventually had more difficulty: anxiety about tests, lowered creativity, and less of a liking for academics. Many studies show that “artificial stimulation” — early learning that is developmentally inappropriate — can be counterproductive and even hinder children’s development. One well-known study showed that the more babies watched educational baby videos, the more their vocabulary dropped.

There are also myriad behavioural issues that can develop by trying to force this early learning on kids (and we wonder why there’s been an explosion in the diagnosis of kids with ADD or ADHD?). There’s probably a number of reasons for the higher frequency in that diagnosis, but I suspect that the pressures felt by parents to force their kids into environments that will foster behavioural issues is a factor.

I’m already close to 1000 words and I haven’t even talked about how the effects that overscheduling has on a child’s ability to figure out what they’re passionate about (how can you figure out with you like when you’re always being shuttled from activity to activity?) or how it’s important to intersperse physical activity with learning (breaks are essential to improving a person’s attention).

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One of the main reasons that I chose to write about this book through a series was to make sure that I presented different perspectives, so I wanted to make sure that I offer a few examples of that before closing this post.

In Denmark, there’s a forest kindergarten for students between the ages of three and six. Gross-Loh shared a delightful anecdote about the kids wanting to go swimming in the sea (in the winter) and how the teacher didn’t tell them about how the water was frozen. Instead, the class all walked to the sea to learn that in the winter, the water is frozen and that when you break the ice and go in the water (yes, some of the kids put their feet/legs in), the water is extremely cold. A perfect quote from that story: “There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.”

In Germany, they also have a forest school where it’s not only normal, but it’s encouraged for kids of different ages to be playing together (just like we learned in Japan in previous chapters).

And let’s leave the last word to Gross-Loh:

The children spend “off task” — time that might seem idle and wasted — is often full of interior richness. Children are doing exactly what they should be doing. The benefits of play seem, to me, to be as crucial for our kids’ futures as anything we enroll them in, because through play, they internalize a valuable lifelong attitude: the idea that they have the power to make something of their own lives, and that they can create so much out of so little.

When Was the Last Time You Listened to the Radio?

This evening I spent a little time at a friend’s house, looking in on her cat. As an aside here, cats are great! In amidst the playing with the cat, the radio was on. The radio was on when I got there and I left it on when I left (as instructed). After playing with the cat for a while, I sat down on the couch and listened to the radio for a little bit.

While usually not an experience worth noting, this one was. NPR was playing and because it was the weekend, it wasn’t the usual NPR-programming I was used to hearing during the week when I have NPR on in the car. In fact, listening the radio inside the house is an altogether different experience than listening to NPR in the car. In fact, outside of this evening, I can’t remember the last time I listened to the radio inside the house (and wasn’t doing something else at simultaneously).

Anyway, NPR was talking to bright young musicians. When I say young, these folks were still in high school, but they had some incredible stories. The thing I want to point out: I was forced to imagine the conversation between the host and the guest… and imagine the audience, too (as they were in front of an audience). This is something that I rarely have to do (because I don’t listen to the radio unless I’m in the car).

Two things I want to note about this experience:

1) It made listening the radio a much richer experience. That is, I was forced to use my imagination to fill in the holes as to the facial reactions by the guest and the host and fill in the space of what the audience might be doing, too. As I said, this is something I don’t have to do very often.

2) It made me think about what it might have been like for people before there was TV. Huddling around the radio together used to be a common family activity. It’d be hard to conduct this study, but I wonder what the data would show based on those folks who had to do more imagining (before there was TV) vs. those folks who don’t have to do imagining (because there is TV). I wonder if the “before there was TV” group might have more developed imaginations.

Spirituality From an Unlikely Source: Will Smith

I was on YouTube like I had been a and on the sidebar, I noticed a video under the suggestion heading by the title of: . I’ve always subscribed to the theory that our words and thoughts have an effect on the world around us (check out our or , and you’ll see some of the kinds of books that I recommend discuss these principles in their books), but I didn’t expect this kind of wisdom from a famous actor.

It’s not that I don’t think that Will Smith has the capacity to understand or even believe these kinds of things, it’ s just that with entertainers, it’s harder to imagine them outside of some of the roles they’ve played. After watching the almost 10-minute video of many clips spliced together where Will advocates the theory that our thoughts have a decided effect on the outcome of our lives, I couldn’t help but write a post here about it. In fact, I’ve even included the video at the end because I really think it’s worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch it.

One of the interesting perspectives that he offers is on talent and skill. He says:

Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.

I think that there is definitely truth to this and it is backed up by the work of in his book . In it, Gladwell purports that to be over-the-top successful at something, you need to spend upwards of 10,000 hours doing that something. Gladwell cites an example of , explaining to the reader that for 4 straight years, The Beatles were able to perform live in Germany. In this time, Gladwell claims that The Beatles accumulated over 10,000 hours of (practice) at their craft and that when they came back to England, they were an instant-hit. Gladwell also cites the example of Bill Gates who, when in high school, gained access to a computer. Gates spent nearly all of his free-time on this computer, accumulating hours and hours of (practice), which eventually led to .

Another interesting quote from the video:

You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built. You don’t start there. You say, I’m gonna lay this brick, as perfectly as a brick can be laid. And, you do that every single day, and soon you have a wall.

I’m sure this concept is not new to anyone, about “,” but it’s something that I think is worth repeating, and I think it’s also adds a different level of authority to hear someone like Will Smith say it.

I want to do good. I want the world to be better because I was here.

Wouldn’t it just be fabulous if we all walked around with this attitude: wanting the world to be better because we were here. Performing acts, volunteering, making a difference – making the world a better place.

I just believe that. I believe that I can create whatever I want to create.

Around of the video, he begins talking about how our thoughts are physical things in the universe.

Our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, our ideas — are physical in the universe. That, if we dream something, if we picture something, if we commit ourselves to it, that is a physical thrust towards realization that we can put into the universe. That the universe is not a thing that’s gonna push us around. That the world and people and situations are not something that’s gonna push us around. That we are gonna bend the universe and command and demand that the universe become what we want it to be.

Celebrities can be a mixed bag. They can run the spectrum from those that are having a hard go of things, like , to those like Will Smith who use their celebrity for other means. Whenever I learn that a celebrity is involved in the kinds of thinking that Will Smith is, I can’t help but smile just a little bit, knowing that maybe our world really is changing faster than we know.