I’m sitting at my desk surrounded by piles of paper. Rachel came home today with forms for soccer, forms for music, forms for “a culinary program” and forms for drama. Did I mention that she’s three and a half? These are all extra-mural activities that children can do, on top of the already full program they have at school. For a fee obviously.
Now while I really like Rachel’s new pre-primary school and appreciate that it’s only trying to offer kids a wide variety of activities (and that schools compete with each other in this sphere), I just think that this is getting beyond the ridiculous. The drama class even promised us it could teach her how to mime. Do I really want a three-year-old mime running around the house, pretending she’s stuck inside a box? The answer is No.
But the real question is: since when did we start trying to turn kids into mini adults? While sport and music are all wonderful and necessary, shouldn’t we just let kids be kids and mess around in the back garden – while they can? There’s more than enough time for a full extramural calendar once they reach big school. So why are we trying to rush them out of childhood into the grown up world, with all its responsibilities, pressure and criticism?
I’m probably taking this all a bit seriously. It’s just that I’m concerned that these activities will have the opposite effect they’re intending to – by providing too much structure for our children, surely this can stifle creativity?
I’m not sure about you but I barely had any “formal play” before I went to school age six. We lived on a farm, so I went in twice a week to town and I remember playing with dolls in this converted church and having a crush on a boy called Michael. That’s about it. For the rest of the time I was riding around on my bike, skinning my knees, sucking on stones (I used to get dirty stones and suck them clean – weird I know), having tea parties in my treehouse and helping my Mom bake cakes (read: licking the bowl).
While I do think it’s important to foster any passions or talents children have, we also run the risk of making them jacks of all trades and masters of none. In this day and age we want them to be good at EVERYTHING, which is completely unrealistic if you look at most well functioning adults around you. We are all good at some things and pretty crap at others.
I understand that the world is getting ever more competitive. You need good marks to get into good schools, to get into university, to get a job. And the pressure on kids these days is ridiculous. And so us parents take on this pressure too and we don’t want them to miss out or be at a disadvantage, so we sign them up to every available activity and we pack their little days full and the whole family just ends up exhausted.
And all of this in a country where the majority of kids are struggling to even learn to read and write. Where many of them go to school hungry and sometimes don’t even have any textbooks to read from. And we’re worried about whether three-year-old Arabella should be taking ballet or horse-riding. Maybe instead of extramurals, we should be teaching our children compassion? Empathy? Altruism?
I don’t have the answers (obviously). I suppose, as with everything, the key lies in moderation. If your child is really into her music and dances at every opportunity then focus on that. If she loves kicking a ball, then focus on that. And once they get a bit older, then we can start taking these extramural forms a bit more seriously. But in the mean time, I’m off to teach Rachel how to play in the mud. And suck on stones.