The Dinosaurs Have Come Back From Extinction
September 24, 2009 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink

overscheduled-thumbWe often feel like dinosaurs at Soho Parenting. Over the last twenty five years we have watched a couple of trends really take hold. One is that younger and younger children are scheduled for more and more classes.  We saw the birth of the Baby Einstein phenomenon become the norm.  We observed that the busy, busy lives of adults began trickling down to become the busy, busy lives of children. We began ringing the over-scheduling alarm bell.  We heard ourselves saying, “All they really need is the box the toy came in!” We have felt concerned that our culture’s ideas about what children need to learn, grow and thrive has been transformed into a performance based, pressure-filled embarrassment of riches.

The article, Babies Are Smarter Than You Think, by research psychologist, Alison Gopnik provides a big piece of research-based evidence that validates our concern and supports our philosophy. Gopnik sites important developmental research showing that children learn most from what occurs in the natural world of people and objects.  She writes:

“The learning that babies and young children do on their own, when they carefully watch an unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from it, ceaselessly manipulate a new toy or imagine different ways that the world might be, is very different from schoolwork. Babies and young children can learn about the world around them through all sorts of real-world objects and safe replicas, from dolls to cardboard boxes to mixing bowls, and even toy cellphones and computers…But what children observe most closely, explore most obsessively and imagine most vividly are the people around them. There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. Parents and other caregivers teach young children by paying attention and interacting with them naturally and, most of all, by just allowing them to play.

Sadly, some parents … conclude that they need programs and products that will make their babies even smarter. Many think that babies, like adults, should learn in a focused, planned way. So parents put their young children in academic-enrichment classes or use flashcards to get them to recognize the alphabet.”

I am struck by how hard it is for parents to resist taking kids to these classes, purchasing “educational” toys–buying into this idea that children will be deprived if they don’t do or have everything.  Here are two of the biggest culprits: Boredom and peer pressure. We know these two forces in adolescence are a dangerous duo –here they are again in adult form.

Take boredom. A great day for a young child  is pretty uneventful for a grown-up. We are not used to living slowly and quietly. Prior to having children, most adults had long, challenging but interesting workdays. They played by eating out, meeting with friends, going to the gym–time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. Now enter baby –life takes a 180 degree turn. Boredom has always been part of motherhood, but when you are accustomed living such a fast paced life, hanging around the house and neighborhood with young children can feel mind numbingly boring and downright depressing.

Sitting on the floor for a while to watch a child fill and dump a bucket of blocks is repetitive. Taking young children on a trip to the pet store to look at the fish tanks or gerbils seems pretty “low tech” but these blocks of time are precisely what help them learn about the world in a relaxed and organic way. We as parents need to be able to tolerate the slow and small steps necessary while raising children.

And now about peer pressure. Parents tell us about the pressure they feel to compete and keep up with what seems like the most enriched and exciting schedule for their kids. They battle feeling embarrassed and sub par when they decide to go a different route and slow things down. One mom reports:

“It sounds pretty dull to describe the day with… ‘Well, we crawled around a lot and then played with blocks and ate lunch with a little friend at the park and then took a nap.  We also took a trip to the grocery store, came home, had dinner and a bath and went to bed.’ It feels better somehow to say ‘We had gym class in the morning and went to spanish playgroup in the afternoon.’ Of course sometimes I feet bored–but isn’t that supposed to be part of the package?”

So take the advice you know you will give your own kids- “No one ever died from boredom.” AND “If your friend told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge would you?” Boredom leads to creativity and going against the pack means you chart your own course. Don’t be afraid to take it a little more slowly and let your children discover the world at their own pace. All the excitement and the pressure in the world will be waiting for them.

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  1. Lelia
    September 24th, 2009 | 2:15 pm

    I laughed out loud when I saw this picture – how perfect. Now that I’m adjusted to the slower-paced lifestyle of being a stay at home mom, I can say whole heartedly that boredom is a truly underrated state of mind.

  2. September 25th, 2009 | 8:04 am

    Hooray for the dinosaurs! I love this article and the Soho Parenting style and it is so true in my experience that the way to really get my toddler to learn and enjoy herself (which affords me more time to myself, in fact) is to leave her alone! Naturally, she’s a resourceful little creature. The more gizmos we give our kids,the more we entertain them, the more bored they become…

  3. Tatiana
    October 6th, 2009 | 1:19 pm

    YES!!!! I have gone to rock concerts where the famous artist tells the audience how he/she learned to play the guitar/piano, and it usually sounds something like this “there wasn’t another house for 20 miles so I sat in my room for hours and taught myself to play”.
    We don’t value downtime on ANY level – even adults have to make an excuse for “wasting time” relaxing.
    GO DINOSAURS!!!!!!!

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