You know how I know it’s summer? All my friends on Facebook are talking about having the kids home. But, it’s May and still early enough to watch them freak out about getting their children into the right summer camps and taking trips and keeping them busy with reading and, basically, over-scheduling their time for the 3 months they have off. That’s all well and good except when I remember that during the school year I heard many complaints from parents about doing the homework assigned to their child and how busy they were with schoolwork. I get that because I’m a mom and have had multiple complaints about the amount of work they’re given by their teachers. Yet, I’m also a former classroom teacher who now works as an administrator who has to enforce the set curriculum by the district and state of Illinois. It’s a no win, I tell ya.
I recall the year Mason was in 4th grade and had an ungodly amount of homework. I probably would have expected him to get it done during Homework Time (a real thing at my house from the hours of 4 to 6pm every day) and then left it at that. Instead, I realized that he went way past the allotted time and worked until 8 or 9 pm complete with tears, frustration, and an inability to see the point. When I questioned his teacher about it she explained that she had a lot of curriculum to get through and couldn’t fit it all in during the day. That didn’t really fly with me and I shot back that maybe she could take out the Dinosaur Project that took 4 weeks of the school year or that project where they had to create their own board game complete with rules and moveable pieces and a board. Neither of those seemed like they fit into the “curriculum” part of her job and were simply more “fun”.
She and I disagreed for the rest of the school year, but what I learned to ask was an important question that parents should ask teachers: is this material practice or are they expected to learn this on their own? If the reply responds with the latter and not the former then I didn’t make him do it and fought the failing grades she wanted to give him.
Mason was in Cub Scouts, played soccer, and began playing the trumpet that year. What I really had to do, besides question the amount of homework he had, was check myself as a parent and try not to over-schedule him. What I considered to be “fun” activities were, in fact, adding to his stress as a 10 year old. One day, I decided to just ask him about it because we were having nightly meltdowns and we also realized that he had an anxiety disorder. Mixing that with all those activities, even the fun ones, wasn’t good for my child.
He responded in a way that made me rethink my parenting altogether.
“I don’t want to do Scouts anymore because it’s just more projects. I like soccer, though.”
The other thing he did not seem to mind was taking private trumpet lessons because they were with my musician friend, Becky, and she had a pool so we sometimes swam after she taught him.
So, listening to my friends line up all these things for their children makes me reflect on parenting my own son in the summer months. Sure, he could benefit from math tutoring, but we simply bought some math games on the computer and told him to play them when he wanted to but not when we “assigned” it. We read books together at home and at Becky’s pool. We tore out the pages of our atlas and let him drive his cars over the states. We played soccer.
None of that was scheduled and, when we returned to a new school in the fall, he met new friends and I met their moms. Sometimes, it was a bit of a competition to see who scheduled the most (and best) stuff in the summertime.
I just smiled to myself and thought about how much he would thank me someday for not putting all that pressure on him while he was being a kid.
Parents, I implore you to not over-schedule them. Children need downtime and the space to be creative without an agenda attached to it. Goals are fine as long as they belong to the children as my friend Karen wrote about in her Babble post “do you set summer goals”. In fact, I’m pointing out that list to those friends who are considering coming up with THEIR ideas as parents as to what their kids can do because her daughter, Alex, is far more likely to complete those goals happily since she came up with them.
I applaud parents like Karen who know that creativity comes from some of that “free” time. How about you? Are you free-range parenting or helicopter parenting your children this summer?
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