Enriching Our Children

When our kids were around six months old, some of my friends (whom I love and adore, especially if they’re reading this) enrolled their children in swimming lessons. At the time, they were new friends, so I politely declined their suggestion that I join them. But what I was thinking was, “Hell no, I’m not going enroll my child in a class in which I have to get in the water with him. If I enroll my child in anything, it will be so I can leave to go sit and stare into space for awhile.”

Understanding the importance of (eventually) learning how to swim (which a 6-month-old cannot), my husband and I decided that instead of paying someone to watch us play with our child in the pool, we’d simply take him ourselves so he’d get used to the water. And, you know, once in a while we’d give him a bath.

I consider this “Hell no” line of thinking healthy. But it’s hard not to get wrapped up in all the options we parents have for enriching our children. (Raise your hand if you vomit in your mouth when you hear that word.) A couple years after saying no to swimming, I discovered I’d become wrapped up in the options myself.

A local soccer club offered lessons for three-year-olds. Our son was three, he seemed to like to run and kick things, so we enrolled him. He enjoyed it for the most part, so we continued with the program. Our son had just turned four, which meant he was now part of the 4-5 year-old class, which meant they had Saturday games in addition to practice.

I was excited, moved by memories of my own childhood games (never mind that I was 8 or 9 in these memories). But within the first five minutes of the first game, I knew we’d made a mistake. Why? Two things. First, the constant barrage of “encouragements” yelled out across the field by parents made me want to slip away. Since my son is like me, I knew this was going to be no fun for him. Too many adults were taking this way too seriously. While they weren’t negative, who wants to have people constantly—constantly—telling them to “Kick it! Good job! Grab it! There you go! There you go! Alright, now! Great – yes! Get it, get it, get it!!!”

No pressure, kids. Really. It’s all just fun.

Second, within the first five minutes my son discovered that the other team could, and should, steal the ball from him. This was not covered in practice and it did not align with his current values. So he decided to just walk back and forth alongside the action.

The second game he left the field halfway through. The third game, he sat down smack in the center of the soccer field and stayed there.

Why, you ask, did we have him participate in three games when I knew in the first five minutes that it was a mistake? Because I was wrapped up! Wrapped up in all the options! Organized sports provides exercise, lessons in teamwork, confidence. Didn’t you know? Plus, we had to encourage him to stick things out! (Forgetting that he hadn’t asked to participate.)

But my son unwrapped me. He reminded me, sitting out there patiently by himself in the middle of the field, what I already knew: he will do what he wants when he’s ready. He crawled when he was ready. He walked when he was ready. He sat on Santa’s lap when he was ready. He enjoys soccer practice; he will play a game when he’s ready.

And, anyway, did you also know that, “Although there are sports programs designed for preschoolers, it’s not until about age 6 or 7 that most kids develop the appropriate physical skills or the attention span needed to listen to directions and grasp the rules of the game”? (kidshealth.org)

Just because something good is offered—whether it’s 0% interest or a second donut or a soccer game—does not mean we have to take it.


The inspiration for this post

The inspiration for this post

27 thoughts on “Enriching Our Children

  1. Amen Sister!! I will not lie, I have enrolled my kids in swimming lessons and t-ball and tumbling. I am with you though. Most of these things they don’t really fully understand. I just asked my mom the other day how old I was when I was going to swim lessons. Is it okay to take a break? They aren’t going to forget everything if I take them out for a few months are they? Funny how I fret about that but they seem to remember how to hit a baseball in the spring after being inside all winter.

    • I just recently had to catch myself with swimming, too–he took lessons all summer and into the fall. I was on automatic and went to re-enroll him for the winter lessons when I realized he could actually take a break until summer and still learn how to swim.

  2. My little Henry. I can see him doing all of those things. And I completely agree with the choice you made to let him sit in the field. He knows what he wants.

  3. I *love* this! I’m just coming off a “You did what?!?,” low with my own child, who apparently signed up and subsequently was accepted onto the basketball team. Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m excited, proud & happy for her. A little forewarning would have been nice though. 🙂 At ten years old she’s more than due her first real “team” experience, but she took dance, tap, tumbling, acting classes and has been involved in the Boys & Girls club for years. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “organized” toddler sports, especially if you’ve a son, who maybe isn’t the “tap, tumble & ballet,” type. I agree, though, regardless of how the parents are “supporting” their kids on the sidelines, during the toddler years even encouragement, when it’s screamed, can sound pretty scary! The mental image of your son, sitting down in the middle of the field while the “game” raged on around him definitely gave me the giggles, thanks!

    • Oh, it was funny. And I didn’t know what to do at first. Do I leave him there when sitting in the middle of a game is not really appropriate? But then again, a 4-yr-old game isn’t really a game. Do I take him off the field and possibly embarrass him when he’s obviously fine watching the game where he is? I left him, figuring he walked off the field last time and he’d do it again if he wanted.

  4. I was totally there 4 years ago when I had my first daughter. I did whatever ‘everyone’ else was doing, because that what I thought good parenting was. When my twins came along 18 months later, I realised that I was the parent – not some sort of social follower and that I needed to do what was right for my kids. So I wasn’t too quick to participate in the mommy-and-me classes before the girls were ready, nor did I do baby yoga and insist on timed tummy-time. Each child is unique and they will get there when they are ready! Thanks for sharing. Lauren

  5. So glad you came to your senses for your sake and Henry’s. I did know that children’s physical skills and attention spans are not what they should be for soccer at the age of 4 years…..but knew you would do it your way and find it out in time and you did!! Great blog

  6. Jess- your post made me smile! I have been feeling guilty for not signing the boys up for much because everyone else around us seems to be doing a million things with their kids. We signed Michael up for basketball last year, and it was about 50/50 if he would participate or not. We signed him up for baseball this summer and he started strong but the last few times he refused to go out on the field. We play tons of sports with them in our own backyard but I feel the same way you do- I don’t want to sign them up just because I’m getting wrapped up in what’s going on around me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!!

    • You’re very welcome! I sometimes feel old-school in that I’m stubborn (except when I get all wrapped up!) about not enrolling him in too many things. I want him to learn how not to be bored, to use his imagination, and to have time to just chill and let his mind wander. Of course, then I have to be on top of my game and limit his Angry Birds time on my phone, and also learn how to roar like a dinosaur.

  7. If I could LIKE this ten million times I would. I always end up feeling like a loser when I hear about all of the other activities families/kids do during the week/weekend. We don’t. We don’t do it. We sit around and play board games or goof off. My almost 7yo son just played soccer for the first time. It was his first organized sport. He’s excited about everything at this age–BUT I tell him, one sport per season. That’s it. Haven’t regretted it so far!

    • I’m a one-sport per season person, too. I’d never heard of more than that until recently. Didn’t even know it was possible. I don’t think either of us will regret spending more downtime at home with our kids.

  8. Did you see Will Ferrell’s movie “Kicking and Screaming?” A must see for soccer parents.
    I’m not sure if fear has led to the obsessive need for structured activities ad nauseum. People understandably are fearful of letting their kids run around unsupervised these days but kids don’t learn how to create their own fun and games. I miss the days portrayed in the movie “Sandlot.” Maybe parents should just form playday clubs where everyone takes their kids to the park to let them run free under watchful eyes. There’s much wisdom in your post Jessica. Have a great weekend of unfettered playtime!

    • I haven’t seen that movie, thanks. I don’t know if it’s fear, either. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s a good point–maybe some parents just don’t want their kids running around outside. That would be a shame, though. I think statistically it’s actually safer these days than it used to be (though I have no idea where I read that and I’m not sure if it’s true).

  9. I just wanted to hop in here and say that photo at the end is killing me. Bah!

    And I enjoyed the description of your little son here. Having a bunch of kids try to steal my ball might not line up with my values either.

  10. We pretty much had the same experience with our three year old son and soccer this past summer. I cringe when I remember my “words of encouragement” when all he wanted was to sit with me and watch the others play. We do ge caught up in the hype and convince ourselves that this is “good for them” – but we need to remind ourselves that the best thing for them is to just let them be kids. Pushing a child too much can have some pretty negative consequences and all we want is for our kids to be well adjusted and happy, right? Great post!

    • Thanks, Karen. It IS so easy, because all we want is the best for them and there are so many options and opinions as to what “best” is. But yes, I think the simplest answer is often the best–just let them be kids and follow their lead. (Except when they’re hitting, biting, yelling, taking off their diaper in the grocery store…)

  11. Exploring the Joy Of Learning & all: I think you’ve hit on something so incredibly fundamental, there. Our children, more than anything else in the world, especially in the toddler years, want most of all in their lives nothing more than to be with mom and dad, playing! As a society, (especially for us women,) as busy as our days are, we’ve finally grown to a point where spending time with our kids in pursuit of recreation IS a possibility!

  12. Appreciate your wisdom! Great post!!!! 🙂 I find that when I get so wrapped up in life (and with several kiddos, just managing homework and piano practice seems like enough sometimes), I am distracted from my true purpose of mothering them, being there for them, and helping them to grow. Thanks for your perspective.

    • Thanks for reading. I can only imagine my days are going to get a lot harder as my children grow up and the problems, possibilities, and issues increase. And I have only two. I’m not sure how people with more children do it!

  13. Pingback: Leopoldo Larez Banorte – The Top Listed Sportsman In The Soccer World | Dan Martin Blog

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