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October 21, 2010

Micromanaged Kids

What do today's kids lack, that kids in the 1950s had in abundance? Breathing room:

Clue: My parents divorced before I was 3, necessitating that my mother get a job outside the home. During my preschool years, I was one of the small minority of children who attended what would today be called daycare.

In this happy place, our teachers fostered creative activity. They taught us nothing academic. Therefore, I went to first grade not knowing my ABCs. I would not trade that for anything in the world.

Clue: In the course of my entire childhood, I engaged in but two adult-directed after-school activities. I was a Cub Scout for a year and didn't like it. I played Little League for a year and didn't like it. In both cases, the source of my dislike was well-intentioned adults. My buddies and I much preferred pick-up games where we ran the entire show. I've never understood why some adults think they are better qualified than children to tell children how to play with one another.

Clue: When I began school, my mother made it clear that my homework was my responsibility. She helped me figure out the answer to the occasional problem, but I was free to determine when I did my homework, in what order, in what posture, and whether the radio in my room was on or off. I don't think my mother ever asked me if I had homework or had finished it. She never checked it either. Therefore, most of the schoolwork I did at home was done imperfectly. I still managed to get through high school on time and go to college, then graduate school. Oddly enough, most people my age report having grown up in my mother's care.

Clue: My mother ignored me most of the time. Do not confuse being ignored with being neglected. I was not neglected. Mom left me alone to figure out how I was going to spend my time. She didn't talk to me much, either. Days might go by when no more than the occasional pleasantry would be exchanged between us. Nonetheless, I always knew that if I truly needed her, she would be there. I never wanted for love or attention, albeit I received little of the latter. Mom did insist that if I was bored, I was to keep it to myself lest I put myself in danger of chores. Again, if the reports of my peers are true, my mother had thousands of children. Where were they?

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Posted by Cassandra at October 21, 2010 08:33 AM

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I've always loved his writing and common sense attitude.

Posted by: DL Sly at October 21, 2010 08:51 AM

I sometimes disagree with him, but you're absolutely right about the common sense part! Even when I disagree with him, his columns make me think.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 21, 2010 09:37 AM

I agree and disagree with him. Because I'm persnickity that way.

I absolutely agree that adults are too involved in children's lives, that children don't have room to be kids, and that the adulthood mystique has been seriously eroded to our detriment.

The not knowing ABC's until 1st grade... Well, I shuddered. If that is the kid's learning curve, whatever. However, I understand that there are certain periods in development when the mind is primed to learn certain things most easily. My kids were reading simple books (we used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for all four of ours) at just short of 4, late 4, early 4, and mid 4. It would have been harder for them to learn had we let that window of opportunity pass.

And I kind of wish my kids didn't like their activities. We've got a swimmer, two boxers, and a gymnast still at home, with American Heritage Girls and Boy Scouts thrown in the mix. I'm sick of all the driving.

Posted by: airforcewife at October 21, 2010 09:40 AM

I will say this, though.

Society was very different in the 1950s and even in the 60s when I was growing up. There was considerable pressure on both children and adults to behave in certain ways.

Now, it is different. The single biggest challenge I had in raising my sons was that society not only didn't support but actively sought to undermine the values I wanted to teach them.

So while I agree with giving children the freedom to learn from experience (for instance, if you don't do your homework you will fail and that has consequences), I also found that I had to take active steps to make some of that happen (for instance, putting them in private school where they would actually FAIL if they did a crappy job on their schoolwork, as opposed to being given a B- and passed along to the next grade)!

Posted by: Cassandra at October 21, 2010 09:42 AM

I don't think kindergarten is the place for academics. I really don't.

Most boys are just not ready - what they need is to learn how to work in a classroom setting and participate in group activities. It's more of a social conditioning thing.

My boys could read at 4 and make all their letters by 3 or 4 but that happened fairly naturally - they picked up those skills on their own because we read and drew letters in the sand (Can you learn to write your name for Daddy's post card?, etc). It still took them YEARS to get to the point where they didn't make their b's and d's backwards from time to time and I have to say that I thought the constant writing exercises were really a waste of time.

My daughter in law was a 2nd grade teacher and she used to say it is ridiculous - every year they want to move academic material earlier and earlier on the theory that this will somehow prevent *some* kids from falling behind.

I've seen parents do the same thing with potty training - they're just convinced that they need to potty train their child at 12 months. I used to ask them, "Hmmm... how many kindergarteners do you know who aren't potty trained? If you're spending hours and hours a day on potty training, your child isn't ready."

It never works and only creates a lot of frustration. I think it's better to introduce age appropriate material and repeat it often.

Posted by: Cassandra at October 21, 2010 09:49 AM

I think learning is all about when the child's ready. And if you're paying attention, it's easy to see. Perhaps part of the ease of some of it for us was that we tended to do what you mentioned, Cass - writing letters in the sand, signing cards, etc.

While my kids read early, they ALL had borderline illegible handwriting until at least third grade. And no matter how much practice there was going on, that handwriting did not improve until there was a sudden click for them. I think you are 100% right that if you're spending hours and hours a day on something and it's not getting done, they may not be ready for it.

And I also appreciate your comments about the differences socially between now and when the author grew up. I don't live in a terrible neighborhood, but I also don't let my kids play outside by themselves as often as I was able to as a child. I got one of those lovely notifications of a sex offender living in my area... That's not a risk I'm ready to take. The world is smaller for our kids, and whether that is good or bad - in the end it doesn't matter. It *is*. We have to find a way to function within that reality.

Posted by: airforcewife at October 21, 2010 11:24 AM

I put the blame for my parenting style squarely on my mom's shoulders. Our reasonings for our similar styles were completely different, but the end result is the same. While my mom was as involved as she could be, the fact that she was active duty military determined that there would be a lack of time she could spend engaged with us. Couple that with a nasty divorce during my tween years, and I had to be more self-sufficient than the typical kid. While I had the single motherhood aspect to contend with as well, my kids were MUCH younger, which was almost easier in some ways. But I decided early on that while I would make sure to be involved, I was not going to be one of those parents that revolved around their kids. Both of us had the goal to raise productive and healthy citizens.

As AFW mentioned, the world is much smaller. Its a running joke in our family...after nearly 30 yrs in and around the military, we could go almost anywhere in the world and my mom would run across someone she knows. We've often debated whether it is this "smallness" coupled with the instant access of technology that makes the world more dangerous for our kids; or is it the changed attitudes towards deviance that contributes to the greather threat.

Posted by: tankerswife at October 21, 2010 12:51 PM

One anecdote from my daughter's childhood. I was (still would be) one of those politically incorrect parents who thinks kids need to be given room to make their own mistakes and to learn from them--preferably when they're still at home, as kids, so I can have a chance to influence what they learn from those mistakes (including the decision I occasionally made as a bratty kid--I got thrown out of my Cub Scout pack--that sometimes the misbehavior is worth the punishment).

My 10-year-old daughter was as good a housekeeper as I ever was--which was to say, not at all. However, as a sop to my wife, who is a good housekeeper, I required my daughter to meet a minimum standard of cleanliness in her second floor bedroom: she had to keep a clear path from the bedroom door to her bed, and she had to keep a clear path from her bed to her window, where we had a chain ladder that could be run out to allow escape from a fire. The day I laid down that rule, she moved her bed to be under the window, and she cleared the required path from her door to her bed. You literally could not see the floor for all the stuff she had on it on either side of the path, but the requirement was met, and maintained. Her mother was unhappy, but she had no beef. I was pleased with the solution.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at October 21, 2010 02:51 PM

I grew up as part of a pack of about 9 kids from the neighborhood. Our houses backed onto a wooded gully that eventually fed a creek at one end. The parents laid down a few laws as to where the borders were, what not to eat or pet (beware of striped kitties and of raccoons) and ordered us not to put our hands into holes. And then just used the telephone to find out who had seen us most recently. It seemed to work pretty well from my vantage point, can't speak for my parents though. No adults ever did more than shoo us on, probably because even Ted Bundy would be afraid of a pack of grade school kids who had nettles and knew how to use them.

Today, the city and adjacent property owners would have an utter cow at the thought of letting 5-6-7 year olds run around in the woods unsupervised except by the occasional "big kid" (12? 14?). The liability potentials alone . . . Sigh. Yes, even the late 1970s were very different, at least where I was. As you say, society was rather different, too.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at October 21, 2010 03:43 PM

The handwriting this isn't just an "academic" issue. It's also related to the development of fine motor skills. Just as with academics, children don't all develop those fine motor skills at the same pace. Guess that's why not all coloring book pictures have the same level of detail. You give the child just starting out the simple pictures in which to try to stay within the lines, then as they improve, you can gradually give them more details outlines to fill in. That's part of what Kindergarten should be for: helping children develop those fine motor skills they'll need for first grade while they are also learning how to behave in school and how to interact with other children.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at October 21, 2010 11:00 PM

My niece is 2 years old. She comes over almost every weekend to spend time with her grandparents. This past Saturday, I got out a Memory game I had bought while working on my M.Ed. for my Early Childhood course. I started with a small number of picture pairs, with the turning them over, trying to match them. Realized she wasn't ready for that. So, I put down LOTS of picture pairs, all mixed up, and she was able to find all the matches, except she had difficulty with the gray elephant and the gray squirrel. She enjoyed the game and kept wanting to play... All kids will progress at their own pace and the adults in their lives just need to be paying attention to what that pace it. Encourage discovery, but don't try to push it when they aren't ready yet. Of course, I'm probably not telling anyone here anything they don't already know....

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at October 21, 2010 11:09 PM