May 13, 2010

High Expectations

After yesterday's post, I got a note from my friend Ann. I started to type out an answer then I thought better of it and realized it was something I wanted to talk to you about. She said (and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this here):

I wonder though how you feel about the pressure on little kids in general. Pre-school almost before they can toddle, dads pushing their boys to be the next all-star when they can hardly hold a bat or when they'd much rather be reading a book. Over scheduling their little lives so they have no time to figure out who they are. We all want the best for our kids and maybe that's the only way to get it but I think we went off track at some point.


Oh, you were hoping for more of an opinion. Fine, be that way.

Our preschool just dropped their minimum age and opened up a class which Owen will be attending next year. Beth and I thought long and hard about it. Is he too young? Will he benefit from it? We both agreed that he was ready to go. He'll love it. He watches his sister go to school every day and tries to sneak into the building with her whenever he gets a chance. But don't think I'm not worried about putting too much pressure too soon. Mia starts kindergarten next fall. Full day kindergarten. That's eight solid hours of school. It seems like a lot.

Kids are learning all kinds of things that I never knew at that age. Mia's spelling and reading and doing math. She even convinced me to download a math iPad app which I did and she promptly rocked.

I have a job that I like, that is very satisfying, and that pays the bills. Yet I've often thought we'd be a whole lot more productive if we all worked just a little less, if we adopted some kindergarten practices. Would you feel better - and work better - if you got snacktime in the morning and maybe a nap after lunch? And I know I'd be in better shape physically and mentally if I could go out and play in the early afternoon. But instead of taking a page out of elementary school and trying to force ourselves to strike a better balance between work and life, we're pushing the concepts of work on our kids at earlier ages.

Are people getting smarter? Is our capacity for more growing? Or are the expectations on our children growing disproportionately?

Posted by Chris at May 13, 2010 7:10 AM

Im reminded of something the valedictorian read at my high school graduation 20 so years ago.
Forgive the space it takes up.. it still rings true today.

All I Really Need To Know
I Learned In Kindergarten
by Robert Fulghum

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the
sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don't hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don't take things that aren't yours.

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.


Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life - learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,hold hands, and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die.
So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned - the biggest
word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any of those items and extrapolate it into
sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your
family life or your work or your government or
your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if
all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about
three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments
had a basic policy to always put thing back where
they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you
are - when you go out into the world, it is best
to hold hands and stick together.

Posted by: Michelle at May 13, 2010 7:48 AM

Amen to that!
I worked in an office once that had morning and afternoon tea breaks. At 10am and 3pm everyone stopped, went to the tea room, and took a break. Read the paper, read a book, had idle conversation.

It made the day less stressful, calmer, and easier to get through.

I think we all know that the rest of the world takes rest, fun, and off-work more seriously. In Australia they say "Americans live to work, Australians work to live". I've been trying to adopt more of that thinking.

Posted by: Lisa at May 13, 2010 8:10 AM

I think the expectations for kids are growing out of control. I was stunned at what my daughter had to learn in order to enter Kindergarten. It was all stuff that I either learned in Kindergarten or 1st grade. That's also the first year they introduced full day Kindergarten (which I disagree with. I think 8 hours of school for a 5 year old is too much), and I refused to allow her into that class. The days were too long and at 5, she was still taking 2 hour naps (woohoo!). Now that she's in 3rd grade, I'm astounded at what she's learning and she constantly has at LEAST one hour of homework a night and it is usually closer to 1.5. I think our kids are more stressed than we were. And I notice the trend in my school district is to totally over schedule these kids. One of my daughters classmates is so booked after school (which gets out at 4) that he doesn't get home until 8pm every night. This is insane to me, way too many activities. I have the same "rule" for my kid that I had as a kid, we had to pick one sport/dance/etc each year. We had to remain active. She takes gymnastics, she also wants to take dance and cheerleading and soccer, but I have to step up and be the bad guy, denying the extra activities so she has less busy schedule. It wasn't THAT long ago that I was a kid (I'm 30), but I feel like it was a lifetime ago when you compare what was expected of "my generation" and what's expected of my daughter's generation.

Posted by: js at May 13, 2010 8:35 AM

My husband and I have traveled a lot abroad. We have noticed that our country is a country of workaholics. Even if we get vacation most of us don't take it at a two week at a time basis instead we use a Friday here or there for a long weekend (in which we promptly cram in more work around the house and don't really vacation).

I think it would be wonderful to "schedule" in down time. Let's not reward the person who works 80 hours a week.

I purposely never overscheduled my children. I saw this coming when my oldest (now 23) was young. Parents acted like it was critical for their child to be busy every single day. Their excuse was "it would keep them out of trouble" REALLY? I don't buy it. My fondest memories of growing up was when I had so much downtime that my friends and I were forced to be creative to entertain ourselves. We didn't grow up on 24/7 cartoons, video games and social networking. We ran around in the yard, made up plays and skits, sang along to the radio and had camp outs in the backyard.

Posted by: Debbie at May 13, 2010 8:44 AM

I'm one of few, I think, who doesn't schedule her kids for activities. They participate in what they want to - but with no urging from me. Now we have one playing baseball on the school team, one who wanted to play t-ball, and one who's perfectly happy just playing in her room. And it all works for me!

As for me, I am blessed that my company moved me to a home office in the past year and that my boss is the sort who says, "I don't care what you do as long as your work gets done." So today, after getting some stuff done this morning, I plan to spend the rest of the day cutting the grass and gardening.

I can honestly say having that ability - the chance to step away from work and breathe - has been good for my soul.

Posted by: Traci at May 13, 2010 8:56 AM

I don't think we really understood this way back when we decided to eschew the school system completely, but missing out on that day to day pressure has been one of the biggest benefits of educating our kids off the grid. My kid's friends get up before 6 AM to get to school and often are doing homework until 10 PM or later at night. Meanwhile my kids roll out of bed around 8 AM, spend maybe 3 hours a day on "school" and have all that extra time to do what they want to do. My son has been doing some SAT prep recently and it's pretty damn clear that he hasn't missed out on anything academically by missing out on thousands of hours of school over the years.

We are doing something very wrong with how we educate the next generation in this country.

Posted by: COD at May 13, 2010 9:04 AM

This morning, I was paged at 5:30am for an issue with one of the sites that I administer. It messed up our morning routine, which runs from 6:00am to 8:00am and includes me dressing the kids and putting them either in my wife's car (the boy) or the school bus (the girl).

As I sat there on a conference call, hunched over my laptop in my underwear, snapping once at everyone due to the noise and my impatience with the people on the call, I thought, "this is just barely worth it". Now that you've asked this question, I'm really just wondering what type of example I'm setting. Is it one of diligence and hard work or is it one of mental absence from the family and a general grumpiness.

I saved the morning by spending a non-free moment with my son before he left, and 20 minutes with my girl being goofy and fun before she left... but it still begs the question of what type of example I'm setting.

Posted by: Brad at May 13, 2010 9:29 AM

I certainly was horrified at the overscheduling I saw all around me when my girl was very young. Now that she's 12 years old, I find that the kids who aren't BUSY are often rather adrift and getting into trouble. So that's forced my hand a bit and I've been obliged to get her a little 'busier' to delicately minimize the time she spends with kids who don't bring much to the table and, in fact, are meddling with activities that could potentially harm *my* kid. Yes, at 12 there's plenty of trouble to be had. Trust me--I'm seeing it. An interesting turn of events, and one I never would have anticipated. I still try to build 'down time' in for my girl, but I try to make sure she spends it with her family or trustworthy people who are enriching her life substantially. Or alone, if she likes.

Posted by: jill at May 13, 2010 9:35 AM

If this means more naps and recess, I'm all for it :)

Posted by: Rachel at May 13, 2010 10:16 AM

No problem about the quote. I didn't add it to my brief comment yesterday because I thought it was a little off topic.

It's refreshing to see I'm not the only one out here. I'm so much older than most of your online friends, I'm never quite sure if I'm 50 years behind the times.

I won't repeat what everyone has already said but I found myself agreeing with most of the comments.

Trust me when I say the good old days weren't all that great but there are a few things I wish we'd kept. Letting kids be kids is one of them. Many of the most important things they learn, they learn in their free time when school is out.

As for Owen, preschool can be wonderful if it's the right school. I hope he has a great time. It isn't preschool and activities I object to, it's the constant pressure.

Posted by: Ann Adams at May 13, 2010 10:19 AM

People are not getting smarter, but grades are being inflated and mediocre people are getting shoved into programs that push them beyond their limits, inevitably ending in any number of bad ways. This trend seems to start at a very young age when they're pushed pushed pushed, while being told repeatedly what a special snowflake they are and how there's nothing they can't accomplish and that failure is never an option, etc., etc. Often times failure is the best option and sometimes there are things beyond one's capacity, but that's a reality lost on most children due to many parents' insistence upon refusing to believe it. One result is that a lot of undergrads (they or their parents) are paying far too much for an education that guarantees them nothing, then graduating into a very harsh world for which they haven't been prepared.

I hate the fact that music and art and even recess in some cases have been cut from the curriculum of early schooling to save money and funnel the rest toward preparation for standardized tests that require no imagination or critical thinking. I weep for the future sometimes.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at May 13, 2010 10:51 AM

I have opinions on this topic which I guess can also basically summed up as: Yes.
I do think that generally we all need to slow down (The Spaniards have it spot on with the siesta, but even that is going by the wayside in order to compete with the rest of the business world.). Not that I have specific recommendations for doing so (though I guess I do - we're trying to eat a meal together every night without distractions, grow more food, buy more locally, we just bought bikes - and all that is reminding us of a lot our society has gotten away from, and making us slow down and appreciate it).

BUT. I also wanted to share that I don't think starting Owen in 'school' now is a bad thing. Socialization and learning can be good, so long as you think he's ready and it sounds like he is. Your story reminds me of a story from my childhood. When I was 2 or 3, my big brother was going to school every day. My Mom and I would walk him to the bus stop, and then she would have to carry me home, crying. One day something clicked (I was not always vocal about my inner turmoil) and she said "Do you want to go to school, too?". She says I stopped my crying, lifted my head, looked her right in the eye and said "YES.". In her words, she wasn't ready, but I was. One thing I really appreciate about my parents is that they made it a point to listen to us and what we wanted/were ready for (not that they weren't strict or didn't PARENT us, but hopefully you know what I mean). I think it's really great that you guys are taking signals from your kids, too. They will really appreciate it later.

Posted by: Caitlin at May 13, 2010 12:07 PM

8 hour a day kindergarten? For real?

Posted by: Heather at May 13, 2010 12:22 PM

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I heard on NPR some months back that Americans work the most hours, but are the least productive. We seem to think "busy" (doing whatever it is that we do) equals success and self-definition. Funny thing is, for the first time in my life I've been going the other way. I'm working less hours, I started meditating regularly, and I'm spending more time reading things that enrich me. And I just started a running program to get myself outside and moving more. And guess what? This is the happiest I've felt in YEARS. Turns out those late night conference calls and decision-making meetings and bug fixes at 1 AM that made me feel so important also left me feeling rather empty.

And my point in all this is that we're trying to institute the same rules for our kids. Work harder, kids! Learn more, faster! Your ultimate goal in life is to get into a good college so you can get a good job so you can stay up until 1 AM troubleshooting issues on a project that will roll out late anyway - and, for the record, no one will care or remember a year later!

Ultimately there's nothing wrong with being busy... I'm busy with meditating, taking classes, going to work, reading, running, writing... but the trick seems to be that I'm busy doing things that make me happy. Things that enrich my life. So, I guess my advice to my future-self-as-a-mom is to remember that. To let my kids be busy, but to encourage them to do the things that make them happy and to worry less about what looks best on a college application. (Well, maybe except for swimming lessons. Goddamn, I hated those, but I'm thankful now that my mom made me learn how to swim.)

Thanks for making me think this morning, Chris!

Posted by: Erin at May 13, 2010 1:08 PM

This is a huge part of why we are starting Cole in a Waldorf school for kindergarten this fall; they actually let little kids just be little kids.

Posted by: heels at May 13, 2010 1:20 PM

I think you're mixing apples and oranges. Kids today have more opportunities for "things to do" than we had, and the traditional work environment ( command and control, widget making ) doesn't really mesh well with the knowledge worker. So let's separate this out into it's components:

Kids being over scheduled is a problem only if the kids are feeling stress from it. The trick is that you actually have to listen to your children, and give them the opportunity to pick / change the activity.

For example, my daughter was taking Karate last summer; she really enjoyed it, but when school came she was worried that she would have too much homework and that she wouldn't have enough time to do both the Karate and her schoolwork, so we let her take the year off from the karate because that's where her comfort zone was. She still does girl scouts, and between that and school / playing with her siblings, she is pretty busy, but not to the point that she is stressing it. In my opinion, the "over scheduling" would have been to force her to do the karate because I thought it was the right thing to do.

Our kids are heading into a pretty tough world, and those that are staying busy / being exposed to lots of stuff are at an advantage over kids who are "left to themselves". You can argue it, but my non-scientific sampling seems to show there is a trend there.

Which leads us to work. Most of us are knowledge workers in one way or another, and knowledge work environments are few and far between. Most traditional jobs are based around management principles based around making widgets. And the efficiencies gained in the widget making process don't translate over to the "thinking" process. Naps would probably make sense for knowledge workers ( helps you think ), as well as free juice and healthy brain food during the day. Right now I'm really hyped about Agile methodology, and am seeing how a work environment built around it could be awesome.

So in relation to you, try Owen in school, but make sure that there is an out. If the fun wears off, then bail him out and let him be a little kid for a while longer. But if he dives in and loves it, then it was a good call. Keep em both engaged and interested and expose them to as many activities as you can; some will stick, most won't, but each one expands their minds a little more, and that will pay dividends.

Posted by: metawizard at May 13, 2010 1:55 PM

Um...though the Kindergarten age kids around here (Virginia) do get a snack, they no longer get a nap after lunch. When my son started a couple years ago, I asked about that and they said they just have too much to cover to have time for naps anymore... Sad...

Posted by: Kris H. at May 13, 2010 2:06 PM

I think if we start with ourselves, slow down, forget work, lay off Facebook, the internet, and relax, spending quality time with the family having fun, we'll be doing ourselves a world of good.

Now if I could only follow my advice...

Posted by: AL at May 13, 2010 4:27 PM

I think there's a huge difference between putting your kid into pre-school - pushing educational and social things vs. the pageant crap. Crash diets, walking coaches, false eyelashes and the makeup.... All things even adults don't need in their lives - shouldn't be pushed on children. I think it's important to push your kids to work hard and do their best. I certainly believe that academics come first though.

Posted by: Rose @Dozenroses13 at May 13, 2010 7:36 PM

i've been wondering the same thing, as i've missed the registration window to get lola in a preschool in the fall after she turns three. of course, i feel a lot of pressure to get her in a preschool now but is it really necessary? when we were kids, preschool was optional. i didn't even go to one. do kids really need TWO years of preschool to function now or if i get her in one at age four will she be ok? like, really?!

not to say that getting her out of the house to do something constructive wouldn't be a great thing...

Posted by: kati at May 13, 2010 8:31 PM

I struggle with this all the time.

And oh year, Declan played King Lear in a school play last night.


Posted by: Aimee Greeblemonkey at May 13, 2010 8:50 PM

when my daughter went to kindergarten last year it was full day kindergarten. but it started EARLY. my little 5yo dolly was getting on the school bus at 735am. never in my 18 years of school did i have to leave my house that early to get to school. her classes started at 805. again, i say, never in my 18 years of school did i have classes start before 830. granted she was dismissed at 2pm - noon on wednesdays, but still.

Posted by: Christine Boyko at May 13, 2010 8:59 PM

My son is only 7 months old, but I'm already dreading sending him to school. When he goes to kindergarten in 5 years, he will be picked up by the bus at 6:50 a.m. That's right, freaking 10 to 7 in the morning!!! The school is 10 minutes away, but apparently he would be the first one picked up. I will definitely be bringing him to school, if we're still living here then, because it's on my way to work. Also, the kindergarten here is full-day, also. So ridiculous. We still have lots of time to consider what we want to do, obviously, but I'm horrified by this.

Posted by: Leah at May 14, 2010 2:30 PM

Who's this "we"? YOU all could work a little less; I've been a confirmed less-work-is-more type of gal since age 20, when I dropped out of school. (Oh, I finished eventually, on my own terms.)

I do have a snack in the morning, and nap when my toddler naps. When she heads off to pre-school next year, I purposely am looking for the one with the *least* academic curriculum. We, as a family, take all of Sunday off to loaf, and if the to-do list encroaches, that means we need to take things off the list.

In the grand scheme of things, my to-do list has three items: 1) nurture relationships with friends and family; 2) raise my children to believe in themselves and in possibilities; and 3) learn and create. The rest is just busy work.

Posted by: Laura Gato at May 14, 2010 7:29 PM

The Boy has always been in full day programs, so I'm sure Mia will be fine.

It's odd I seem to see to extremes. One the parents who over program their kids, then there are the parents who overprogram with school + extra curricular + sports +++. It seems to me like too much. On the flip, are the parents who don't do anything, and seem to schlep the kids because it's too much work.

But yes, overall, we tend to expect a lot of our kids. I think it's a balance. As in all things.

Posted by: Nat at May 15, 2010 9:52 AM

Yes, definitely! My nieces (15 and 11) and each has a sport, school, and volunteer activity, not to mention family responsibilities and homework, that keep them busier than I am, as an adult with a full-time job and a variety of hobbies. And I get stressed out! I just don't know how their generation does it, other than that many just haven't ever known it any other way.

Posted by: Angela at May 15, 2010 9:11 PM

IMHO it's an extension of the workaholic's vicious circle. Workaholics are *less* efficient than everyone else because they're tired or even exhausted, even if they won't admit it to themselves. So they are less efficient, which means it takes more hours for them to get things done, and around and around it goes. Then it gets ingrained that people *must* need a lot of hours to get things done. Unfortunately for the workaholics, other countries have very healthy economies yet their citizens work less.

Whether it's bad for the kids or not depends on whether or not their school/activity stuff is considered "work" and whether or not they get time to figure their own stuff out and do things on their own time, like reading books.

Posted by: Kat at May 16, 2010 11:02 AM

I realize no one will probably realize this b/c I'm a few weeks behind the times (just found this blog) but I'm on the opposite side of the fence with my opinion. My son is in 3rd grade and is in a decent public school. I find myself wondering quite often, exactly when DOES the "schooling" part of school take place? It boggles my mind how little time they spend on in class instruction and how much time they spend at recess or lunch or other activities. Seriously - they're only in school 6 hours a day and I think about 2.5 of it is non-learning time! I make him do more work at home and also schedule learning time during the summer. Without it, he loses track and loses progress. Now, that may be just a quirk of my boy, but I would be surprised to find that it's uncommon. Without structure, he gets lots.

So maybe there you have it - it depends on the kid. Mine needs structured play, learning and relaxation time.

Posted by: Holly at May 24, 2010 11:55 PM