19 June 2010

Free time for kids...essential!

This is written in response to this blog post at Mampedia.com. My experience is that this study is crap.
"Current wisdom says that flooding kids’ schedules with extracurricular activities like sports practices, music lessons and art classes, may not allow any time for kids to be kids, but are today’s so called “hyper-parents” really doing anything wrong?"
I was a scout leader for 30 years. The boys that we had who fit the description in the blog post were incapable of dealing with "down time" or "free time", something many of the other boys treasured.

Let me give one example.

We had a camping trip to go rappelling. The complement of boys included several older scouts who were the youth leaders in the troop, and several new scouts - meaning having joined the troop within the last two months, along with two of the new scouts' parents. Rain prevented this activity (wet rocks are dangerous rocks, and while those of us who teach this stuff don't care, we do care about the safety of our charges who don't have our skills or "rock capable" footwear). So now what do you do?

First, I sent them all on a no-adults hike around the campground with the youth leaders in charge. They got back for a late lunch - the leaders incensed that I'd suggested a 5 mile hike when it was closer to 10 (I responded that they didn't bother to read the map before they left). The younger ones were ecstatic with accomplishment. And everyone was back in one piece (not unexpected). The older ones finally realized that it was a good thing to have done, and were happy their leadership had been trusted and expanded, and they realized that the trust I'd placed in them had transferred down to the younger scouts.

BUT!!! That afternoon, the boys said they just wanted to "hang out". So I said "OK". Within a few minutes, the three boys who played 4 sports, were in scouts, had lessons in this, that and the other, and for 2 of them, had an 8:30am to 5:30pm summer schedule typed out by mom for the "male nanny" (an 18 or 19 year old hired to "babysit" the 11 and 13 year old) were "bored", and were causing trouble because they had NO IDEA HOW TO AMUSE THEMSELVES!!! They could not find things to pass the time on their own! They could not PLAY without STRUCTURE! I was amazed.

When I was a kid, if I uttered the words "I'm bored" within earshot of my parents, I was scooted out the door, or if the weather was worse than a downpour, handed a book. Within minutes, I was no longer bored. These boys were helpless. No scheduled, structured activity, so unable to cope. The older boys grabbed a Frisbee and were tossing it around in a field. Some of the younger ones wandered over. They were immediately included by the older guys who had led them on the hike that morning. Bonding is great, and it was so obvious that they'd bonded. The other three? Still whining. Hanging onto their daddies (to whom I was shooting dirty looks). I told them to find something to do and went back to talking to the dads who were one, new to the troop, and two, watching this whole exchange very carefully. I knew my every move would be reported back to every other parent of boys in the troop.

After moping around for another few minutes, they wandered over to the field. Everyone just made more room, and a spirited game of Ultimate Frisbee broke out. It included every kid on the field. No keep away, no ignoring "throw it to me, throw it to me!" Just a lot of fun. And every boy was included in the game, and encouraged by everyone else.  I think they spent 2 or 3 hours just having fun together. No structure, no adults, just 15 or so boys, varying in age from 11 to 15, playing Frisbee (and later on, football) in a field with no adults close enough to even shout at them.

The dads were amazed. They could not believe that I would send 15 scouts out on a hike with no adults. But I explained that I trusted my youth leaders (the oldest of whom was 15), and that by sending them out on a hike that had a clear route, almost no chance to "get lost" and a carefully explained (to the senior scout in charge) safety rule: don't cross any asphalt (the topo map I had clearly showed that if they followed the loop trail, the worst they could do was bushwhack downhill to the clearly defined state park we were in), they realized I had a plan and purpose in mind. That afternoon, they couldn't believe that we didn't have to leave our comfortable camp chairs and go direct (read: referee) an Ultimate game taking place within sight, but far enough away to not be able to intervene. They were astounded that the boys who were "small", "shy", "unassuming", or "not athletic" were included and clearly having a great time.

As the reports of this trip spread, the troop started "scheduling" down time, and we used this as a selling point to prospective members, which turned out to be a major selling point. "Come join this troop, we'll turn your boys into men but not by scheduling every second". I learned the importance of letting boys be boys. And everyone of us benefited from this.

So, I respectfully disagree with the "study" that looked at total achievement of kids who many of us would consider "over scheduled". My experience is that boys, at least, need time to "be boys"...free, unstructured time, play time, time to just do something else! As the years have gone by, I have been gratified to see many of these "over scheduled" youth attain the rank of Eagle Scout, an achievement recognized worldwide as a mark of distinction.

Just think how your stress levels will go down if you just let the kids go play on their own. A chance for you to talk to the neighbors without CHEERING (or screaming at the refs), a chance to read a book, or call the hubby and chat. Without you or him being in a car driving while on a cell phone.

Let your kids have some free time. They deserve it!!!

16 June 2010

Not a happy post...

This is not a happy post. I got word on Monday that the wife of an old friend of mine was killed last weekend while climbing in the New River Gorge. A combination of a rigging error, and possible equipment failure caused Karen Feher to fall at least fifty feet to her death.

My friend, J. Feher, was in the campground a half-mile away with their two children when the accident occurred. My heart goes out to J., the kids, and all of the families on both sides during this period of enormous grief.

Here is a link to the story on TV, showing J.'s great faith in God (this may or may not work, below is the direct link).

Direct link to video at wtvr.com