Choosing Children's Summer Enrichment Wisely
Most parents feel it—that push to over-enrich during the two short months wherein our child’s daily scheduling falls entirely upon our shoulders. My husband and I attended a silent auction last week, and I all but had to physically restrain my husband from signing our names to every child’s camp up for bid—swimming lessons, piano lessons, voice lessons, guitar lessons, art lessons, science workshops, and on and on. Over-enriching our child can hurt the entire family.
After dinner last week, my husband, daughter, and I took the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood, but we took the “nature way,” as it has become affectionately known. It is a public trail that runs behind the houses and is called the commons area by the community home owners association (HOA). Some of our association dues go toward its upkeep. As you can imagine, the trail is lightly graveled, but running alongside the trail are trees, wild grasses and shrubs, and even a small stream (water ditch may be more accurate). Our dogs are in heaven when we take “the nature way.” Today the trail was ripe with dandelion seed heads—an eight year old’s dream. We encouraged our daughter to pick one and blow on it. Her eyes lit up. “How do I get it?” she asked.
“How do you get it?” The question didn’t make sense—until we saw her tiptoe off trail, afraid to step on the wild ground. My husband and I were both amazed at her trepidation. What was she afraid of? Did she think the wild grass would wrap around her ankles? Did she think a rattlesnake would be camouflaged there? Did she think an alarm would sound, and she’d be ticketed by the HOA?
Further down trail, she spotted a small cluster of trees and commented, “Ooh—that would look scary at night.”
“Scary?” said her father, “That’s a kid’s dream fort!” And it was—the inside of the cluster had a small clear patch of grass. I could see myself back in Wisconsin where I spent more hours than I can recall building and re-building forts with my neighborhood friends.
Richard Louv would call our daughter Nature-Deficient had he been with us that day. And yet, we know that she would be on the mildly deficient scale compared to many of her fellow American peers. Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods and he warns parents and educators to intentionally provide our children and students with time outdoors. Our daughter spends a great deal of time in our securely fenced backyard, but she does not have the confidence to explore “in the wild” which my husband and I find both surprising and sad. This isn’t just a nostalgic plea for “the good ol’ days when we were kids.” It’s a testament to the age we live in.
Summer used to be that time of free exploration. Instead, parents feel the push to schedule lessons and tutoring to prepare for, or excel, the coming academic year, or to provide enrichment that often has to be cut during the school year.
This over-scheduling hurts not only the child, but the entire family as well. First, it’s a drain on finances. We feel guilty when we sit alongside a mother who says, “Come on. Dry off quickly—we have to get you to your dance lesson.” If the enrichment activity is something the child loves and looks forward to, then great. Summer is the perfect time to do more of the things he or she loves. The point is that we don’t have to. We can provide our children with countless enriching opportunities without expense.
The other way it hurts the family is the stress it adds. Remember what it was like when, as kids, we saw summer approaching—freedom! We felt it even at the age of eight. Instead, our own children are spending their summer rushing from one activity to the next—and then practicing in order to prepare for that next activity: “You need to practice your piano. You need to work on the lesson Instructor Bryd gave you, etc.” Meanwhile, there is a parent driving and rushing from that one activity to the next. Dinnertime during the summer should look, feel, and taste differently than it does during the school year. Instead, families are still ordering pizza for lack of time.
Giving ourselves and our children permission to relax, to enjoy the moment, to discover the day without a set plan is an enriching gift. And it’s one the entire family can enjoy.
Jenn's Static Blog
Jenn Gutiérrez holds an M.F.A in English and Writing. Previous work has appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The Writer’s Journal, The Acentos Review, Antique Children, and Verdad Magazine. Her 2005 debut collection of poems titled Weightless is available through most online book outlets.She currently teaches composition at Pikes Peak Community College and is working on a doctoral degree in Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Denver.