Parents often ask me, as a former piano teacher, when they should begin their child in piano lessons. When I recommend no earlier than second grade, they are amazed.
Part of my answer comes from my experience teaching young children and finding that second grade is the earliest most children have the ability to sit still to practice and have the reading abilities that allow them to read music.
The other reason I suggest second grade comes from what I’ve learned as a parent and the tendency we have to want to get our child involved in organized activities much earlier than they need to be.
In Primary Psychiatry magazine, Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise, the authors of an article titled “Let Kids Be Kids: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap,” coined the phrase “hyper-parenting” to describe a trend they are seeing in parenting. It seems today’s parents are making it their sacred responsibility to provide their child with every enrichment opportunity possible: sports, music, academics, etc.
At the same time, the medical and psychiatric industry is seeing an increase in children’s stress factors because activities have so filled their calendars that they are overwhelmed and even sleep-deprived.
Why do we do this as parents? Because we want to give our children the best. However, sometimes we’re missing what really is best.
Dr. Kevin Leman tells the story of a 4-year-old boy playing outfield in a T-ball game. When the ball came his way, the crowd yelled for him to get the ball. However, this little guy was on the ground on his hands and knees searching desperately for something in the grass. He was completely oblivious to the ballgame he was supposed to be playing.
When his father yelled for him to get the ball, little Joey looked up and said, “I can’t get the ball. I’m looking for a four-leaf clover!”
Indeed, what is often best for our kids is to let them be kids. Searching for four-leaf clovers, playing in the sandbox, flying kites and playing a game of tag in the back yard — these are the activities kids need to do in the preschool and early elementary years.
Rosenfeld and Wise indicate that for some of us parenting has become America’s most competitive adult sport.
“Parents have come to see a child’s success quantified by ‘achievements’ like speaking early or qualifying for the gifted and talented program at school as the measure of parental success. … They have come to believe that it is activities and accomplishments, not warm relationships, that make a child ‘successful’ in life.”
How can we steer clear of the hyper-parenting trap?
We need to focus on relationships and more time with our families, not more activities that distract us from what is really important in life. Activities do help children identify their gifts, talents and abilities. The key is finding a balance in the load of activities being carried as well as carefully considering the age at which they are introduced.
Here are some principles for keeping a balance:
- Assess age-appropriateness. Just because they offer classes for toddlers doesn’t mean toddlers need to take classes. We need to be careful about making children grow up too fast.
- Limit activities. Some families make firm rules (i.e. one sport per child per season) while others make decisions on a case-by-case basis. “Weigh the benefit against the cost (time, energy, logistical effort, stress, expense) to you, your child, and the family,” suggest Rosenfeld and Wise.
- Prioritize family. Relationships matter … a lot. Our families need to know how to play together, not just ride in the car together from one activity to the next. Consider making one night a week family night. Set aside time to play sports or board games, go fishing or just relax and talk with one another.
- Create margin. Boredom needs to be a goal of parents. Unscheduled time encourages children to create and imagine. It helps them to learn how to fill their time rather than expect others to entertain them.
As parents, one of our jobs is to help our children learn to manage their time, resources and abilities. In these things, more is caught than taught. They will learn by watching us manage our lives as well as experiencing the schedule we create for them. Let’s let kids be kids in the early years of their lives. It will set a foundation of balance that will serve them well into adulthood.
By the way, American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein didn’t sit down at a piano before his 10th birthday.
See, second grade isn’t too late.
What about you? What counter-cultural decisions have you made to let your kids be kids?
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You and I think an awful lot alike. I’d love to come up there to Bloomington and take you out for a cup of coffee sometime! Thanks for the great post!
Thanks Beth. It’s always fun to find a kindred spirit.
Amen! I am so glad you posted this Jill! I see this as an epidemic in our society. God actually filled my head with ideas for a manuscript on this very subject one night! Our culture has fallen into this trap that our kids will do better, go farther, be more successful if we push them into activities at a young age. Have we forgotten that they can learn to set goals for themselves, team playing/getting along with others and how to deal with winning and losing by being a part of a family and playing fun/low stress pick up games with the neighbor kids? We have never pushed our kids into extra activities. They are involved in some things, but we value God, family, church above those things and they are limited to only 1 or 2 things at a time. We want them to seek after things of an eternal impact and jewels for their heavenly crown someday rather than the trinkets (accolades, awards, etc.) here on earth.
Thanks Jodi. This is part of the message of our book “Living With Less So Your Family Has More.”
It’s definitely a great reminder that “Living with Less” isn’t always referring to material things!
Loved this post…. full of great reminders and encouragement. Thank you.
Love this post! We waited until our kids would really ask repeatedly and meaningfully for something before we would look into it. Our girls were 8 and 10 before they received American Girl Dolls. The result- they treasured them and took excellent care of them and still decorate their rooms with them. Our son, didn’t ask to play baseball until he was 7 and he had to wait almost a year to sign up… he went on to choose to play for 8 years. We waited for the girls to be interested in piano and they started lessons when they were in fifth & third grades… and both did very well- I didn’t have to tell them to practice & they still enjoy playing. One of my girls liked dance but didn’t really ask for lessons… she would just use illustrated books and try the ballet moves on her own… now she is taking a ballet class as a college student and loves it & the excellent exercise. My kids have each thanked me that they were given lots of free time to “just be a kid” 🙂
Great examples, Susan!
That’s awesome, Susan! We refuse to get our twin daughters American Girl dolls until, 1) they ask for them and 2) they are at least 8. I’ve seen 3 year olds with these dolls dragging them by the hair down the sidewalk! A 3 year old would love a $15 doll from Target just as much. My girls are 6 and take piano in school, and even though they’re young, they really love it. My one daughter especially is at our keyboard constantly, playing, making up her own songs, etc. We never force them into activities, and, if they start to not like something, we finish out the session or season, and then don’t re-enroll. Children need the time to act silly, fight with their siblings and just be kids.
When I read something like this I feel like I can breathe a little easier. With a 5 and 8 year old, we already find our week-nights and weekends filled! We believe in keeping life simple, but just living in suburbia can make it difficult. There is always a birthday party to attend, one more errand to run, an after-school activity, and our regular church community functions.
This is a good reminder that it’s okay to say “no” – even to things that are worthwhile. Thanks!
Jenna, it’s ok to make different decisions than other parents! Be strong and do what’s best for your family.
We also limit the activities our children participate in. Time, money and energy are limited so we try to choose the best activities instead of good activities. Right now that means attending a home school co-op once a week and my oldest boy is in Cub Scouts. Next month we’ll start t-ball/little league for the 3 oldest (7, 6, and 4). 2 different games and 2 different practices each week. I expect my oldest is not going to enjoy it this year since he’s moving up to the competitive level. Even though I think he won’t like it, I’m letting him try it out (and stick it out for the season). My husband has suggested adding gymnastics/dance for the 4 & 6 year olds but I refuse. I’d love for them to take the classes but I think we are maxed out on activities right now.
I have to agree. I think today’s children are completely overscheduled, including my own! Problem is, try to take away one of their activities and they have a fit! 🙂 I figure as long as it doesn’t run into dinner or family-time, and they really enjoy it, I guess it’s ok. And, at least 2 of the activities they’re in right now are in school right after school, so there isn’t any driving around. If I see tiredness, however, that activity gets canceled for the day. It isn’t worth their being exhausted. There should be lots of time for kids just to be kids, like you had mentioned, Jill, looking for 4 leaf clovers, running around, creating their own games, swinging on swings, etc. I believe this is where they really excel, physically, mentally and spirtually.