Monday, November 29, 2004

Extracurricular Activities

I finished another book! (Pauses for modest applause.) It's not that impressive a feat, though, since I started it about 6 months ago. Nevertheless, Einstein Never Used Flashcards can now be added to the big ol' list of books I've read (yeah, I really do keep a list).

I found this book fascinating. The basic premise is that young children are much better off playing than engaging in highly structured educational activities. But it's not so simple as setting your children on the floor amidst a pile of blocks. What's key is that you foster an environment of creative learning within the context of play. There are plenty of mathematical concepts, for example, that can be taught with everyday household objects. Playing with your kids is important, and encouraging them to use their imagination is crucial. Shuttling preschoolers back and forth to a zillion activities may not be the best approach to raising happy, healthy, emotionally intelligent children.

I like this message, especially because I am the lazy sort of parent who doesn't look forward to the frenzy of activity expected of school-age children these days. Until stir-craziness sets in, as it inevitably does, I kind of like hanging out at home with my kids. I warmly welcome any evidence-based books that support this tendency!

That said, last winter and spring we enrolled Sean in a Gymboree class and a toddler music class. We were seeking something fun for him to do for that long cold stretch when playing outside isn't an option. I really don't think that these were necessarily educational programs (I'm quite dubious that jumping on the parachute at Gymboree or banging on percussion instruments at age 2 will translate into higher SAT scores at age 16), but for Jeff and me that was entirely not the point. The classes were, simply, a lot of fun for Sean. Even someone as naturally mopey as I am didn't mind the high-spirited, chirpy Gymboree teacher. Well, not that much at any rate.

It's been easy to resist the pull toward overscheduling so far. Sean is only two and a half, so the real test is still to come. I'm not sure how firm our resolve will be later. Who knows, in 2 years maybe Sean will be yet another preschooler juggling soccer, piano, art class, swimming, and yoga (which he'll need in order to decompress after all that other stuff).