When Adults Take Over Children’s Fun

Readers rbyzyzattt
— This is part of a “rant” from over at BabyCenter. It struck a chord (and not just because it’s partly about piano recitals). As you may know, I am smitten with the work of Peter Gray about how playing (i.e., doing something “just” for fun) is the key to learning. I also loved my visit to the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA, where there are no grades (3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.)  and no grades (A,B, C,D, F). It seems like it’s a place where all the kids would slack off, but instead they buzz with purpose. They also spend a whole lot of time “just” playing. I have never seen 30 or so kids line up as fast as when the students there spontaneously organized a game of Capture the Flag and needed to count off by 2’s to make the teams. Not a teacher, playground supervisor or paraprofessional in sight. With that in mind, here’s a post by someone who calls her self “GorillaMama27”:

BabyCenter Rant

I’m so frustrated with the intensity of kid activities.

My 7 year old just wants to play piano. [Her] piano teacher (who is really a very good teacher) has them playing in some sort of recital or competition at least every month. The biggest is coming up next week. The kids have to know 9 songs by memory, all of the major and minor scales and a standard chord progression for each key. They get a score card back and I just assumed this was for encouragement ad generic feedback. At her last lesson, the piano teacher is telling Bug that how she does when she’s 7 will impact whether she qualifies for a college scholarship.

Why can’t kids do things to challenge themselves and have fun? I talked Bug out of taking dance lessons because I couldn’t find a studio that didn’t think of themselves as training the next generation of prima ballerinas. There’s this insane (and totally inaccurate) belief in children’s sports that anyone can be an elite athlete with proper training so let’s get them in training at 3 or 4 years old.

I worry even more for Buddy. Bug is old enough that sports are no longer co-ed for the most part and girls sports are less intense. With boys sports, if you’re still a beginner at age 8, you’re hopelessly behind.

Read the rest here. And here’s an excerpt from one of the comments:

JoetteB: Not that there is a teacher involved, but I’m having similar issues with my DS12 and writing. When he was younger — I mean, 6 years ago, maybe? — he started writing fiction for fun. To start with, it was something that we did together, each of us writing a sentence. Then he continued on himself, writing numerous serialized stories. None of them were very good, but at 6, 7, and 8, that’s really not the point. He announced that he wanted to be an author.

Based on his stated desire to be an author and the need for lots of practice at writing if that’s what he wants to do, last year, we added daily writing to his home school curriculum. At that point, the joy flat out went out of writing for him. Getting any story out of him was like pulling teeth. He didn’t know what he wanted to write about, didn’t have any ideas, and didn’t have any interest any more in writing fiction. We finished out the school year with daily fiction writing, but this year took that back out of his curriculum.

Child's play?

Child’s play?

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89 Responses to When Adults Take Over Children’s Fun

  1. anonymous this time May 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    I just realized that one of the things I love about this blog is that we don’t use “DD” and “DS” and “DH” and all that chat-forum type lingo. I sure hope it stays that way!

    But yes, absolutely, adults “directing” and “taking over” a child’s natural progression of interests and skill acquisition usually is a disaster.

    We spend entirely too much time, money, and energy trying to “stimulate” our children. For the love of God, please let’s just allow them to stimulate themselves, preferably in the company of a wide range of ages of humans.

    My kid didn’t want to go to school today, because she “can’t tell time.” Oh heaven forbid. I agree that reading an analog clock face has value, but does it have so much value that we have to beat a 9-year-old kid nearly to death with it, and then tell her that she HAS to understand this, and UNDERSTAND IT NOW… which basically has the effect of paralyzing her and DELAYING her ability to assimilate the concept?

    Also: this child, who is happiest creating, breaks out in hives if you mention “art class” or “art camp.” That’s right: she’s fully aware of how structured, adult-led versions of “enrichment” in a precious area of self-expression completely kill the joy of it all for her.

  2. Beth May 12, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    “I just realized that one of the things I love about this blog is that we don’t use “DD” and “DS” and “DH” and all that chat-forum type lingo.”

    So much this! I hate that stuff; I don’t hang around chat rooms very much so I was stymied for a moment by DS12. Does that mean ‘my darling son who is 12 years old’?

    And what if on a particular day your son, daughter, or husband is not exactly “darling” to you? Do you still have to post that way? LOL ROFL etc.

  3. Cin May 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    I have some massively talented kids who have zero interest in having those talents structured before they ask for that structure.

    For example: oldest kid, 12, has perfect pitch and a gift for music. We put him in choir at age 7. Total disaster, loved the music but hated how he was constantly expected to stay still. Put him off singing for four years. He recently asked for guitar lessons, and is FLYING through them — because he chose to be there.

    Another example: only daughter, age 8, is a gifted athlete who is in zero organized sports. She takes swimming and skating lessons for fun during the year, (two good skills to have in Canada) but recently asked for a break from both. We were happy to oblige. Her obsession is surfing, and you can’t take surf lessons here. She can go to surf camp in a few years if she wants to.

  4. octavio May 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    My kids are just starting soccer and t-ball this year. Different kids, different organizations. I get the same mixed messages from both organizations:

    1. At this age (4-6) the point of the sport is for the kids to learn and have fun.

    2. Kids who stay in the organization as they get older are more likely to achieve national excellence and get a post-secondary education on the back of an athletic scholarship.

  5. railmeat May 12, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    How to teach a kid to hate something they love . . .

    Step one: Find two things a kid likes to do – say, playing in the park, and eating ice cream.

    Step two: Condition the participation in one of the two items upon the other. “You can’t eat ice cream until you’ve played in the park.” It can be the other way around too.

    That’s it. Before long, the conditioning item will be disliked.

    Why do we do this? Kids playing at what they love will get them to whatever degree of skill they would choose. As long as we don’t mess with things.

  6. SKL May 12, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Unfortunately, this depends on the individual child. My youngest is a really quick study, creative, talented. BUT. Whatever she does has to be her own idea.

    She does pretty well on the piano for her age, but she practices very little, because she’s “supposed to.” If she would do it for fun, she’d be able to really enjoy the art much more than she does. I taught myself as a kid and I loved it! Then, a few years into playing, I hired a piano teacher, and suddenly I didn’t want to practice any more. I fired the piano teacher and then I was motivated again. Logical, right? So why don’t I have the guts to leave piano up to this kid?

    And then my other kid is the opposite. She comes and asks me for a list of assignments and chores. She likes me to guide her. It’s sort of our love language. She also likes to be competitive (with sports in particular), and she’d love to be in serious gymnastics / swim team (but her sister wouldn’t, so we stick to recreational). I’ll bet that if she had a piano teacher who put her in a competition re chords and scales etc, she’d practice 10x as much. 😉

  7. David Kleeman May 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Excellent piece on playful learning, by the media manager from Ashoka, which is partnering with the Lego Foundation on a plan for transforming education.


  8. Bose in St. Peter MN May 12, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    The piano stuff resonates with me from a very different experience.

    Growing up, the piano was Mom’s evening therapy after putting the 4 of us to bed. Twelve years of lessons as a kid had served her well, Mozart sonatas were her favorite.

    Fast forward to my late teens and 20s, and the most common question I got after playing publicly was from parents, “How many years of lessons did you take?”

    The answer? Two

    Mom and I tried on teacher/pupil roles at the keyboard when I was 7-8. I don’t even remember why it didn’t work for us, just that it didn’t at all. But we didn’t sweat it. I still messed around, trying to learn some of the Mary Poppins songbook and gradually picking up some of my pop favorites and then latching onto chord structures. The chords were the aha! piece — I wasn’t a good sight-reader, but with the chords I could fill in the blanks, making sense of the overall structure of the music.

    The two years of lessons, at age 12-13, were with a college music prof who helped me bore into (instead of get bored by) some basic music theory. I paid for my own lessons (paper route earnings), practiced a lot, played my/Mom’s favorite Mozart sonata for a recital. And then stopped when I didn’t have enough time or energy to get my money’s worth out of the lessons.

    And I kept playing. Learned dozens of songs, improvised on church hymns, wailing away or working out gentle background-ish stuff, all with one limitation: Never in public. I’d had few lessons after all, wasn’t a great sheet music reader.

    In my senior year of high school, the choir director heard a rumor that I played, which I quickly walked back. “I don’t play the piano, I just play around. Nothing serious.” When she refused to take no for an answer, I sat down and showed her what a quirky mess my playing was.

    Before long, I was accompanying the full choir with a spirited, much-improvised background for Oh, Happy Day! which crescendoed to raucous climax. I was accompanying a half-dozen of my classmates for their talent show performances, and I was having a blast.

    The inevitable follow-up question about years of lessons, “How can I get my kid (more) interested in playing?” had an easy answer: Make sure they’re playing stuff they like, let them play with it, and don’t sweat it if piano turns out not to be their thing.

  9. Donna May 12, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    My kid is the complete opposite. My kid LOVES organized classes. She absolutely will not play piano, dance, do whatever on her own but begs to take classes and thoroughly enjoys them while there. Tack on performances and she loves it even more. She is currently wanting to change piano teachers because her teacher doesn’t do recitals.

    This is the big problem with saying “kids always _____.” For every kid that feels that way, there will always be an exception. That said I can’t understand why you would take something your child loves – like creative writing – and turn it into school work. I can understand enrolling them in VOLUNTARY classes to hone skills if they want to take the classes, but why would you make it part of your school curriculum?

  10. E May 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    The YMCA offers youth programs that are NO PRESSURE and they go a lot older than preschool (they don’t keep score, focus on sportsmanship, equal playing time, etc. It’s a perfect place for kids/parents who just want exercise and exposure to different sports.

    FWIW, talking your kid out of their interest (in the example, dance lessons) doesn’t seem like it aligns with free range thinking.

  11. LauraL May 12, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    FWIW, talking your kid out of their interest (in the example, dance lessons) doesn’t seem like it aligns with free range thinking.

    E, I get what you’re saying, but I’ve done similarly. We have a limited budget and I know my kids. If they are going to be expected to attend three high-intensity classes a week at a huge hit to my bank account, and they are going to hate it based on past experiences, I’m going to talk them out of it.

    That said, I also expect them to honor a commitment once made. If they start a once a week dance class because they wanted to, then they must finish the year (barring injury or something else major.) They can’t just quit – they have classmates to be respectful of and coordinated dance moves are choreographed based on the students in the class. If they dropped, the choreography would be lost or have to be rewritten and that’s disrespectful to the teacher and to the class.

  12. Sharon Davids May 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    My daughter used to practice (last school year) karate in day care. The kids would line up, try to remember the steps, and cheer each other on. I don’t know if they do it today my daughter is now in middle school.

    Most of the kids continue karate but talk about the good old days when they were qualified to practice on their own. My daughter was usually the decision maker because she was 1-2 years old than anyone else but she was careful not to be only voice.

    I dropped my sixth grader off for volunteer work and some of the fifth parents were jealous of me leaving. Why because they had to stay at spring fling I could leave just because my daughter was volunteering. I did and did not come back for several glorious hours. That was my real mother’s day gift.

  13. lollipoplover May 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Whatever happened to seasonal sports and community classes? Kids can just playing because it’s fun and they want to try it without having the intent of becoming a pro baseball/soccer/ballerina. It’s the parents that place this ridiculous “worry” on the kid and think more is better.

    “I worry even more for Buddy. Bug is old enough that sports are no longer co-ed for the most part and girls sports are less intense. With boys sports, if you’re still a beginner at age 8, you’re hopelessly behind.”

    Hopelessly behind at 8??? I am in my 40’s and still like to try new things! If junior really wants to try fencing at age 15 and it’s reasonably priced, then I’m all for it. I’d rather kids try many activities and be open to new experiences than expect them to be experts at one thing. I don’t think it’s necessary to go bat-shit crazy with worry if they put your Bug on 1st base. He’s not worried, he’s probably so excited just to be playing. All kids will make mistakes and learn from them.

    And girls sports are no less intense! My oldest daughter is very good at all the sports she plays and we get asked each season for her to try out for x-level elite team with bank account draining costs($2500!) and asking her to sign a contract that she won’t play other sports besides soccer(a non-compete at age 10?!) She’s happy playing with all her school friends in the community rec leagues and on a laid-back travel soccer team with her dad and 2 other parents coaching. No need for professional trainers and elite camps when she’s perfectly happy with volunteer parents as coaches keeping the fun in the sport.

  14. E May 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    @LauraL…I understand what you’re saying, but if your kid has an interest and you’ve entertained the idea of finding a class/league/whatever for them, it doesn’t seem fair to “talk them out of it”. If it’s budgetary, then you should prepare/review all that before you even offer the kid the options.

    As far as commitment, I don’t happen to agree that kids should be held to a lengthy commitment for something they haven’t even tried yet. In travel soccer, you try out months in advance of when the team actually starts training/playing. If the coaching or team situation isn’t a good experience/environment for my kid to be in, I’m not going to make him play for another 6 months. I’ve had 2 kids play travel soccer for over 10 years combined. Only once did we have a child leave a team before the year concluded. It was a situation where the coach lied to our kid about how he could/would earn playing time (about 3 months into a 10 month season). There was no justifiable reason to keep our very unhappy kid in that situation. A few weeks after we let him leave the team, a parent called to say that the club had fired the coach and wanted to understand better what had transpired. He was encouraged to return to the team (he declined).

    I most definitely wouldn’t allow a child to quit without discussion and reflection, and I’d have an opinion about how and when (I’ve witnessed a HS kid quit a team on the field immediately following a game which his parents endorsed!) but I don’t think kids should be locked into bad situations.

    I can leave a job where I don’t find the situation beneficial to me. I’m going to afford my kids the same options…after working thru the situation as best we can.

  15. Papilio May 12, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Hah – how to turn a hobby into work.

    “There’s this insane (and totally inaccurate) belief in children’s sports that anyone can be an elite athlete with proper training so let’s get them in training at 3 or 4 years old.”
    That sounds SO Sovjet-Union…!!

    I had that with reading. As a child, I was practically ALWAYS reading… until I had to read literature for school in 10th grade. I’ll never understand why the supposed goal is to hook kids on reading, because it got me to almost stop: I felt like reading a book I *wanted* to read, felt guilty because I still had to read for school, so I just went to do something else instead…

  16. Donna May 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    E –

    There is a big difference between letting your kid quit something because the situation is bad and allowing your child to quit things willy nilly.

    If I sign my child up for an activity it is always with the understanding that she will participate until the end. We discuss the requirements and expectations at length before we ever sign up. If the situation itself goes south, I will certainly consider allowing her to quit. If she wants to quit because she wants to do something else or it is taking too much time, etc., I tell her that she has to honor her commitment.

    For example, my daughter wanted to sign up for swim team this summer. It requires going to practice every day for an hour and a half. A big commitment. We talked about this repeatedly and she assured me that she really wanted to do it. If she comes to me half way through the summer and wants out because it is taking too much time or something similar (I somewhat anticipate this happening), I’ll tell her too bad; she made a commitment and took a spot that would otherwise have gone to one of the many kids on the waiting list and she needs to finish out the summer (and not ask to do it again). However, if she came to me with legitimate complaints about the team itself, I’d listen to her and likely allow her to quit if we can’t work it out.

  17. E May 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    @lollipopover, I think those things still exist. Of course, there has been the emergence of kids “specializing” in a sport at a very young age. But they don’t have to. Where I live (which happens to be a Univ town/city) there are tons of options for kids to participate in sports, from rec to travel. I will say that most High School teams are filled with mostly kids that have a lot experience in that particular sport, but even then, there are teams that allow all comers (in our school that’s cross country and track, wrestling, swimming, even football).

  18. BMS May 12, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    @ lollipoplover

    I think the ‘hopelessly behind’ comment reflects not the kid, but the organized sports available in the writer’s area.

    This is totally true in my town. There is literally no way to play baseball unless you started before 3rd grade. By age 10, all the teams involve tryouts. If you’re just learning, it is well nigh impossible to make the team. There are no leagues available in my town that are ‘no cut’ for baseball. So it means that you have to devote every spring to it starting in first or second grade or you’re sunk. Which is why my kids don’t play baseball, despite occasionally expressing a desire to. They weren’t into it young, and now it’s too late and they don’t have the skills to get on the team. Hockey and some other sports around here are the same. The YMCA has no-cut teams, but they end in 1st or 2nd grade. My kids were able to go out for track and field this year in middle school, but there are really very few options around here for casual sports. Kinda sucks.

  19. E May 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    @Donna – totally agree. Like I said, in the 18 years we had kids in a high level of soccer (I added it up just now), we had a quitting scenario once, which was justified.

    I can understand the frustration of parents and sports (there are a million ways to become frustrated), but it’s confusing because on one hand she’s concerned that one of her kids (at 8) is “behind”, yet she’s looking for low key playing opportunities — so who cares. They are out there.

  20. Havva May 12, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    I think I noticed the ‘fun’ vs. ‘work’ problem when I transferred from Montessori to public school. Kindergarten through 3rd grade I had never heard anyone say they “didn’t like reading.” With out a doubt some kids had a greater love of reading than others, but everyone read. Of course we all had to get through the process of learning to read, and certain words or books were hard, but it was never a problem with reading. We just worked at our pace and got lots of help from our friends and teachers whenever we asked for it. By 1st grade when we could all read fairly well. We occasionally talked about nouns, verbs, etc. But mostly we just read, went to the library, and traded books a lot. I think it was 2nd or 3rd grade when a friend smuggled me a copy of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” (my father objected to the author for proselytizing.) But I didn’t want to be the only kid in the class who wasn’t part of the conversation. Then there was my favorite Roald Dahl you had to know enough of his work to argue the merits of “Matilda” vs “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” vs “James and the Giant Peach” vs “the BFD.” And if someone read a new one and made it sound cool… well you had to be fast to get it the next library day. The debates often erupted in the middle of other work (which then stopped) but that didn’t bother the teachers. The teachers never entered or stopped the great debates.

    Then I got to public school (honors program no less) and suddenly everyone seemed to loudly declare that they “didn’t like reading.” No one talked about favorite books or favorite authors. One of the books my sister positively hated in 4th grade, I noticed was sort of good. But class did suck the life out of it. I couldn’t talk about what I thought was exciting with my classmates (no interrupting quiet reading time and no one wanted to talk at recess), and during the class discussions of course only one person could talk at a time and only to the teacher. If you said something the teacher would try to either make a big lesson out of what you said, or would tell you you were wrong. Either way stunk, if the teacher beat the point to death your class mates would sit there silently rolling their eyes and hating it (rather than being able to say… yeah, but x was more fun). And the teacher saying you were wrong was somehow more crushing than a table full of kids clamoring that no-no-no… you had it all wrong. Perhaps because you either convinced them or they convinced you, but you had a fighting chance either way. But with the teacher even if the teacher couldn’t persuade you; you were just wrong and the conversation was over.

  21. JulieC May 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    My kids are both year round swimmers. They do it because they love swimming. But honestly, by the time the oldest one hit his senior year, the idea of swimming in college was just too much for him. He’s not a super fast kid and wasn’t going to get a scholarship or even considered for a D1 school, but even doing a D3 program was no longer appealing. After swimming six days a week for six years, he was nearing burnout. He doesn’t regret doing it, as it has helped him develop in other ways (discipline, character)but spending another four years getting up at 5:00 am for practices was not in the cards.

    Parents who push their kids with this notion that they are going to get “athletic scholarships” are either misinformed or hopeless optimists. The truth is, for a selected number of very elite student athletes, there may be SOME money available. How much depends on the sport (football anyone) and how good your kid is. And D3 schools can’t give athletic scholarships, so if it turns out that your kid wants to go to a smaller private school, athletic ability might HELP them get into that school, but it won’t get them an athletic scholarship.

    I’ve known people who were convinced their kid was the next great Olympian. And they had a rude awakening when their kid failed to develop physically enough to be attractive to D1 coaches (i.e. – they were too short). This goes for a lot of sports. Those aren’t things you as a parent have much control over, although I know of a few who would love to figure out how to …

  22. heather May 12, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Rec Centers tend to have classes and lessons that are far less structured and are less competitive than league counterparts. I would check there and soon.

  23. Bob Davis May 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    One thing that stands out in this discussion is: Everybody is different. Some are “free-form” and others like “structure”. You can communicate better with sound to some people and graphics with others. I often think of the TV commercials where they’ll have both a “voice-over” and a “text crawl” to make sure everyone gets the message. “One size fits all” may work for some products, but it doesn’t apply to either teaching or recreation.

  24. E May 12, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    @Bob, yup – totally agree. My children both had the same, wonderful 1st grade teacher. When my younger child had her, the school had rec’d a population of vision-impaired kids. She was going to have them in her class for part of each day. She embraced the idea because she said that even sighted children learn differently. Some respond to visual instruction, some verbal, etc. She felt like it would force her to teach in ways that would benefit many of her class, not just the vision impaired. It’s really never one size fits all.

    After reading this thread today, I ran some errands before dinner. I noticed a little sign planted at an intersection for a sports program geared toward older kids, but not school based. I really think there are a lot of options out there for most kids. I think programs have cropped up to serve the home school kids as well. I know a neighbor kid has a “sportsmanship” sign in his yard from a league that is serving them.

  25. Andrea May 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Just a thought to add about early organized sports… My seven-year-old son plays hockey and they start at age four here. After about age six, it is really difficult for a kid to join in, since skating skills are so crucial to the sport and the kids who have been playing since four wind up skating circles around non-hockey players.

    It’s certainly not for everyone, and I would think it was crazy if I didn’t somehow birth a hardcore athlete. (It’s all him, not his parents. We’re total nerds and have to force ourselves to exercise. He’s an unruly spaz when he’s in between sports seasons.) Much as I can fantasize about him getting his hockey needs filled by pick-up games at the local pond, it just isn’t reality. My son has thrived on this very structured sport, not just because he gets his exercise and learns the skills. He’s also the kind of kid who needs the influence of the coach to learn good sportsmanship, as he can be a terrible sore loser.

    So anyway, I think I’m in the “never say every kid” camp. Structure has its purpose, I just think it suffers from mission creep.

    BTW, I can’t fathom a seven year old memorizing nine songs, plus major and minor scales and chord progressions! I played piano for years, and never did I have to recite more than one song here or there. Even then, lessons themselves put me off enough so that I quit in high school and didn’t play for twenty years. Finally I got an old piano and started playing for myself when I have the time, and enjoy it way more than I used to when I had lessons. But then, I wouldn’t be able to play very well now if I hadn’t had all those lessons back in the day, so it’s a Catch-22 of sorts.

  26. JKP May 12, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    For the mom whose son started out loving writing until it became homework… What really worked for me as a child was getting a diary for my 5th birthday. My parents never “forced” me to write in it. But I discovered that if my parents came in at night for “lights out” and I was writing in my diary, they would let me finish writing first. So I could delay going to sleep just by writing in my diary every night. And so I did. I have 10+ years of diary entries written every single day, detailing what I was thinking and doing that day. Volumes and volumes of diaries that are fun to go back and look at now to remember what my child self felt was important enough to document. But that’s how I developed my writing skills. And that morphed naturally into writing both fiction and nonfiction, for which I have since been published in both.

    I think if parents want to encourage a child, they can allow the child to experience natural benefits to their activities. Not artificial bribes, but natural consequences. I developed a lifelong love of writing simply because it let me stay up just a little bit later.

  27. Nicole 2 May 13, 2014 at 1:56 am #

    We have a magnet school out here, that’s a “Corsini” school, that I really like. There are classrooms, and they’re ran very similarly to typical classrooms with the typical curriculum, but students have control over the learning. Typically they do the “core” subjects in the morning and “electives” in the afternoon, but it is completely up to the kid how they learn. If they want to spend language arts in the library reading a book, they can. If they want to spend it in a classroom doing a more traditional lesson, they can. If they’re not up to doing language arts today, and would rather do something else, that’s an option, too. The kids are encouraged to make good choices, but not forced. The playground is often full of kids, unlike other schools.

  28. Katie G May 13, 2014 at 6:32 am #

    I think there’s a middle ground, too, and this is coming from the perspective of a family in which music is as much a required part of school as math. It *is* fun, and we won’t *expect* our children to be competitive. We do and will expect good, applied, effort. We won’t insist they follow both my husband and me to Csehy Summer School of Music as teens, but will plan financially so they can. “Just for fun” is okay, yes, but somewhere between something you can stop any old time and something that becomes life-consuming, is there.
    Oh- the best musician I knew among my age growing up? He’s a neurosurgeon at Hershey Medical Center now, at 32.

  29. SOA May 13, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    Could not agree more. Already went into my feelings on this on that topic about “Your kid is not going to play in the professionals”. My son loves to dance and we considered competitive dance and then decided against it. It was taking all the love out of it for him to be there 3 days a week all afternoon into the evening and then they were going to make him come in for a lot of weekend practices plus the actual competitions that take up a whole weekend.

    I think we made the right decision. He is only 6!

  30. MichaelF May 13, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Seems more along the lines of everything else we’ve had here lately about the “get them in early, train them for college scholarships!” attitude. I’ve seen this in the Chinese School my kids attend, the parents there latch onto, and discuss, what sport of extra-curricular will get their kids placement. Fencing, for some reason, has dominated the past two years. My oldest son was interested to watch, but didn’t like the uniform, he just liked the idea of playing with the swords. He has had interests in sports, and could be good if he practiced more, but after a couple of years of trying to play and practice I gave up. It’s not worth the pressure. I put him and my youngest into activities to make them more rounded, swimming, skating, baseball, soccer cross-country skiing. Occasionally they come up with an interest and I let them go, this year it’s acting/theater. I stay minimally involved, let them have their space, and their fun, they are only a child once why should I ruin it for them?

  31. Miriam May 13, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    My experience is similar to “Bose” in St. Peter, MN. Took lessons starting at age 8. Learned to hate it; scales, stupid (my adjective) music, recitals. Finally was allowed to quit and I quit totally. When our son was 7 he wanted to learn “a little” keyboard. He was taught the “chord” method. To me it was magic! Like Bose, I still am not a great sight reader. In fact, I love electronic organs because I have said to others, “I am better with my foot than my left hand”. But I have a electronic keyboard which is headset friendly. I play quite a lot, but only when I feel like it. Sometimes for over an hour, other times maybe ten minutes. But always with headset. I have heard waaaaayyyyy too many negative comments when I try to read music and the highly trained, high tech people sneer at chords. But I love playing and plan to continue for my own enjoyment.

  32. SOA May 13, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Also I learned something from doing a 1st grade project with my son. Jesse Owens known as one of the best athletes of all time who won 4 gold medals and broke several world records did not join the track team till he was in high school. So there you go. One of the greatest runners of all time and he did not start till high school. Boom. Blows up these theories of you have to do stuff from age 3 to be any good at it.

  33. Puzzled May 13, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    I run into this issue as a coach. I coach a varsity team, but for the large part, my students don’t care to be competitive, they just want to have fun and play on the courts. The problem I face is the pressure from my school to run intense practices, rank players rather than letting everyone play in a rotation, and to keep precise time on practices, rather than ending them when students are tired. I find it all pointless – no matter what I do, we can’t be competitive anyway, and my students don’t care, they just want to play the game, yet we seem to be seeking out ways of making it less enjoyable for them. I don’t think it will ruin the game for them, but it does ruin the official season, I think.

  34. Emily May 13, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    The person who wrote in to the parenting message board should find a new piano teacher for her daughter, because burnout at seven years old isn’t a good thing. If she could take lessons with someone who’s more low-key, and student-focused, she’d probably find it a lot more fun, and be more likely to stick with piano in the long run. Maybe someday, she’ll want to take it more seriously, but that day isn’t today, and that’s okay. I mean, okay, it’s good to teach kids to honour their commitments, but at the same time, it’s also good to teach them to check in with themselves, and judge for themselves when any one commitment (or combination of commitments) is getting to be too much. I bet these piano lessons started out as “an hour of lessons every Wednesday after school, and 30 minutes of practice per day,” or some such, which sounds reasonable, but then the teacher started ramping up the requirements (Really? Nine songs from memory AND all the major and minor scales, at age SEVEN?!?!?!), so more practice time was needed, and this was in addition to school, Tae Kwon Do, Brownies, family time, food, sleep, and personal hygiene, and what was once a fun extra-curricular activity started being Serious Business, and no longer fun. That’s not to say that every child who starts something and then doesn’t want to practice, should be let off the hook, but it’s partly incumbent upon the adult leaders of these activities (music teachers, sports coaches, Scout/Guide leaders, etc.), to set attainable and age-appropriate goals for the kids, and/or help the kids set their own goals, within reason. For piano, this could be something along the lines of, “Susie, we’re having a recital in the spring. Can you pick your favourite piece from this book of music that’s at your level, and we’ll practice it so that it sounds beautiful for all of the parents and the other students?”

  35. lollipoplover May 13, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    “I think if parents want to encourage a child, they can allow the child to experience natural benefits to their activities. Not artificial bribes, but natural consequences. I developed a lifelong love of writing simply because it let me stay up just a little bit later.”

    I love this. Thank you for sharing and what great parents you had to let you stay up and write at bed time.

    As for children’s activities and intensity levels, I think we all agree it depends on the child. Some are passionate and want to do it daily. Others like variety and more friendly interactions and there is something out there for every individual child. Most kids are pretty good at expressing what they enjoy doing.

    I think the problem still out there is a few parents with heavy handed control over their child’s activity load. Some think that the busier they are, the more successful the child will be later in life and that’s not true. There’s nothing worse than seeing a child who once loved something “burnt out” by age 10. It’s a crying shame when adults hijack childhood.

  36. Jen (P.) May 13, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    I agree, Emily – new piano teacher. I quit piano after about 5 years because my teachers ONLY taught classical, and I wanted to play something fun. Regretted it ever since. We have a fantastic piano teacher for my girls – she does themed recitals (last one was popular music – one of my kids played a Phillip Phillips song and the other played something from a Doctor Who score; she always does a costume recital at Halloween and they play music themed to that). She plays games to teach them theory. She lets them choose a lot of their music but works in some classical stuff too. They do one competition each year similar to the one described in that post, but they only have to memorize one piece. They’re getting a sound musical education without being pushed to the burnout point. I wish I’d had a teacher like this!

    I have mixed feelings about the whole child-led business. In my experience that’s a bit too idealistic, and if we left it all up to the kids, I’m not sure they’d ever finish anything 😀 We’ve tried to find a happy medium – letting them try new things (musical instruments, dance, different sports) but requiring them to stick with a few others, like piano. There’s no one-size fits all answer. Kids are all different.

  37. Warren May 13, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Let’s face it both those mothers are nutjobs.
    Easy solutions to mom #1, get a new piano teacher and let Bug play, he will catch up quickly

    Mom #2, is just an idiot for taking a loved hobby and making it part of homeschooling.

    As for those with a hard on against high level travel sports teams, piss off. There is a need for them, and there is plenty of players out there that love that level of competition. You don’t like it, fine, but stop trying to tell people it isn’t good for the kids. Usually find that those against it, have no clue what is actually involved with it.

  38. Warren May 13, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Your theory on Jesse Owens is flawed………..

    A great number of former greats in a lot of sports would never make it today. The athletes are simply, bigger, stronger, faster, and more skilled today, than ever before.
    Babe Ruth would be lucky to be playing semi pro today.
    Kareem would not last a whole season against the players today.
    Jesse Owens would not even make it to the olympic team.

    You cannot compare the athletes of yesteryear to the ones today. It would be like comparing a Model T to a Corvette, not even the same species.

  39. E Simms May 13, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Here’s an enlightening article on kids’ sports:

    “Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews wants your young athlete to stay healthy by playing less”


  40. JamieC0403 May 13, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    We have a pretty awesome Y by us. When we joined I signed my monster (now 3) up for the parent child gymnastics class and the parent-child swim class. Classes only last for 5 weeks, so every time it time to register for new classes I always tell him the options that fit for us schedule-wise and let him choose which if any he wants to do. He did gymnastics, which he calls Superhero class, for 6 monthes, but decided not to this time. He’s also tried soccer once, but wasn’t a fan. He just doing swim this time. I’m not sure what he’ll want to do when we sign up again in a couple weeks.

  41. marie May 13, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Sending kids outside to play many times mean the kids have no one to play with. Backyards are empty. Neighborhood kids are all at swim, tae kwondo, piano, soccer, dance. I grew up in a large family but today’s smaller families (need to buy a different vehicle and more car seats if you want a large family) means kids have only one or two siblings to play with.

    Nothing wrong with playing alone or playing with only one friend/sibling but that limits the pool of knowledge. Kids used to learn to play football by…playing football and pooling knowledge from the other kids.

    Kids get cheated when they never have the opportunity to figure stuff out themselves. No wonder they think they need to teach leadership now.

  42. CrazyCatLady May 13, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    How to make something you love work:

    In high school went to the library weekly and got grocery bags full of books and read them each week. Things like The Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Crisco, Edger Allen Poe, loads of science fiction and horror. The summer before 12th grade the school made us write 3 book reports. And, because I knew I should read for them, and I didn’t want to….I read nothing all summer. I did the book reports the day before school on books that I had read in the past.

    My older son, 12, has issues with writing. It is really hard for him. He is getting tutoring/special ed help, and the teacher has him write a paragraph about what he has read. Sigh. Because he is the same as I am. So I assign short stories for him to read so that he will still read the stuff he likes.

    How to not make it “work”, but to make it more like fun:

    My youngest son is dyslexic. He is making great strides, and is enthralled with Magic Tree House books. He does not want to read the school book style book with stories and worksheets. So…because we homeschool, we read Magic Tree House. They are a little below grade level where his special ed teacher would like him but I see steady growth and ability to read more and more words correctly. He is competitive, so this summer he will officially, on his own (not me reading to him) participate in the summer library reading program. I think his skills are really going to take off. But the special ed teacher would prefer that I challenge him with stuff on grade level – stuff that is too hard. Nope. We tried that for years….it doesn’t work. Reading should be effortless, not a challenge unless the child wants a challenge.

    My oldest child has always loved writing. She entered the Reading Rainbow story contest every year until they ended the show. Her curriculum had “writing” as part of the schooling. And she hated it. Like the other poster, she quit writing. So, for 7th and 8th grade we changed focus. She has a little grammar to do daily (and even that I don’t really care about.) She does SAT prep vocabulary quiz and writes silly sentences for the words. (She loves this.) She gets to free read what she wants. (She is working on the Iliad. Good choice, in my opinion.) She orally tells me about what she is reading. Composition….she writes. She is writing a novel and various stories. Sometimes she shows them to me, some she shares with friends, and some she takes to a novel writing class. And it is all good. Next year she will be going to a high school and will not have the freedom to choose. But…there are ways to make the assignments more fun. (But, I will tell her to not emulate me with an assignment I did for Spanish. The chapter was on careers, and we were supposed to write in Spanish about one. So, because writing about being a teacher is not interesting, I wrote about being an assassin. It WAS one of the choices. Not that I really wanted to do that, but the teacher did take me aside to have a “talk” about if I really wanted to do it or not. Today, I think that I would have been kicked out of school, made to see a shrink, and all sorts of other over reactions.)

  43. Papilio May 13, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    I’m SO glad we have non of that scholarship nonsense over here! Sport, music, whatever – it’s all just a hobby with its own goals of getting better at it and maybe, if you like to try, getting to the highest level, but it has nothing to do whatsoever with getting an education.
    The sport-oriented secondary schools here don’t *push* the talented students who want to reach a high level in their sport, they *facilitate* the pursuing of that goal by, for example, making it easy to do that math test another time if the student has a junior championship that day.

  44. Stacy May 13, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    My kids don’t really like organized activities. I encourage them to try new things and make them stick it out once they’ve committed, but most people today would consider them “underscheduled.” Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood where kids play impromptu soccer at the park, organize their own backyard baseball season, and wander around unsupervised on their bikes. It’s amazing how a free range culture can build — parents see kids out and feel better sending their own kids out. Don’t give up on making this happen in your own neighborhood. I can’t take the credit in my neighborhood — years ago I was the parent cringing at the unsupervised four year olds — but I’m so grateful. My son is never going to be a star athlete thanks to genetics, but the travel baseball kids treat him like an equal in the backyard, and honestly I think they also prefer that to their competitive leagues. There really is a place for both. I also second the YMCA recommendation — that’s the only place where we found fun, non-competitive gymnastics for all ages.

  45. Tsu Dho Nimh May 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    I had a music appreciation class that RUINED music for me for a long time. I took an English class that ruined literature for me. I took judo lessons in a highly competitive dojo … yup, ruined my enjoyment of the physical movements on judo.

    Sometimes you just want to watch the bunny hopping around. If you get into it too deeply, you have dissected the bunny and it no longer hops.

  46. lihtox May 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I face this problem myself as an adult. As a kid I had no problem simply playing at things. I’d write stories without worrying whether they were any good, I’d start inventing languages without a worry about whether I would finish them.

    Now as an adult, it’s much harder to play; I’m haunted by guilt over what I *should* be doing instead, or I’m fretting about whether the thing I’m writing is “good enough”, or I’m trying to figure out how to turn this fun activity into a way to make some money. It’s very frustrating.

    Kids will have plenty of time to be adults.

  47. E Simms May 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm #


    Have you heard of a special font for dyslexics called dyslexie?



  48. E Simms May 13, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    Woops, hit enter too soon.

    If dyslexie works, it would be great if any e-book font could be translated into it.

  49. J- May 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

    This really struck home with me. I have always loved bluegrass, fiddle, folk music, even some gospel (makes sense for a Jewish kid from Miami, right?). I wanted to learn to fiddle. Instead I was taught the violin. Not just the violin, but the Suzuki method of violin.

    I was taught from an approved list of classical pieces, a Western canon of music, all of which had a very rigid, platonic, mechanistic arrangement. My parents were told, if I followed the Suzuki method, practicing so many hours a day, so many days a week, for so many years, I will one day play in some junior orchestra at Carnage Hall and can put that on my resume for application or Harvard, or one of the other Ivy Leagues.

    Nothing was said about me actually enjoying playing music, which I didn’t. God forbid, I showed interest in something other than Back, Beethoven, or Mozrt. Forget Bluegrass, that would somehow make me worse at violin. I hated every minute of it, until I finally gave it up by high school.

    Come to think of it, that was the same arc that a number of my childhood activities took. I learned to sail at Boy Scout camp. Loved sailing. My mom enrolled me in a yacht club sailing class on Saturdays. Turned out it was a regatta program. All we did was sail around in circles, going around buoys, while a coach screamed at us from a motorboat. But if we won some junior regattas, we could possibly get a sailing scholarship to an elite school. Rowing went the same way.

    I don’t know what happened in the late ’80’s, but in my peer group (East coast, upper-middle class) EVERYTHING a kid did had to be useful for a college resume or scholarship. No activity could be done just for fun, that was a waste of time. College resumes had to be built. If we weren’t the captain of every team, in chess club, on the school newspaper, orchestra, band, honor roll, and didn’t do community service, we’d never get into Harvard, and have to go to some mediocre state school, where we’d only qualify for a miserable job in middle management, and end up unhappy, making too little money, having never achieved our potential.

  50. BMS May 13, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    On the whole subject of making something work, can I just rant about reading logs?

    We have always read to our kids, since they were babies. I remember when my oldest was in first grade he was home sick and I read an entire Bobbsey Twins book, cover to cover, to this kid for 4 hours straight and he loved it. He’s dyslexic, so his comprehension outpaces his independent reading, but he has explored a lot of books via text to speech as well.

    At least until they asked him to track it. Every year since first grade, he’s been required to write down every book he reads, and the author and the pages, and God forbid you should put a book down and start another before the first one is finished. They have made it such a chore that he either refuses to read, or refuses to write down what he’s read. He is forever getting terrible grades on his independent reading, because he does not want his reading measured, monitored, and dissected. He hates most fiction, with a passion, but will read non-fiction for days. He likes to start books, skip around to different chapters, go back and reread – he’s very nonlinear about it. My personal point of view is that as long as he is reading and comprehending, I don’t really care exactly what he reads, or whether it is for 20 minutes a day, or 15, or 30. But the schools have taken something he loved and turned it into something he hates.

    And just a note to the homeschool folks: I admire you for what you do, but it truly isn’t an option for my family due to financial constraints and temperament (i.e. we’d go broke and kill each other in a week). All we can do is pray that eventually we’ll get to a grade where they stop these wretched reading logs.

  51. Dee May 13, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    So agree about the sports thing with boys! My son is 12. He has never done group sports because his ADHD was such that at a younger age he couldn’t pay attention. The one 3-day soccer camp I tried he was looking at the sky while a game went on around him.

    He would now like to try it…but it’s so darn competitive! He literally just wants to play ball. His friends are all on teams, so they are not interested in a pick up game. It’s so sad.

  52. CrazyCatLady May 13, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    E Simms, dyslexie sounds really cool. Makes me want to go see what existing fonts might work best for my son, as some may have some things similar.

  53. Virginia Million May 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Oh BMS, you and I feel the same about reading logs! I was so excited about the start of middle school, thinking that reading logs would be a thing of the past, but they were not. They are no longer, however, an issue for us. I sent an e-mail to the teacher (last year and this) indicating that I would jot down the titles of the books/comics/web pages/newspapers, etc. that my daughter read and leave all the other stuff (number of pages, time spent, etc.) blank. My daughter’s only task is to turn in the paper and, as a result, she is reading more than she ever did in the elementary grades. And the teachers’ responses? Something along the lines of “I hate reading logs too, but I’m forced to check them by the school. What you are turning in is fine.”

  54. Yocheved May 13, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I refuse to force extracurricular activities on my daughter. She has some really amazing talents, but I know that pushing the issue will kill them faster than anything. If I sense that she’s in a receptive mood I can try to “stealth teach” her, but the second she’s caught on I back off and change the subject.

    She knows that as soon as she shows interest in taking a lesson in something, I will move heaven and earth to find the money and time to make it happen. I like that she knows that she has my full support one way or the other, and neither choice makes me love her any differently than I already do.

    @JKP I LOVE the idea of “natural benefits” and the diary idea. That is brilliant.

    @BMS, Reading logs are from the Devil! My daughter reads all day, and half the night if I let her. She can’t be bothered to fill out the logs, because she’s too busy reading! How’s that for irony? I don’t bug her to fill them out, I just let her deal with the consequences at school. I refuse to be the reading log police.

    She struggles terribly with math, if it’s written down on a page and she has to sit and stare at it. I recently took her to Israel, and gave her some shekels to spend. I told her she has to convert them to US dollars, and then we discuss if the price is good, or if things would cost more or less in the US. From there we would decide if it would be better to buy it now, or wait until we got home. We talked about the markup on importing and exporting, too. (BTW, she’s in 5th grade) She did great!

  55. SKL May 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    LOL about reading logs. I remember when my kid sister was 5 and she participated in a “read-a-thon.” She read at least 100 books but was only willing to list 30. That summer she participated in the library book club, and again she read 10 books for every 1 she submitted to the library. I thought that was silly, but she was adamant.

    One of my daughters also reads a lot of books that she does not report to the school, even though there are “points” to be earned if she takes a test on the books.

    My other daughter isn’t big on independent reading. She does what she needs to get into the year-end ice cream party. 😉 But the other day, I caught her reading a book just for the fun of it. I was careful to hide my pleasure. It took her 2.5 years to pick up a book just for the fun of it. I’m not about to mess with that.

    Suzuki – I hear people praise it to the sky, but it sounds very un-fun to me. 😉 I am sure it’s perfect for some kids, though.

  56. Donna May 13, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    I hated reading logs. We had to do them in A. Samoa and neither of us remembered half the time. And we only had to write down the name of the book! So glad our current elementary school doesn’t do them.

  57. hineata May 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    Wow, am with Papilio, am so glad we don’t have to worry about all this scholarship nonsense. Or sports teams at Uni. Such things exist, but no one I’ve ever heard of actually gets picked to go into a Uni based on how good they are at sport. You just turn up when it’s time to pick the teams and have a go. Though I guess some of the better sportsmen have probably met each other before, competing in high school games.

    Obviously there are competitive sports teams here, (we have a number of Olympians, after all) but you can still play socially at most high schools. Boy is currently playing in and coaching his social-level basketball team, basketball being a sport he picked up last year, at age 16. He plays for the Asian leagues as well, and they’re more competitive, but still accept all comers. I think nobody cares too much because a lot of sport in NZ is simply a front for the chance to consume beer postmatch :-).

    @Yocheved – so cool! Maths is so much better ‘real-life’, after all, that’s where it’s useful. Loved maths as a kid, but in my late forties am certainly not sitting around still doing it from a textbook :-).

  58. Mark May 13, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    I’m so very glad that nobody has figured out how to make hiking a competitive sport.

  59. hineata May 13, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    @Warren – I’m sure Jesse Owen (s?) could have competed today – the difference would have been that he would have been picked out at an early age, driven into the ground with all the training and pressure, and probably have burnt out by age 12.

    Or, alternatively, as my son seems to think, and informs me, that all African Americans males currently alive and under the age of forty are involved in professional basketball – maybe he would be playing for, who’s good – Miami Heat? :-).

  60. Cynthia812 May 13, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    We’re dealing with this right now. My barely 8yo is playing baseball. He has practice up to three times a week and up to four games a week (due to rescheduled rainouts). The practices have been known to go up to three hours. I haven’t complained because we homeschool, so he still has plenty of time at home, but I think the other parents are crazy for allowing it.

    Haava, I can’t tell you how envious I am of your Montessori class discussions. I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven in a situation like that. Still would.

  61. Cynthia812 May 13, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    Just stumbled across this article. And does anyone remember who wrote the one a few years back about the disappearance of pick-up games? I think Lenore might have linked it at one time.

  62. Emily May 13, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    >>I’m so very glad that nobody has figured out how to make hiking a competitive sport.<<

    What about orienteering?

  63. hineata May 13, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    @Cynthia812 – how in the world does anyone have time to do that? The adults running it, I mean. Don’t people have other things in their lives?

  64. hineata May 13, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

    Or do they get paid to do it?

    Sounds out of control to me…

  65. Kate May 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Super intense kooky piano teachers are nothing new. I’m 44 and when I was 8 I took lessons from a teacher who required kids to memorize 10 pieces in order to play at the recital (you couldn’t play unless you had ten memorized). Of course I choked at the first recital – can’t remember the traumatic details but my mom had to find me a new teacher that didn’t require memorization. And guess what? I never was able to memorize songs after that, not for band or piano. Go figure!!

    And yes, the competitive nature of kids’ activities today is unbelievable, outrageous and exhausting, says mother of four.

  66. SOA May 13, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    I also hate reading logs. I don’t want to chart and measure my reading. Takes all the pleasure out of it. This is from a kid that was at the bookstore every week and they knew me by name and would put books back from me as soon as they came in. My mom just taught me to sign her name like she did and told me to sign the reading log for her because she did not care to monitor my reading.

    Also every book I was forced to read in school I disliked. Just about every one. Because dissecting it and analyzing it and not being allowed to read ahead and being tested on it took all the pleasure out of it. So I pretty much hate every classic novel as those are the ones I mostly had to read in school and yep, made me hate them.

  67. SOA May 13, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Warren: Do you even know who Jesse Owens is? He ran track and long jump. Even if he did not start doing it for real until high school he probably was outside a lot every day as a kid running while he played tag and jumping over ponds and that right there was his practice. That was him honing his skill. So I disagree he would not be able to do it if born today. I still think he could. Mostly for him it was genetics which is how most skill in sports plays out.

  68. Stacy May 13, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    Interesting article on youth sports and parents. My son plays in a league for kids who don’t make the “travel teams” in a particular sport, and we still had a father this year who constantly yelled at his son. I wish I hadn’t felt intimidated by him and said something not just under my breath. Even in our league, where everyone gets to play, there’s pressure to have a winning season and to advance in the end of year tournament. Couldn’t it just be about kids having fun together playing a game they like? It’s fine for kids to learn about winning and losing graciously, but some parents become so focused on winning. Even on my youngest child’s kindergarten team, where there’s no scorekeeping, a mom had to remind a parent coach that it’s supposed to be fun.

    It’s funny how different the kids are in their pick-up games with no adult involvement. According to my son, everyone is welcome to play, except the kids who take it too seriously and get angry about “bad calls.” They make up rules and work out disagreements. Please encourage your kids to invite neighbors of all ages and start games in the backyard or the neighborhood park!

  69. SKL May 13, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    I might be a weirdo, but I liked most of the books I had to read for school, and these were generally books I would not have otherwise read. On my own, I’d choose completely different books, so overall I read a good mix of literature.

    My eldest daughter also enjoys books even if she “has” to read them. So I assign specific reading for her, but for her sister, I just say “you should do some reading too.”

    As for memorizing piano pieces, that came naturally to me. I read notes slowly, but once I figure out the notes enough to play smoothly, I pretty much have the piece memorized. I used to have many pieces memorized when I was young (and nobody asked me to do this). My youngest also memorizes songs effortlessly. My oldest always needs the notes.

    My kids don’t play in recitals. Once a year I encourage them to choose a song to play in church on the day of the Christmas pageant. It’s more than I ever did in public as a kid. 😉

  70. Donna May 14, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Would Jesse Owens have made it today starting in high school? Quite possibly not. Even as recently as my youth, there were no track teams before middle or high school. We did a unit on it in PE each year and had field day, but it wasn’t an organized sport, so EVERYONE started around high school. Today my daughter is being encouraged to join a track team at 8 (completely against any genes inherited from me, she’s a fabulous distance runner).

    Innate ability only gets you so far. All these activities take learned skills as well. If everyone else starts learning at 5, you never get the chance to hone your innate abilities because you are sitting on the bench in favor of the rest of the team’s much greater learned skill set if you start at 14. If you have the ability to hire a private coach to get you up to the skills of the other 14 year olds, your innate ability will set you above them, but few can afford to hire a private coach and most are going to be discouraged from even trying.

  71. Donna May 14, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    SKL – I also liked reading books even if they were assigned. I either liked the book or I didn’t, assignment meant nothing to me. In fact, a chunk of books on my favorite books list were tied to class assignments – either the entire book was assigned or we read an excerpt that I liked and I sought out the full book or we read a book that I liked and I sought out more books by that author. Some I would have eventually read anyway as they were the right up my usual reading interest alley. Others I never would have read had they not been assigned.

    Truthfully, the whole “I hate something I am forced to do for no reason other than I was forced to do it, even things I would have liked otherwise,” mindset is just such a negative approach to life to me. Life is filled daily with things that I have to do. I have to work. I have to do certain tasks at that work. I have to cook meals for my family. I have to clean the house. I have to do laundry. If I immediately hated them simply because I have no choice in doing them, I’d be a rather miserable person.

    That has always been my attitude about school for me and my child. It is something that has to be done for 13 years. You can view as torture and be miserable for 13 years or you can try to enjoy it. I certainly didn’t enjoy everything about school, but sticking your nose up about having to read a book and refusing to enjoy it because you are being stubborn is just you making a choice to make yourself miserable.

  72. SKL May 14, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    Donna, I am the same way, but my youngest kid is wired completely opposite. 😛 Not much I can do about it. I can hope the re-wiring of puberty/adolescence helps, but who knows….

    Life with this little person is pretty much an endless series of “choose my battles.”

  73. Andy May 14, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    I did not rejected books just because they were assigned. I never really hated school that way, going to school and doing homework was something everyone had to do, so I did it without any strong feelings. I disliked reading logs and usually putted as little effort as possible into them, but did not hated them more then all other useless busywork.

    Although we had only one-two books per year assigned, so assigned reading left plenty of time for books I chosen on my own. It might have been different if we would have reading heavy program as some report having now where assign readings consume too much time.

    That being said, assigned readings in our school system were only rarely age appropriate or even interesting for anybody. Cowboy stories and Jules Verne assigned at 16? You either read it as 12 or did not enjoyed it at all (especially girls). On the other hand, ultra boring classics full of lyrical descriptions with no story at 14? I read plenty of classics but some of those mandatory are boring even now.

    I’m not claiming our school system was best in the world or something.

  74. LauraL May 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    Being told my interpretations of Huckleberry Finn were wrong, and *this* is what the author meant by the presence of the Mississippi River RUINED Huck Finn for me. I’d loved that book when I read it as a kid, but high school English ruined it. I’m just now thinking about reading it again as an adult. I’m 46!

  75. Emily May 14, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    @Donna–About not liking books read in school just because they’re mandatory, I too enjoyed a lot of the books I read in school, but especially in the upper years of high school, the follow-up work involved got to be too much. For example, when we read The Poisonwood Bible in OAC, we had a whole PACKAGE of assignments tied in with it–analyze the themes, characters, et cetera, all with essay questions, must be supported with quotes from the book, you know the drill. Anyway, my finished assignment ended up being 60 pages long. I got an A, but I probably worked harder on that than I did on my thesis I had to do to finish university (along with a graduate recital). I think my thesis was around 15 pages long; maybe less. It involved research, but only on the pieces/composers I was playing for my recital, so I had a vested interest already, and the thesis + recital was the bulk of my work for that final semester of university. With high school, a lot of the teachers made you analyze everything to death, and assigned work like their class was the only one you had. It didn’t kill my love of reading, but it’s been a while since I’ve read, say, “Lord of the Flies,” because, even though it’s a good book, I’ll always associate it with “grade ten English class.”

    Ironically, elementary school was even worse. As I said before, we had a reader in French class (should have been a different one each year, but I swear we did the same one for at least two years running), and the story I remember most was “Voyage vers l’ouest,” about a family of Canadian pioneers travelling out west to start a new life. Cool story, but we only read one page a day, and had to do an assignment on it, and the assignments were always too easy for me, and I always had people bothering me to help them/let them copy my work, and I got in trouble for reading ahead. So, while the rest of the class was stumbling through “Richard est le frère, Anne est la soeur,” and on and on, I wanted to know how the rest of the story would unfold, but I got severely chastised for trying to find out. That’s what killed my love of learning during those years; not the mandatory assignments, but the mandate that I learn EXACTLY the same way as everyone else, when my brain just didn’t work that way. If I’d just been given that book to read, or found it on a shelf somewhere and read it on my own, then I would have liked it, but if I saw that book again now, I’d mostly remember feeling bored and singled out.

  76. Donna May 14, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Emily, I agree that there are bad teachers/assignments that suck the life out of anything and assignments that don’t appeal. That is different from the many who are saying that they or their kids automatically hated something just because it was assigned rather than something that they chose to do themselves.

  77. Andrea May 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    I blame Tiger Woods for all of this.

  78. SOA May 14, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    It was not just because the books were assigned that made me hate them. I hated being told my interpretation of it was “wrong”. I hated being tested on it. I hated having to over analyze it. I hated being only allowed to read 2 chapters a night even if one night I felt like skipping it or one night I felt like reading 6 chapters. That is what made me hate them.

    And subject choice. Honestly “Grapes of Wrath” is just awful. As a 16 year old I did not want to read about dogs getting run over, people starving to death, a man leaving his girlfriend pregnant with his child, and a woman breastfeeding a starving man. Gross. Sorry a 16 year old kid in this time period is NOT going to be able to relate to that at all. I am a history major so I appreciate learning about the past but reading history accounts is a totally different thing that reading literature and they should not always mix. I just did not care for it. Same with “Old Man and the Sea” when I was 14. Same with Shakespeare. I enjoyed the story line of most Shakespeare but the language was just too much. I always got As in English so it was not that it was over my head. I just did not care for it. You can’t make someone like it.

    The few school books I did care for I did enjoy but they were few and far between honestly. For one thing why does school books ALWAYS have to be so depressing!? Can we have just one happy book once? I like to mix it up. I will read one historical fiction, then a horror novel, then a sci fi novel, then a romance. In school it was pretty much one depressing book after another. Blech. Like teenagers are not already angsty. The one school book I liked was “Daisy Fae and the Miracle Man”. It was funny and charming. Made me want to read the rest of Fannie Flagg’s stuff.

    So it was not that I was incapable of enjoying school books, just that I rarely ever did.

  79. SKL May 14, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    I remember my English teacher strongly recommending that I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was a teen (I think I was 15 or 16). What a depressing book. At that age I was already borderline suicidal. And it wasn’t that well written, either. There have to be a thousand better books to recommend for fun reading.

    But Shakespeare – I thought I’d hate him, but every play we read (about 10 of them all together in HS) ended up being a lot of fun for me. Another one I really liked was Silas Marner. Never would have thought of that on my own. The Scarlet Letter was another bomb, though. You never know, I guess….

  80. Andy May 15, 2014 at 6:30 am #

    @SKL I found The Catcher in the Rye interesting at that age. I found it in parents library and read it multiple times. Oddly enough, my father later told that he brought the book, but disliked it and never finished.

  81. E May 15, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    I thought I’d add a footnote about the sports experience and how it’s so much more than parents’ pipe dreams about ‘whatever happens after high school’ (college, pros). Last night, I was volunteering at the HS (both my kids have graduated) at a state playoff game. As it happened, both the soccer team and baseball teams were hosting state playoff games the same night/time. The venues back up to each other and the school’s athletic boosters offered to pay for students admission to one of the events so they didn’t have to pay twice. Both places had kids/parents migrating from one stadium to the other to support the ongoing games. Parents (of players and students and alumni) were attending and supporting the teams. My son (home from college) was greeted by former teammates, classmates, and parents. It was such a great example of community. It was a place where parents and kids spent time in the SAME PLACE — even though they were HS teens.

    Yes, youth sports are now specialized. I know it can be frustrating because unless you are a seriously gifted athlete or a kid with years of specific experience, it’s very hard to make a team with roster limits. But really, it’s not that different than when I was in HS. The kids that were super athletic made whatever team they tried out for, leaving other kids off the rosters.

    I imagine that marching band and theater groups and other extracurriculars can make the same claim. It seems like sports always gets dumped on about how the kids will “never make it to the pros”. That’s not what it’s about. Most parents know that. But since my kids gravitated towards sports, that’s what we did. And the benefits are just as valuable as any other interest.


  82. SKL May 15, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    I’ll encourage my kids to play school sports because it’s a convenient way to make sure they get exercise. However, one of mine has some physical issues and might decide it isn’t worth the stress of having teammates / classmates pressure her. We’ll see when the time comes. I played softball in 5th grade and quit because it was really uncomfortable socially. It isn’t for everyone. I’m glad we have access to alternatives such as recreational gymnastics.

  83. E May 15, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    @SKL I do think team sports can differ in the experience over individual ones. Cross country is pretty popular at my kids former school. Everyone is welcome, it (along with track) is the only one were boys/girls are on the same team (which can be fun/different) Everyone can participate and compete (and improve) no matter their level.

  84. Melissa May 15, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    There are a ton of comments already, but I’m going to add mine and then read through.

    My husband and I own a youth competitive soccer club. We have teams from U9 (under-9) up to U18, both boys and girls. Each team is pretty autonomous, as our coaches are all certified and sort of run the show, growing as their kids grow – ie our current U14 boys team has had the same coach since they were U9. We only provide a “registration umbrella” for them and stay fairly hands off.

    My own children are 2 and 4.5. And I hope they stink at soccer and never leave house league. The U10 girls coach has them practicing twice a week, plus the game, plus an “optional” (not really optional) fitness training session. They go to 5 tournaments every (short) summer, which is basically an entire weekend event. They practice indoors all winter, twice a week. They are NINE YEARS OLD. In my opinion, this is ridiculous.

    My husband coaches U14 girls and senior women and has one practice and one game per week, and two tournaments. His girls are just as competitive in their divisions, and they don’t burn out.

  85. Warren May 15, 2014 at 10:32 pm #


    Seeing as how your knowledge of athletics is limited to what you read on wiki, you just keep believing that olympians from almost 80 yrs ago could complete with todays athletes.

    There is no comparison. Todays athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and more knowledgable about training, and diet.

    Yes the past athlete’s were great for their era, but most of them wouldn’t make the cut today. I doubt Jesse’s gold medal time in the 100m would even be fast enough to get on the olympic team today.

  86. E May 16, 2014 at 8:39 am #

    @Warren, I believe there are High School sprinters that have run faster than Owens’ (at the time) world record.

    Babe Didrikson (one of my childhood biographies read!) picked up golf successfully after her track career — another highly unlikely scenario today.

    Owens might be a world class sprinter today, but he wouldn’t do it using the same approach as he did 80 years ago! He’d be following the path that most world class athletes do.

  87. Lisa May 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    I agree with Katie’s comment that there needs to be a middle ground. I’m all for doing things “just for fun”, and I am fully aware that most kids are never going to be professional athletes or performers. IMO, though, most youth activities teach the same skills: commitment, hard work, teamwork, sportsmanship… and those lessons are the real value in the activities. My daughter is probably the very definition of “overscheduled” – theater, chorus, private music lessons (voice, guitar, and now piano next week according to her), competitive soccer. All chosen by her, starting with soccer when she was 4 (she asked to play… I had been coaching for a couple of years, so I switched to a younger team and she played on a team of 4-5 year olds… she loved it). I don’t force her to practice her singing, work out between soccer seasons, work on her lines, or prepare for auditions. I DO, however, think it’s my job to help her understand that choosing not to go running in her free time could affect what team she makes or how successful she is on the field, and that not practicing for a recital will affect her performance. What she chooses to do with that knowledge is up to her. She’s worked hard and been very successful at time, and slacked off and not done her best at other times. I can only hope that she recognizes how different those things feel. It’s not about getting a college scholarship (she’s not THAT good an athlete, and scholarships in the arts are rare, especially since she wants to be a science major). I think it’s ok to know, though, that she’s unlikely to make the higher level team next year if she doesn’t work hard this year, and that she’s unlikely to get the lead in the middle school play as an 8th grader if she doesn’t focus on improving her acting and singing for the next year. Every kid can’t be the best at something… but every kid can do THEIR personal best, and I think it is valuable to put the effort into being the best you can, even in the short term (so: making sure her performance is as good as she’s capable of making it, even if she decides not to sign up for the next show).
    That doesn’t mean *every* activity needs to be structured (my kid also enjoys art, but only wanted private art lessons for a short time before she switched back to voice lessons and just creates art at home when the mood strikes her.) But there’s nothing wrong with a balance.

  88. MusicalLady May 18, 2014 at 1:09 am #

    Ag, this is so frustrating to me. I took piano lessons for years from my grandmother. She had a whole studio though, 16 or so of us in all. When I got older, I started training more for competitions because I wanted to; that was never something she specialized in. The only thing we all had to do was play a little concert once or twice a year, usually around Christmas and sometimes in the summer. It gave us a goal and it’s good practice for being able to perform (or speak) in public.

    Isn’t that enough, really? Parents like to see their kids perform. Why does everyone have to be scored on everything? Yes, it is scary to perform in front of people, even when you know them, but it’s nothing compared to playing in front of judges who will give you a grade and critique you. Kids just don’t need that sort of pressure unless they want it.

  89. LRothman May 18, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    My middle child wants to try new sports every season – if we lived 10 miles further west, she wouldn’t have made several of the teams she’s been on. The other high school teams in our district are very competitive and all the players are on travel teams and/or taking private lessons during the off-season. Our high school is less affluent and the parents don’t have the money for that. Needless to say, our high school teams don’t win.