I have a friend who started learning how to play the piano when she was 35. Until that time she had no interest and she told me that if her parents had forced her to learn when she was young she likely would have hated it. I remember thinking that we somehow seem to believe that a child needs to start music or sports or crafts at a young age or they miss the window of opportunity. My friend proved that wrong.
In our concern about our children succeeding, we are all too often setting them up to grow up too fast. Mind you, what they are doing is taking on the accoutrements of adulthood without the emotional maturity and experience to handle them.
So while there is a focus on making sure they develop hockey skills or computer expertise at a young age, they aren't ready for that level of pressure. So we see stressed out children instead of innocent kids playing in the park.
Our kids need to be allowed to stay children during childhood. One enemy of childhood is too much screen time. Whether that is TV or Internet, they are often being exposed to ideas and images beyond their comprehension.
More importantly they are not processing information and learning as they go. Get them outside and playing in places where they can simply enjoy free play and exploration. The local park or backyard are far superior to academic tutoring or watching a video.
Kids learn by touching, manipulating and handling things. So, choose a daycare and preschool with a play-based curriculum. Learning through play is the essence of childhood. When we get them involved in academic-type play we are not letting them learn at their own rate. I hate the term "educational toys."
All toys are educational. Whether it's a box, a magazine or an actual toy, kids are always learning when they use and manipulate objects.
Avoid consumer toys, in other words the ones associated with specific TV shows or the like. Choose toys that are just that and allow the child to use them as he wishes. That means you want crunchy hand-help toys for babies, sorting toys and blocks for toddlers and a whole assortment of neutral household-based toys such as trucks, dolls and play stoves. They also benefit greatly from all sorts of craft supplies that just let them create their own version of art. Another favourite is your cast-off clothing for their dress-up play.
Activities for kids should be fun. Stay away from super-intensive sports or specialized camps. They don't need to focus on skills training (unless they are the very tiny percentage who are Olympic material); they just need to have fun.
If your child really wants to go to a specialized camp like a volleyball or computer camp, ensure that there is plenty of other activity and free play. Camps should be fun and exciting.
Choose age-appropriate clothing. Your child should not be wearing a tiny size of something a young adult would wear. They need to be in childlike outfits.
Create balance in their lives that will let them have some extracurricular activities and some downtime. Unscheduled time leads to rest and relaxation. It can also cause your child to become creative about what he's going to do, whether that is to simply lie on the lawn and look at the clouds or create a new game.
Learn to say no to things and tell them when they are too young for an outfit or activity.
Talk to other parents so hopefully your child's friends are getting the same message. Have old-fashioned play nights with board games or charades and invite other families to join you. Childhood is short, so let's allow our kids to have the full benefit of these years.
. Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.