Thursday, May 11, 2006

Activities for Preschoolers (Warning: Soapbox Topic)

The "leisure" course catalog came in the mail today from our city's parks and recreation department. Over 80 pages brimming with too-good-to-pass-up opportunities for my family’s summer enrichment.

Since it’s just about time for swimming lessons, I flipped it open the “preschool” section. There it was, right there in black and white:

Let me get this straight: You mean I get to pay $32 to take two hours out of my day, rush around my house waking, dressing, feeding, and packing a diaper bag for my child, whisking her out the door by 8:30 (“Hurry, and eat your Cheerios, Honey! We’re going to be late!”). Then head off to a cold, fluorescent-lighted gym… play HORSEY??

You have GOT to be kidding me!

As I paged further through the brochure, the amusement subsided and I began to realize they most certainly were not kidding – this under-three stuff is serious business! Check these out:

-Colors of the Rainbow (“Discover the different colors that make up the rainbow!”)
-Band on the Run (“Sing along to some popular children’s songs!”)
-Fun with Basic Shapes (“Come with Mommy or Daddy and have fun learning about and identifying geometric shapes!”)

Page after page of preschool classes, most of them covering topics I naively assumed were everyday home experiences for a little one.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that poor young mom out there, who, after reading the catalog, is now convinced she needs a professional to tell her how to play horsey with her baby. Is she worried her child will grow up impaired if she (gasp!) simply turns on the radio and rolls around on the floor at home with him? Perhaps she can’t remember the words to “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider?” Has she forgotten the colors of the rainbow, or how to draw a triangle?

No, most likely, she simply thinks she’s being a “good mom” by providing every enriching activity her child’s calendar can hold.

Maybe some people feel obligated to take their babies to Toddlers on Parade class because, as Karen says, today’s stay-at-home moms feel this insane need to validate their existence at home. It just sounds more significant to say, “Whew! Johnny is soooo tired. We just got back from his gymnastics class.” Rather than, “I played tickle with Johnny this morning.” Or worse, “Johnny played quietly with blocks while I folded laundry.”

Then my mind took a dark, downward spiral. What about the children? Do those Toddlers on Parade children think they only get to have “good” fun with Mom when they are at an organized event? Would those kids rather have a stranger call out the next move, shunning an impromptu game of wrestle with Dad at home? What about when Toddlers on Parade is over? How can we ever top that? This is serious!

“But my precious Johnny is just SO BORED when he’s at home.” Nothing chaps me more than to hear moms talk about their children (of any age) like this. Listen, if you have two hours to get your kid to a class and back, surely you can find 15 minutes in your busy day and do a puzzle or read with him. What ever happened to make believe? What, for heaven’s sake, is wrong with just hanging out together, doing normal, everyday work?

Last time I checked, my toddler didn’t much care that I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” off key. She has never said, “No! I don’t want to play tickle!” My little ones (or big ones, for that matter) have never refused when I pulled out the finger paints, bubbles, chalk or construction paper (for $32 you can buy a whole lot of art supplies!) or took them for a walk.

A mentor of mine is fond of saying, “Children spell love, T-I-M-E.” They don’t need another activity on their to-do list, any more than we do. They don’t need more of the stuff we grew up without. They need our presence, calm and reassuring. They need some silence. They need to be home a lot more than they are.

They need us.

Preschooler, Preschool activities, Family


Dennis Smith said...

I'm with you! I'd rather play tickle anytime. First of all, it's free. Secondly, it's me.

Great post ~


Jennifer said...

I really needed to hear this today! I have a 19-month-old, and I feel the pressure already to have him in gymnastics and mommy and me swim class. Those are all fine and good, but when does it stop if you start now? I just don't need to be running all over town, especially when we're about to add a baby to the family. Thanks for the confirmation, Katherine!!

mamashine said...

Oh, I needed this today too. But everybody else is in swim class!! Please.

And it's amazing to me how many of my parents are so excited to drop their kids off at my home daycare on Mondays because they were "so bored" over the weekend. I mean, I try to have fun with the kids, but I'm not their mommy! I think a lot of parents say their kid is bored as an excuse to put them in activities instead of spending time.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog tonight and am going to start reading it regularly! I love it and especially this one as the stay-at-home mommy of a 1 and 2 year old. I sometimes question if I am doing "enough" by just doing the "normal" things I remember my mom doing. And, you're right, other mommies can make you feel completely guilty for letting your kids play on their own while you actually fold clothes or clean the kitchen. It's very discouraging but I thank you for your entry. I have high hopes of having 4-5 kids so your blog should give me some good perspective. Thanks again!, Emily