Observations from the Carpool Lane


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One week a month, I pick up my daughter and three other neighborhood kids from the elementary school. It’s a pretty sweet deal. I don’t think I would enjoy sitting in that line every afternoon, five days a week, but once a month isn’t so bad.

I’ll typically bring a book to read and I always bring my notebook. You never know when you’ll find something to write about. Such was the case yesterday. The vehicle in front of me in line was a minivan with its back window emblazoned with several window clings. According to the back window, this family had a cheerleader, a football player, a soccer player, a gymnast, a basketball player, a softball player, a baseball player, a choir member and a member of the junior high school band. And while it’s entirely possible this family had nine children, I don’t think that’s the case, unless they were in the habit of naming more than one child by the same name.

And I wonder about us as parents wanting our children to be involved in so many activities; about filling their after school hours with practices and their Saturday mornings with games and other competitions. I think it’s good for our kids to learn new things and to be part of a team. But I think sometimes in our desire for our kids not miss out on any experience, we rob them of the experience of simply being kids, of having nothing in particular to do. When I was a kid, some of my best adventures began with nothing in particular to do.

Kids need structure, there’s no doubt. But they also need unstructure. They need time to discover themselves uninterrupted and unhurried. That goes for us big kids, too.

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21 Responses to “Observations from the Carpool Lane”

  1. Corinne April 8, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    >I could not agree more. I've had this discussion quite a bit recently. My kids might be under scheduled, but they're very happy :)

  2. Glynn April 8, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    >How many times, how many adventures, did we create in the woods near my house! The battles we fought, and the mysteries we discovered and solved!

    Good post, Kathy.

  3. Jewda April 8, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    >I'm still a rookie, so I haven't had the chance to mess things like this up yet. But I've been watching a lot of other parents, and I don't like what I see. Sarah and I talked about what we want Jakob to do, and we've decided that the only activities we want him to do are the ones he asks to do. We're not pushing him into anything, not even hockey.

    And those slow turtles crack me up.

  4. Sarah Salter April 8, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    >When I was a Senior in college, I was the nanny for a family with 3 children (ages 10, 8, and an infant). I spent 5 afternoons/evenings a week driving the kids to practices of every kind. I would get them home from their practices just in time for them to sit down and do anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours of homework. By the time they were done with those responsibilities, it was supper, bath, bed. There was never any play time. AT. ALL. I felt so sad for them because these sweet kids never got to be kids. Not once in the months I kept these kids did we have time to sit down and just watch TV or play a game. But there were days that the 8 year old boy would sit over his homework and cry because he was just too tired to think anymore. I don't remember feeling that way 'til after I hit puberty! SAD.

  5. Kathleen April 8, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    >Oh the enticing discoveries and adventures hatched in the incubator of 'nothing in particular to do'. Fortunate children who have parents who get it. GO Katdish.
    (TV does NOT count as same)

  6. Monica Sharman April 8, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    >"unstructured" is a beautiful word. I think that's where creativity and learning can really take off. And chaos does not sound too appealing.
    I wonder, would it be rude to send this post to people who have criticized us for doing to *little* in the way of scheduled activities?

  7. Maureen April 8, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    >Those of us of a certain age grew up with the world outside our door as our playground. We had no computers, no video, possibly no television, and we had a ball.

    I sometimes wonder what the memories are of children whose every hour requires them to be doing something.

    Unstructure teaches creativity, patience, learning.

    Good post.

  8. katdish April 8, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    >No, I don't think it would be rude. What may work for some families won't work for others. We set limits on the number of activities our children are involved in. They are allowed to choose what they want to do, but they also have plenty of down time. I think that my kids are both creative types is a result, in large part, of unstructured time.

  9. Melissa_Rae April 8, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    >You just chipped away at some of my mom-guilt with this post. :)

  10. Melissa_Rae April 8, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    >You just chipped away at some of my mom-guilt with this post. :)

  11. Cassandra Frear April 8, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    >My sons are men now. But when they were younger, I was a big fan of this. Children need time to daydream, to experiment, to dawdle.

  12. jasonS April 8, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    >Our kids choose a sport each year to be involved in. We don't do every one (we can't- we're so busy as it is!).

    It's interesting too that the ones who play every sport, do every activity, on and on have no time or money left to help with any church ministry. I realize that may sound biased coming from a pastor, but what is the top priority? Serving and loving God or giving your kids your perceived vision of the perfect childhood? Something to think about…

  13. ♥ Kathy April 8, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    >I agree. I never pushed my kids to do anything. If they wanted to do it, good. If not, no biggie. That's why my 6'3" tall daughter never played basketball but my 5'2" tall daughter did!

  14. Billy Coffey April 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    >I could use some unstructuring now. A lot of it. And I think that's exactly what I'm going to do. Great post, Kathy.

  15. L.T. Elliot April 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    >Hear, hear! Some of the best times I had as a kid were just playing around in the barn.

  16. Kelly Langner Sauer April 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    >sigh. that last line. true, true, true. still working on that here. for all of us.

  17. Brock S. Henning April 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    >Amen. We have three kids, one activity allowed per child per season, and that's hard enough to manage without pulling our hair out (that is, if I had hair left to pull). ;)

  18. M.L. Gallagher April 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    >Great post Kathy. About the kids and the need for unstructured time — absolutely. About the having a notebook with you because you never know when something will draw you in, pull you out, or into some reverie that needs to be captured.

    Good for you for observing and having the courage to write it out!

    thanks!

    louise

  19. Helen April 8, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

    >I told my mom that I was bored once. She handed me a dust rag and said thank you. I hated helping with the dusting. I learned then to appreciate my shell collection, read my children's Bible or my cousin's old Catechism, clean out a bureau drawer and admire forgotten treasures… It was a gift, really. I don't think I know how to be bored any more.

    I still hate dusting.

  20. Wendy April 9, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    >Wow, that's a lot of activities. I'm clearly a slacker mom since my daughter is only in Girl Scouts 2 days a month.

    I've had mom's look at me funny when I tell them that I don't have my daughter in more activities. There goes my Mom of the Year award. Again.

  21. Annie K April 9, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    >I absolutely see this and I think some of it has to do with parents wanting to give their kids 'everything'. I personally don't want my kid to have everything because I'm the one that has to run them to everything. And I'm just too selfish with my 'me' time to do that. One sport per season is fine (as long as it doesn't interfere with my coaching gig…snort!).

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