Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It's O.K. to Say No to Organized Activities

My children usually don't know the difference between baseball, football, basketball, and soccer.  The outdoor toy box houses all four balls, but for the most part, they're only used when I personally bring them out to encourage the development of these skills.

My father did the same with me.  Every summer, he played softball with my brother and me in the vacant field adjacent to our house.  After a long Saturday's work, he would stand with sweat pouring down his face as he taught me to keep my eye on the ball, hold the bat properly, and drop to the ground if someone hit a line drive straight at me.  After my grandparents poured a concrete driveway and put up a basketball goal, he taught me to play HORSE and Around the World, sometimes with roller skates on my feet. Then, there was badminton, bocce ball, croquet, and horseshoes in the back yard under the big oak tree along with my least favorite--volley ball.

Sports were always fun.  Sports were something I chose to do versus something I was compelled to do. Although my brother and I were always competitive (to the tune of a lot of sibling "stomping off the court"), it was less about winning or losing than having a good time.

Our days were not filled with ball practice, weekend-long games in the blistering sun, and calendar fruit-basket-turnover each time it rained.  Yet, they weren't spent sitting in front of computer games either.  Although we were occasionally allowed a weekend foray into daddy's Atari or an evening in front of a boring-by-today's-standards Crystal Caves computer game, my brother and I filled our days with reading, flower & vegetable gardening, board & card games, painting, sewing, cooking, playing noncompetitive outdoor sports, and living in the great outdoors with all the science lessons we could learn firsthand there.

In today's society, my parents would have encountered the social pressure to sign me up as early as preschool for some organized activity, whether it be some sport or dance.

That works quite well for many families.  Their children adore playing ball or performing at dance recitals.  But most of what I hear from parents is a tune that doesn't even pretend to mimic happiness.  Instead, it seems they are lining their child up for multiple activities because society implants the fear they will irrevocably warp their child if they don't enroll them in something social.

Unsolicited, I am the ear that hears the complaints, the grumbling, the anxiety over being a mere chauffeur who hustles this child from one calendar event to the next.  "You just don't know how it is...but you will!  Just you wait!" said one friend as she sighed.

I can't help but sigh with her and think, "This can't be what God intended."  This is a rat race I simply don't want to enter.

When I allow my children to choose the direction their play goes, it's never too long before the ball is commandeered for some other project--a monster trap, a decoration for their special place by the fallen tree in the Little Hundred Acre Woods--or abandoned altogether before the three of them run off for something more interesting, something that involves more words and intellectual imagination than physical skill and coordination.

They beg to be pushed on the swing set and for me to sing along with every song and nursery rhyme in their repertoire. They beg for another and another board game each day--Junior Monopoly, Zippity Zoo, Dinosaur Train Trouble--and share the same difficulties I did with learning how to be a gracious winner and loser.

They spend hours building and rebuilding mazes of wooden train track above my head, flipping through and "reading" mounds of picture books, running through the strawberry and blueberry patches, finding insects, helping plant seeds and watching them bear fruit.

Most recently, with Wyatt's new-found ability to read, they've begun stringing together individual magnet words across the dry erase board.  When I heard a stream of uncontrollable giggles, I had to peek my head in, interrupt two little boys' free play.
They pointed excitedly to the board.  I walked closer to read aloud one line: "Frisky Curious hair."  My audience's feet left the floor as both erupted again in giggles.

"Read this one!" Emerson said, joining together more nonsensical words and phrases.  More giggling.


No, I'm not raising the next Nolan Ryan, Shaq, or Peyton Manning.  I'll leave that to someone else whose children feel the call in their bones.

What matters to me is that as my darlings grow, I teach them to pursue godliness and righteousness as they pursue their own interests, find their own loves, even if it's not what society considers the norm.


  1. Agree. All my son "does" is boyscouts and he likes that because he and his dad get to go camping together. My daughter takes ballet once a week because she asked to. I surely feel like the weirdo chatting with other parents because I don't know many who aren't booked up.

  2. This is so very true! We work hard to resist the pressure to sign our boys up for team sports, for this very reason. In the end, when they are grown and working, no one will know whether they played sports every night and on the weekends. The book, "It's your kid, not a gerbil" speaks to this topic well. Thanks for sharing!

  3. You ladies are right that there is constant pressure to do, do, do. I'm not anti-sports or anti-dance. I'm just anti-over-scheduled and anti-thinking I must do something a certain way just because everyone else is doing it.

    I'll have to read that book, Christina. Sounds good.

  4. I love the poetic spirit of "frisky curious hair!" In my own home, I get excited over things like that, as much as I do a soccer goal or a score on the basketball court. :) ... I have nothing against sports, and my girls do participate, but I love when they use their minds to come up with zany fun poems and drawings and paintings and living-room dramas.

  5. Yes, Jennifer. It's not about bashing sports. It's about needing to create balance in our lives and not feel pressured to do more just for the sake of doing it. It's about making room for the unorganized play, for God, and for family...things that I see left out too much in many of the children I see.