Sunday, October 7, 2007

Circus Camp (or The Overly Entertained Child)

Before I became a parent, I never understood the pressure that parents face as far as filling their kids activities schedule. When our shoe princess daughter was only 3 years old, we discovered that she was outstanding with a soccer ball.

"You need to get her on a peewee team!" Many people told us.

"She's three!" I thought, isn't she just supposed to be playing? Is her ability to control a soccer ball just going to disappear if she doesn't join a team? Can we, with 5 kids to feed, clothe, educate and support, justify the cost of a league, shin guards, ball and cleats for a kid who's just as happy kicking the ball around the backyard? I believe that would be acceptable in many parts of the world, but not, apparently, suburban America!

For activity options for my kids this past summer, there was: drama camp, piano camp, music camp, clay camp, nature camp, farm camp, creek camp, VBS at 7 different churches, basketball camp, football camp, soccer camp.... even circus camp! For a grand total of $840 for 4 kids (incidentally, for that amount of money I could purchase a used instrument for a child and pay for at least 6 months of private lessons, teach 8 or 9 children how to swim, buy at least a 3 year supply of good art supplies for the kids, pay for all 4 of my older kids to join soccer for the next 3 to 4 years, or take our entire family on a short vacation), they could have had "the week of a lifetime". According to some parents, in fact:

* There are few experiences that are better!
* Nothing can help your child's co-ordination like this!
* Completely worth the money!
* No kid should have to miss this!

To think, there was a time when diligent parents were keeping their kids away from the circus! But, being a good suburban parent, I did my part by worrying that missing circus camp might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back in their negotiations with the Harvard admissions team.

I have often felt like I am the only voice yelling in the crowd, "They're kids! They should play outside during the summer!"

But it's not just the activities! Recently we began shopping for a new van to accommodate our daughter's power wheel chair (that blog entry is coming soon!), imagine my disgust when I walked away from our first interaction with a van salesman, unable to make him understand that I don't want a television in my van!

"If you're going to have this van for 15 years, you'll need the television or your kids will get bored."

Oh no!! My kids... bored?? Maybe they would actually have to think!

Children in our culture have come to just expect to be entertained, whether at home, school or even in the car. We have library systems buying video games to "lure" kids in the door, schools taking field trips to the demolition derby (that one I saw on the local news!), and teachers breaking their backs trying to create "hands on" lessons for just about every topic. It would be so great if we could just expect our children to love learning for learning's sake, and not for the entertainment that we attach to it!

A look at children's toys points to the same thing. Most of us would be embarrassed if we totaled up the dollar amount spent on toys -- especially considering how little they play with them. I know that my experience has been that boxes, rocks, dirt, grass, leaves, insects, acorns, walnuts, water and sticks engage the imagination of my children much more so that any Bratz doll could hope to. And yet I've sat through many an organization lecture at various moms groups, and heard all the suggestions. "Rotate your kids toys." "Keep your kids toys sorted by room so it only takes 15 minutes to pick up." "Do a toy swap with your kids friends."

What kind of sickness is this that we don't just realize that our kids have too many toys for their own good!

Not long ago, the kids and I were at a local warehouse store. In the middle of the store was a large, plastic child's playhouse. It was larger than my kitchen, and came with plastic furniture, utensils, dishes, etc. It cost over $3000. The kids were amazed.

"Wow!" One of them said, "Mom, who would be lucky enough to get a toy like this?"

"Someone whose parents have a pretty out-of-whack perspective on life."

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