Lessons From a Pine Cone (and, okay, a blog)

My kids have never gone to overnight/sleepaway camp, but I really like this blog  from a camp out west. The camp director (or someone!) sent it to me thinking the “Top 10 Things I’ve Learned as a Summer Camp Professional that Make Me a Better Parent” entry would be right up my alley. It is. I particularly like part of lesson 8, about how to resolve conflicts:

A great technique for getting a kid to talk is to MOVE. Children, especially boys, can have a hard time expressing their feelings if they feel like an adult is standing there, waiting for an answer, and “pressuring” them to say something. If you can remove the child from the situation and go for a walk (ideally outdoors), the questions you ask may elicit more than the standard, “I dunno” answers.

Great advice. But anyway, then I scrolled down to the post beneath that one, which turned out to be all about how a bunch of 5th graders came up with – sit down! – their own game. The game has something to do with hitting pine cones into a hole and each pine cone is worth so many points and you get so many tries to hit them, and on and on. But the blogger’s point (and now mine) is that it is so lovely when kids invent their own games. And so rare that it needs to be celebrated.

Kids need free time or they can’t invent their own games, rules, worlds. That kind of inventing is as valuable a childhood activity as any I can think of.

My boys certainly have some after school activities, of course. I’m an American! But once I started researching “free play” for my book, I let them drop out of some, too. Goodbye piano! Goodbye electric guitar!

I still feel a little guilty (sometimes more than a little) about that. But aside from the personal joy of no longer having to nag them about practicing, it just became obvious that there is something just as enriching as extra class time and that is… extra free time. Learning to be resourceful without a teacher, parent or coach telling you what to do next.

So here’s to the weekend ahead of us all. May it be filled with nice things – in part by being not filled with too, too much.   — Lenore

24 Responses

  1. I LOVE it when my kids decide they no longer want to do guitar, or soccer.

    One less thing for me to drag myself to. One less hour spent avoiding useless, inane conversations with other moms.

    Bad mother.

    But my kids are well adjusted and happy. And perfectly capable of inventing their own games.

  2. Oh my gosh. If not having after school activities makes you a bad mom….then put me at the top of the list!!!!

    My kids love to come home from school, have a snack and run outside to play!!!!

    But sadly, there are few children out there to play with…they are all at some sport or another that requires multiple practices and a game every week. Or anyone of the myriad of activities that keep them occupied from sunup to sundown.

    My kids play with each other…they ride bikes…they play with their toys and just generally have a good time…almost every afternoon.

    And I wouldn’t give that up for the rushed and hectic lives I see the families around us living.

    They play piano…they go to one other activity a week, and other than that, they get to be kids.

    Childhood doesn’t last very long…why make it any shorter than it already is?

  3. Here’s a link to check out. http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200901/minimally-invasive-education-lessons-india

    We have dropped everything, including school. Trust your kids, they may need you (to interfer) even less than you think. And “bad mom” is really not a great way to describe yourself or other moms who trust their kids. I would say you are highly sensitive to the needs of your child, willing to go against an insane obsession to compete in a race that is going nowhere, and I can’t wait until you start applying some of the silliness you see around you to the school system you are involved with.

    Oh, I have opened a can of worms, I hope I don’t end up on the front of some newspapar!!

  4. Well I do have some after school activities but not much. They know perfectly well how to play by themselves and with friends and they certainly don’t need me! My job is simply to provide food and drink and limit the computer/tv access. Homework/practice is done after tea. They come up with some weird games and even weirder ways of playing “normal” games.

    viv in nz

  5. My niece has seemed happier and less stressed since she was allowed to drop the sport she didn’t like (she’s an all-state athlete in a different sport, so it’s not like she’s dropping all activity) and an instrument she wasn’t very interested in.

    OTOH, I remember really wanting to take karate in junior high–I was a bully magnet and also had some physical issues, which is why my doctor recommended karate in the first place–and my mother not letting me just because she didn’t want to drive me, even though I found a free class at a church (she also had some odd ideas about what was “feminine” and what I was good at, and those might have also been part of the equation). That one still bugs me, long past the time I should have gotten over it, because it was such a simple thing and would have helped me so much at that time.

    I think the most important thing isn’t the number or type of activities that kids are involved in; it’s whether we’re listening to them when they tell us how they feel about those activities, and what we do about it.

  6. When I was a kid I didnt’ do any extracurricular activities; we didn’t have the money and my parents wouldn’t drive me even if we did. Instead I played with the kids in my neighbourhood and we invented entire imaginary worlds to spend our afternoons, evenings and weekends in while our parents were at work or doing their own thing. I never looked at my parents to entertain me, just the kids my age, books or my own imagination. The best parts of my childhood I can remember are the times when I was off exploring by myself, or with a friend, in the woods behind my home or at camp. It was exhilarating; we felt like brave explorers in a new world.

    I have problems now with how independant I am; It’s extremely difficult to ask for help and I’m too ‘me’ oriented for a lot of people’s liking. However, I’m so thankful my parents let me be ‘free range’ that I try not to begrudge them my personality flaws.

  7. Does anyone else get the feeling that part of the rationale behind overscheduling/overprogramming kids is the notion that if it doesn’t cost money, it’s valueless? Sometimes I think there’s an undercurrent of parents competing with each other over how much money they can spend on their kids.

  8. My kids too suffer from the ‘everyone is overscheduled but us’ syndrome. It is pretty sad when getting together with friends requires scheduling 6 weeks in advance because of sports, lessons, and 12 other activities per kid per week. Doesn’t mean I am going to overschedule my kids in response. But it can be very frustrating when your kids are the only ones around just out playing in the yard, riding bikes, digging holes, and just doing random unstructured stuff.

  9. When we were kids we had dance lessons once a week. FOUR lessons, which ate up our entire Saturday mornings. We’d go for class in the morning, eat lunch there and everything. But that was it, nothing else.

    My sister, who was serious about dance (and ultimately ended up attending and then transfering out of LaGuardia – there’s a funny story there which serves largely to aggrandize my family but I’ll tell it anyway in a minute), eventually had lessons two or three times a week – and this was in ballet, when she expected to make a career out of it! Even then, she wasn’t booked up every single afternoon.

    Mostly we hung out by ourselves. (Not because we couldn’t find friends, but because my family always was a little insular. Though I, in fact, never did have friends growing up, but that’s beside the point.) My sister came up with this game as children that we played incessantly when waiting for the bus or whatever. I’m teaching it to her kids right now, in fact🙂 It’s genius in its simplicity – you get points by stepping (lightly!) on the other person’s foot, and you have to keep track of your own score. And it’s a heck of a lot harder than it sounds! (This is why my sister was so good at dance. She still takes lessons a few times a week – if she doesn’t, she’s simply unsufferably miserable.)

    About my sister getting into LaGuardia, the thing is, my family is full of people who are very good at doing whatever they/we want. There was never any question of my sister *not* getting into LaGuardia, or any high school she pleased. Except that you have to choreograph a routine to get in to the dance section, right? Well, of course, everybody knows all summer about the auditions so they prepare all summer. My sister… didn’t. My parents nagged a little, but what were they going to do? She ultimately came up with her routine on the 20 minute boat ride from Staten Island to Manhattan on the day of her audition, at, like, 6 in the morning. And she got in. Of course she did – my family practically defines “you can do whatever you want if only you put your mind to it”. Alas (and quite off-topic) we’re not always so good at putting our minds to it, especially at things we don’t *actually* want to do… like slogging through hard work every day.

  10. I’ve always been against over-scheduling my kids. The last place we lived I went on a parent field-trip one day. It was for the moms only while the kids were in school. I was talking with some of the other moms and they were complaining about all the sports and activities their kids went to every night. Some of them didn’t get home until 8:00 p.m (this was a K-2 school, so they were all still pretty young). When one of them turned to me, I had no answer or empathy for any of them. I let my kids choose one sport/activity per season. I think that is plenty at age 6 and 8. Then they have enough free play time and get to bed at a decent hour. And we’re not running from one activity to the next frazzled and stressed-out. Some of the other moms looked at me like I was nuts. I always wondered how their kids did in school. They must have been exhausted every day!

  11. Yay for un-overscheduling parents! I have to say, however, that now that it’s warm outside and my children have “nothing to do”… I hardly ever see them! They’re outside every single minute. Even my preschooler can’t be contained. She’s out under the pine trees playing from the time she comes home from school ’til it’s time to come in for dinner.

  12. […] Lessons From a Pine Cone (and, okay, a blog) My kids have never gone to overnight/sleepaway camp, but I really like this blog  from a camp out west. The camp […] […]

  13. Finally a voice of reason, thank you. As a father if three and a grandfather of three I am a strong exponent of free outdoor time. I grew up playing outside until the street lights came on and I believe it is a good rule to follow. I learned to entertain myself a skill I use to this day. Set our children free that they can learn to love life.

    Lets learn to look at the facts and not panic over the headlines. Lenore thank you again.

  14. It’s a tough balance between programming what your kids really have a passion for and giving them free time to develop their imagination and social skills.

    Nice blog article.

  15. I have this lovely memory of my son’s blond head, about 6 years old, bent over nothing in particular while sitting happily in the bottom of the garden. He was picking up little stones or drawing in the dirt or some such, and humming a tune. What I remember most is the vibe…. Relaxed! Just hangin’! Contentment! We all need that kind of time in our lives.

  16. What’s with the driving kids to activities? I had stuff on most afternoons (all stuff I chose and asked to do) and I got myself to them most of the time. I cycled to Piano lessons, gymnastics and childrens theatre. For Dance lessons and girl guides I got a ride with another kid there, and we dropped that kid home. 5 activities, and Mum or Dad made a trip twice, at about 15 minutes max each time

  17. […] 21, 2009 by joshthomas23 This is a good post from a blogger I hadn’t read before. I’m adding her to my blogroll now. Perhaps you […]

  18. I also believe that a kid takes in so much information as they go about their days that they need time to decompress and just absorb all that they’ve learned. How can we process information from lessons if we are immediately ushered from one lesson to the next. We need to honor “just being” as opposed to always feeling the pressure to do, do and do some more.
    This is one of the basic tenets of Slow Family Living – not just for kids but for parents as well – for each member of the family as individuals and for the family as an entity too.

    Bernadette Noll
    Austin, TX
    http://www.slowfamilyliving.com

  19. If a child continues to “plug in” to computers, gaming systems, or even texting on their cell phone, do you really think that they’re going to have a thorough exposure to different facets of society and culture? Of course not! I think that by either enrolling one into some sort of global travel camp, a general sleep-away camp, or even a focused, specialized camp will inevitably entice your child to do more than stay at home all summer and play video games. There are friends to make, experiences to share, and the splendor of nature to take in.

  20. That’s a great idea for a game and you’re right about the rareness of something like this. We have to understand that its next to impossible for our children to experience everything at once but a great window to the world is getting them involved in some sort of day camp or overnight camp where there are endless activities promoting free thought from them. My kids have been attending the same camp regularly in Long Island and I love the things they come home with.

  21. We went camping this weekend at a state park in Idaho (Priest Lake) and I kept thinking that if only life could imitate the park! Even though it was fairly large (probably nearly 100 camping sites, I think), there was a wonderful, glorious attitude of freedom. Kids everywhere were riding their bikes and scooters–and not locking them up. An entire extended family left ALL their sand chairs, sand toys, blow up rafts, etc at the beach over night (all piled up under their canopy, but not at all locked in any way.)

    The best, though, was one evening when my kids were batting a ball around the campsite and I told them to go play in the street instead. So they did. (Mind you, this was a “street” in the campsite with very little traffic, especially in the evening). I checked on them a little later and there were my three kids (ages 4, 4 and 6), my nephew (aged 14) and 3 or 4 other kids from adjacent sites (probably ages 7-12 or so) all playing what they called “light sabers.” They each had a swimming “noodle” (those flexible styrofoam toys that are so popular now) and played a type of freeze tag with them, but the rules were quite complex it seemed. There were teams. They were “healers” (who couldn’t die), there were phrases to be yelled out to the healers to get them to unfreeze the players, etc. And the kids were having the time of their lives! They had just spontaneously started and organized this wonderful game, all ages competing and participating. THAT’s what happens when you put a bunch of kids together without adult supervision or organization. Amazing things result.🙂

  22. I am from Australia and we are slowly being cursed with the cocooning of our kids. The play of my days and my children’s (now grown-ups) days are well and truly going down the drain. Don’t get me wrong, as a parent I was certainly afraid and concerned when my kids were not in sight, but I lived with it. I didn’t lock my kids up just so I didn’t have to worry about them. I actually think that is selfish of parents who seem more concerned with their own comfort than their children’s long-term well-being.

    However there is a spark of hope that not all parents are hostage to their fear and concern.

    This is the story of the 16 year old Australian girl attempting to become the youngest sailor to sail solo around the world. The parents’ decision to let Jessica Watson do it caused no end of debate but she is out there now: huge lonely seas, bad weather, waves and all alone.

    Jessica, from the Sunshine Coast in Australia, is about to round Cape Horn, one of the most dangerous sea passages on Earth.

    It makes a mockery of refusing to let your kid catch a bus alone.
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/01/13/2791195.htm?section=justin
    http://www.jessicawatson.com.au/

  23. Jessica Watson battles 30 knot winds, near freezing conditions and jammed equipment but she is still confident and able to handle the difficulties with good spirits.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/01/05/2785652.htm

  24. “http://iweed.info/blogs/viewstory/206 Thanks for that awesome posting. It saved MUCH time🙂

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