Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Learning A Lesson From...Lessons!


Like most parents, I want my kids to be well-rounded individuals, and in my mind, that includes signing them up for lessons. I have no idea why I think that if a 4-year-old doesn't have interests or hobbies, she will grow up to be a talentless, disinterested member of society, but I do. Where did that idea come from? Maybe I've read too many parenting magazines, maybe I've spent too much time in Asia (where parents have a tendency to over-schedule their kids to exhausting degrees), maybe I've sat through too many Variety Shows that involve children expertly playing instruments or performing impressive dance numbers...who knows?

Whatever the reason, on the sign-up day for the after school activities, I was there with Kaia, hungry to put her name on as many lists as I could! Disappointingly (or so I thought), there were very few options for the pre-K set, but there was a swimming option. I asked Kaia if she wanted to take swimming lessons, and she said yes. I ignored the fact that she was saying yes to anything I asked her, as she was as caught up in the excitement of it all as I was. Swimming it was! She was passionate about swimming! She'd be a great swimmer and compete in meets and be one of those "cool" athletes! I admit, the fact that I am not exactly "athletic" (at least not in the traditional sense) fed into my desire to cultivate a child who is not awkward and clumsy when it comes to all things sporty.  Regardless, my kid was going to be a swimmer. We signed her up, even though it was one of the few programs that required a substantial payment.

Of course, as luck has it, Kaia's class started swimming in P.E. the week after her Monday lessons began. They swim on Mondays, which means that Kaia is now swimming twice in the same day.  I have to pack TWO sets of swim gear and TWO towels into her swim bag. Her swim class lasts from 3:00-4:00, which means that I have to run over and pick her up at 2:45 when school ends, race her over to the changing rooms and get her into all of her swim gear in order to get her to the pool in time, on the same day that the MS has its after-school staff meetings. The swimming class is now becoming the bane of my existence, and it will go on for the next month.

Yesterday was Monday, and I saw some gray clouds in the sky towards the end of the day. Immediately, I perked up with the hope that Kaia's swim class would be canceled. I wouldn't have to rush, wouldn't have to be late for the staff meeting, and wouldn't have to deal with two sets of wet suits and towels when we got home. Then, I immediately felt guilty. Was I really putting my own comfort and convenience before the good of my child? I felt like Bad Mommy.

So there I was, standing in the Commons Area of the 6th grade floor, vacillating between wanting the swim class to be canceled and just dealing with it, when my friend walked over and asked me what I was doing. Feeling like an idiot, I told her my dilemma. I was afraid that she would judge me for slacking on the mommy job, but she just looked at me with an amused expression on her face. She is a veteran mom with grown kids, and she said, "You're new to this motherhood thing. You still think that 4-year-olds have to have scheduled activities in order to grow into interesting people. Trust me, you will soon figure out that that is a myth. Your kids will have enough activities when they are older. What do YOU want to do right now?".

Wait- what do I want to do? I didn't realize that was an option! What did I want at that time? I wanted to not have to rush late into my important meeting about assessment, or have to sit through the meeting worrying that the rain would start and swim class would end early and I'd have to try and leave the meeting to go and get Kaia from the pool. Or worse, having to worry about the class ending early and Kaia freaking out all alone because I wasn't there to help her right away like I usually am at the end of class.

So what did I do? I explained the situation to Kaia, and instead of going to swim class, she stayed in my class room and colored while our meeting went on. Was she upset to miss the class? Not in the least. Is she scarred for life? Not any more than she was before the missed class. Is she no longer going to grow up to be an athlete? Who knows. All I know is that we had a chill, (somewhat) relaxing afternoon that didn't consist of anyone yelling to hurry up, complaining about being late, or crying because they were alone in the changing room, wet and cold. And next week if our meeting is less critical and it is a sunny afternoon, she will go back to class and we'll be back on track to forming an Olympic athlete...or maybe not!

What are your thoughts on scheduled activities for 4-year-olds? Necessary or not so much?


  1. Hey Mairin,

    I found this an interesting read, and had to laugh as you said, "I have no idea why I think that if a 4-year-old doesn't have interests or hobbies, she will grow up to be a talentless, disinterested member of society, but I do."

    I feel the same way, certainly, but I have my reasons!

    I see it as giving them opportunities. Opportunities to develop skills and opportunities for following passions.

    Scarlett and Griffin have been in swimming lessons since they were about 9 months old. Primarily this is because Miles and I are not great swimmers, and we wanted to make sure that they felt confident in the water and were able to save themselves if they fell in (something that had a near-tragic outcome for the son of a couple who teach at our other campus last year).

    That, I feel is a good reason - particularly as we live in Singapore where there are lots of swimming pools (without fences).

    Now the fact that Scarlett has been in Ballet lessons since she was 2 and a half is a different kettle of fish entirely! Partly, I have to admit to a fondness for ballet shoes and tutus, and partly I thought she would really enjoy it. She's quite a prancy little thing, and it was something physically active she could do for fun. She is still doing it now, and thoroughly enjoys it.

    Same goes for the Drama lessons she started last year (Gosh, this IS sounding bad - are you rethinking our friendship yet??). Scarlett loves acting and being in a play was just the bees knees for her. She loves that sort of stuff. My son, on the other hand, is not a get-up-in-front-of-people sort of kid, so I doubt he'll be going to Drama!

    I am now contemplating piano for Scarlett and a music class for Griff. Again, this comes back to the fact that music is important to our family, and age 5 is about right for starting piano (so says my Dad - a former Music teacher), and we have one sitting there that needs using!

    Griff loves to sing, and I am sure he'd love banging around with some instruments and singing songs in a low-key way. It's also something nice we can do together.

    Now that I have said allllllll that, if either of my kids didn't want to do them, I wouldn't force it. I want it to be enjoyable! Also, I don't want to tire them out!

    To summarize, my position is that extra lessons/hobbies are not necessary, but if you have the means to offer your kids different experiences, why wouldn't you?!


  2. Thanks, KL! This makes me feel much better,especially given the fact that Kaia is asking to take ballet lessons AND Kung Fu classes! Of course, whenever she expresss interest in ANYTHING, my first reaction is, "Great! Let's sign her up!".

    I guess the difference between these classes and the swim class is that Kaia has actually asked specifically to take them, whereas the swim class was born out of my desperation to have Kaia involved in after-school activities, and swimming was the only class available for her age group. She likes the class, but has never expressed a love for it. If she did, I would probably be more inclined to go through the hassle of making sure she gets there when I am rushed for time!

    Looking at it from your point of view makes me feel better- I am giving my child opportunities, not being the pushy mother that I sometimes feel I am. And, if there are times when these activities tire us both out, it is OK to take a little break!