MotherTalk Book Tour — A Running Start

Tue, March 20, 2007


In the world of competitive parenting, I’ve come to the conclusion that we can’t help ourselves.

So much of it is out there, even parents who try not to be
CompetiMoms and CompetiDads can’t stop the activity treadmill for fear of having others think their children are slackers destined for mediocrity.

I’ve noticed that there is always at least one conversation at each kid’s birthday party I attend where the talk turns to how really bright one child or another is — kindergartners purportedly reading at third-grade levels or preschoolers who the parents claim are articulate enough to be giving eulogies at family funerals (no, I am NOT making that up.)

Maybe they aren’t doing it intentionally, but even the most secure parent can’t help occasionally thinking, “Am I shortchanging my child? Am I doing enough to give them a ‘leg up?’ “

What I don’t hear a lot about when talking with other parents is how healthy their children are, how they get plenty of exercise and outdoor time or that they are well-rounded in the not-over-scheduled sense. Sure, maybe they are “advanced” in some respects, but what good does that do them if they’re not getting any fresh air or sunshine?

We are a nation obsessed and author Rae Pica is here just in time to save us from ourselves.

A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child has a pretty simple message, yet it’s one I think most children will benefit from — run, chase, climb, tumble, explore, discover. These things are just as important to paving a road to success for our children as are the math flashcards, tutoring, and team sports.

Pica believes that one of the keys to helping our children find a successful path in life, whatever that is for each individual, is having loads of time without so many scheduled enrichment classes. Even though many parents today believe numerous structured activities are the key to getting their children into one of the Ivies, Pica assures us that chlidren don’t really learn until they are ready to learn — all the music, art, literature and other classes we sign our kids up for when they are three and four years old won’t change that natural fact.

Pica asks a pointed question that’s right there in our faces as we drive our sons and daughters in our minivans to their next lesson:

“[W]hat are kids really winning when they’re losing out on childhood?”

I’m sure there are plenty of parents who will scoff at the idea that for children to have a start toward success it’s important for plenty of unscripted play time and loads of outdoor physical activity. But Pica, a movement education specialist for the last three decades, is not suggesting that children should never enroll in after-school activities, but she reminds us that good old-fashioned, unstructured playtime is just as important as academics to learning and development.

In one sub-chapter entitled Time to Do Nothing and Relax, Pica discusses the importance of (gasp) downtime for children. I’m willing to bet there aren’t a lot of parenting books on the shelves that make that kind of suggestion. But let’s face it — after a long day at work, we moms and dads love nothing more than to sit down and unwind with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, or a little quiet time with the newspaper. So why should we think our children don’t also need that time to chill out at the end of the day to give their tired little brains a chance to recharge?

Neither Pica nor I are suggesting that we pour the kids a little Chardonnay after they’re done with their homework, but some calm time at home with a book, a stroll through the neighborhood or just hanging out in the backyard can help kids from feeling overwhelmed with their world and also present more natural learning opportunities and chances for their curiousity to shine.

This is a book I wish I’d had before PunditGirl joined the family. While I think I’ve done a pretty good job of not succumbing to the CompetiMommy track, I think I would have felt less guilty and less like the mom-out-of-touch with current trends in child-rearing, if I’d had Pica’s voice of reason and common sense as we made our way through toddlerhood.

There are many other bloggers reviewing A Running Start this week, as well. Be sure to check out their thoughts over at MotherTalk!

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13 Responses to “MotherTalk Book Tour — A Running Start”

  1. impromptublogger Says:

    I’m old school myself and think free play is way more important than all the extracurricular activities. Kids definitely need to unwind.

    I am very happy that this year my dd has finally made some good neighborhood friends her age and now she tends to go over to their house, or they come to ours for a couple of hours to unwind. She’s done sports, dance, etc. but in the long run what she does crave is play time to run around. And since she is almost 11, she only has a couple more years she’ll want to do that. Even so, she often wants me to entertain her which mostly I refuse to do. lol

    Having free time also gives her time to develop her own interests and not what we parents think she should be doing. She is a procrastinator on homework but since she gets 9 A’s and 2 B’s, it is hard to get very upset!

  2. Sandy D. Says:

    Have you seen “Last Child in the Woods”, by Richard Louv? He makes a lot of the same points, along with a look at our current disconnect with nature.

  3. Lawyer Mama Says:

    I had some activities as a child, but I remember all the time I had to wander around the creek and the woods behind our house, build forts out of leaves, play touch football with the neighborhood kids, and just have fun. It’s a good reminder not to get our kids caught up in the over-scheduled lifestyle. Big H is 2 1/2 and I’m seeing it already!

  4. karrie Says:

    Sandy beat me to it–”Last Child” is a great read.

    I worry about how to manage the activity issue as my son gets older. There is such little emphasis in most schools, and he really needs a great deal of exercise.

  5. Gunfighter Says:

    I recently led an adult education class at our church called “Death By Suburb” one of the things we touched on, frequently, is that today’s suburbs aren’t really what some of us suburban types had back in the old days (meaning the 70′s).

    One of the things frequently mentioned is that in today’s newer suburbs, complete with subdivisions, there are few woods, and NO sandlots.

    What a drag.

    oh, by the way, my kid was speaking three kinds of Chinese and Latin before she was off the bottle. She is SOOOO much smarter than everyone else’s kid.


  6. Figlet Says:

    See I’m a proponent of what I call “My kid doesn’t need to go to Harvard” parenting. At least so far. She’s only two and a half. Not that I plan to willfully discourage her from succeeding academically if that’s her bent, but yikes. We moved to a town that’s a little mellower than many of the NY suburbs. The community pool was actually a big selling point. I want my kid(s) to have the kind of lazy summers that inevitably end with a mad scramble to finish the summer reading list. Maybe by first grade I’ll be singing a new tune but I kind of hope not.

  7. Meagan Francis Says:

    I just remembered when my oldest son was two or three, and I used to buy tons of activity books and then feel really guilty when I could only bring myself to do one or two of them. It’s not that I didn’t hang out with him; it’s just that we were a lot more likely to hang out in the yard, or doodle aimlessly together, than we were to do really structured crafts involving paste and pipe cleaners. It took me a long time to get over my guilt and just accept that I’m not a crafty mama. Hopefully, my kids will recover!

  8. Meagan Francis Says:

    one or two of the activities, that is, not the whole book…now that would have been a craft-tastic accomplishment!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Why does everyone seem to need a book to tell them what common sense so easily can communicate? Let kids be kids; give them pets to care for and love; let them get dirty; stop with all the antibacterial stuff, for pete’s sake. Listen to what your mom, grandmother, etc., tried to tell you from their experience… my mom and dad were not college educated — not even high school grads — but they knew more about what’s important than most “authorities” ever will.

  10. Oh, The Joys Says:

    It seems like basic, good advice, right?

    I think that is why I’m so against the tv for kids – I mean, I can just take them outside and let them pick up things, throw pebbles in the creek — or whatever — there’s 1,000 other things to do.

  11. Housewife Says:

    Guilty as charged.

    But moving towards change….


  12. nutmeg Says:

    I so appreciated this post and can’t wait to read the book. I also recommend David Elkind’s The Hurried Child which addresses the damaging trend of over-scheduling our children both at home and in the classroom.

  13. Kelley Says:

    In some ways I think those CompetiParents are setting their children up for disappointment later in life. I worry that the children of those parents will grow up with a very narrow definition of success, and perhaps even an inability to derive happiness from the things they didn’t have to “win”.

    Also, I think a lot of those kids who are early to excel above their peers tend to kind of average out over the course of childhood. Not every 7 yr-old whiz kid is still as impressive at 17 (let alone 27!). I don’t think it can safely be said that learning earlier ultimately means learning more, at least in every instance.

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