Per­fectly av­er­age child­hood


Sarah Barnes, an amaz­ing homeschool­ing mom of two bril­liant chil­dren in Bot­wood (who also hap­pens to be my cousin), re­cently shared an on­line ar­ti­cle with me. Found on the Mag­i­cal Child­hood web­site, the ar­ti­cle is ti­tled: “ What Should a 4 Year Old Know?”

It’s the au­thor’s re­sponse to that ever-fa­mil­iar ques­tion asked by preschool par­ents. How can I pre­pare my child for school? Does she know enough to keep up with the other kinder­garten­ers? Have I taught him enough to give him the com­pet­i­tive edge in pri­mary school?

Ali­cia Bayer, the au­thor, scorns those lists and cre­ates her own, very important list of es­sen­tial skills for four-year-olds. Things like fol­low­ing their in­ter­ests, un­der­stand­ing the world is mag­i­cal, paint­ing the sky or­ange, know­ing they are loved and know­ing how to keep them­selves safe.

I tend to agree when she says “If he could care less about learn­ing his num­bers, his par­ents should re­al­ize he’ll learn them ac­ci­den­tally soon enough and let him im­merse him­self in­stead in rocket ships, draw­ing, di­nosaurs or play­ing in the mud.”

I’ve of­ten told par­ents wor­ried that their three-year-old isn’t potty trained or that their two-year-old isn’t talk­ing much that when the chil­dren are older, no one is go­ing to care when they talked or walked or stopped pee­ing the bed. The older they get, th e less those early achieve­ments are go­ing to mat­ter.

What will mat­ter is how they are as peo­ple. Do they feel loved? Do they feel safe? Do they be­lieve in them­selves?

I’ve never been a flash­card kind of mom. But I think I’ve done pretty good. My el­dest en­tered Grade 1 with a pos­si­ble di­ag­no­sis of dys­lexia. By the sheer willpower of his par­ents and the world’s most amaz­ing teacher — Jackie Hod­der, Im­mac­u­late Heart of Mary School — he now reads ev­ery­thing he can lay his eyes on. At one year old, my youngest was con­sis­tently five to six months be­hind in the ma­jor­ity of his de­vel­op­men­tal ar­eas. With a lot of at­ten­tion in the past year, he’s now about five months ahead in ev­ery­thing but gross mo­tor skills.

Urg­ing par­ents not to worry about their child’s skill set doesn’t mean telling them not to care. It’s just not some­thing we should get too up­set about. Most chil­dren know their al­pha­bet and num­bers by the time they fin­ish kindergarten, even if they didn’t know them go­ing into it.

Some stud­ies have ac­tu­ally shown that many chil­dren who read early w i n d u p n o t bein g the strong­est read­ers by the time they and their peers reach later grades. Early doesn’t al­ways mean bet­ter. But just about ev­ery study into read­ing and aca­demic suc­cess has shown, time and again, that par­ents who read to their chil­dren raise chil­dren who ex­pe­ri­ence more suc­cess in school.

Flash­cards are not nec­es­sary. What is nec­es­sary is spend­ing time en­gag­ing with your child. Speaking with them and read­ing to them and ex­plor­ing the world to­gether.

I’ve al­ways un­der­stood that, and I think many other par­ents do as well.

As I con­tin­ued to read Bayer’s ar­ti­cle, though, I was struck by other ob­ser­va­tions she made. Of course, our chil­dren need more time with us. In­deed, they need to be paid at­ten­tion to, read to, and let to ex­pe­ri­ence the world. Cer­tainly, they don’t need ex­pen­sive schools or gim­micky toys to suc­ceed.

But the line that struck me most was this: “ We are so caught up in try­ing to give our chil­dren ‘ ad­van­tages’ that we’re giv­ing them lives as multi-tasked and stress­ful as ours. One of the big­gest ad­van­tages we can give our chil­dren is a sim­ple, care­free child­hood.”

I have al­ways felt guilty that we can’t af­ford to en­roll our chil­dren in ac­tiv­i­ties like gym­nas­tics, bal­let, and art classes. I’ve watched other par­ents bring their chil­dren to swim­ming lessons three times a week — be­cause each child at­tends on a dif­fer­ent day — and I’ve en­vied them their abil­ity to man­age their time that way.

Ev­ery time our chil­dren miss some new op­por­tu­nity to “en­rich” them­selves via a struc­tured class or group I feel like I’m fail­ing a lit­tle as a par­ent.

It’s not true. Be­cause though my daugh­ter has never taken art classes she can draw rain­bows like no­body’s busi­ness. And my el­dest son may have not been back to soc­cer in the last three years, but he loves kick­ing a ball around with his grand­fa­ther. My youngest doesn’t go to day­care or tod­dler classes of any kind, but he reads about 20 books a day with Mommy.

I’m not wor­ried about them. Not one bit. They are tak­ing the time to dis­cover their pas­sions and to work at them, with our sup­port. And that doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like swim­ming lessons.

If I can’t give them ev­ery ac­tiv­ity and ad­van­tage other par­ents can, I can at least give them as free a child­hood as pos­si­ble. There’s plenty of time for sched­ules and ad­vanced cur­ricu­lums in the years to come. For now, I’m happy if they’re per­fectly av­er­age and know how to smile.

I can be reached by e-mail at the fol­low­ing:

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