Monday, October 22, 2018

What is your parent outlook on sports?

Many parents have particular outlooks on everything from education to nutrition as they relate to their children, but did you know it may serve your young child to explore and define your outlook on sports before they reach the age of team sports?

Gone are the days when kids just gathered informally with other kids in their neighborhoods to play a familiar sport or create games of their own.  In those days, the rules were made and enforced without parent intervention or supervision and those experiences taught as much about social skills and sportsmanship as they did about the game.  No one kept attendance or dictated regular 'practice' and travel was absolutely not in the cards.

Today is an entirely different world regarding children's sports.  There are still school teams for students to play on, but most of the action is in competitive travel teams.  The pressure is on for kids to excel, not only in academics, but in sports most of them are highly unlikely to play in college let alone professionally.  While some parents rave about travel teams or intense competitive sports, many find them distasteful.  Indeed, there are several aspects to them that are simply not good for children or for families and they are outlined below.

The drive behind travel teams

Unfortunately, there's money to be made in elite youth travel teams.  Kids' sports has turned into a $15 billion, yes BILLION dollar industry.  As youth sports have become privatized, coaches, owners, sportswear makers, and everyone involved in the travel needs of these teams has a hand out and the atmosphere is heavy with the kind of folks whose primary interest is not your child's well-being and love of the sport.  

The expense

As Joe Hoedel, Ph.D., points out in her blog, 'Character Development and Leadership, "There’s hotel rooms, food, and fees to pay in these organized tournaments. Week after week. My mailman once told me that he spent over $10,000 taking his daughter to soccer tournaments over a 3 year period. He and I surmised that if he had put that money into a 529 College Saving Plan, her college would be more than paid for. Like he said, they do have soccer teams in the next town over."

The demanding schedule

In today's American families, a dual working parent household is the norm.  Add on top of that the commute to and from work and school, as well as driving to the many activities children are signed up for, and you have a national phenomenon of over-programmed and exhausted families whose weekends are about everything but rejuvenating and connecting with each other.  Forget about household chores and yard work; there are only so many hours in the day!  When parents have to travel with their children all over the state and out of state for youth competitive sports, things just go from bad to worse.  It's up to parents to take back their families and their lives.  What started out as a fun endeavor has become an obligation and a drain.

The physical toll on one's body

Repetitive sports injuries are rampant among children these days.   A 10-year study involving 481 youth players found kids who participated in baseball more than eight months a year were five times more likely to have elbow or shoulder surgeries.  Manchester United Performance Coach, Tony Strudwick, advises a multi-sport background, which he says sets up athletes for long-term success by lowering the rates of injuries and making them more adaptable to the demands of elite level play. 

The emotional toll in such an intensely competitive approach

Kids shouldn't feel like hamsters stuck on a wheel that never stops yet our over-scheduled model of parenting these days can lead to serious side effects, like anxiety, depression, sleep-deprivation, and overall resentment for an over-programmed life.  Unfortunately, most children don't have the confidence or self-awareness to speak up and let parents know they've had enough.  Those who do worry their parents will not value them as highly if they don't stay engaged in such activities at the level of intensity these teams require.  It's sad when you watch a kids' sporting event and few of the children actually look like they're enjoying themselves.

The loss of time to pursue other interests

Kids deserve to be able to experiment and explore their interests.  It's from this unscheduled, creative time that they stumble upon a lifelong passion, form unexpected friendships, and develop a sense of self-reliance for entertaining themselves and making choices.  

Even if a parent is intent on developing a 'star athlete', statistics show that most elite and professional athletes have one thing in common - they played multiple sports, not focusing only on one. The fact that some sports now have a year long season also leads to physical injuries as the body doesn't have time to rest and heal between seasons.  How many ATL tears, concussions, and other sports-related life long impacting injuries do we hear about in our local and national news?  Kids need a balance in their schedules and free time to just be.  Daily practice and games that extends to the weekend rule the entire family's life and force everyone to leave behind other opportunities.  Emotional and physical consequences for missing practices and games can be so awful as to cause kids to play through illness, fatigue, and disinterest.

The false hope it gives to mediocre athletes

Bragging rights for being a member of a competitive travel team are strong.  When kids feel they've 'made it' into these elite teams, they wrongly make the conclusion that they are headed for a star role on a varsity team in high school, college sports, and a possible shot at the sport professionally.  When they hold these beliefs, they say 'no' to opportunities that could lead to skill development and interest that would serve them far better than focusing so intently on one sport.  In any given high school, perhaps 2-4 players will get a Division 1 or 2 college scholarship for athletics. For the other hundreds of student-athletes, that means sports should be about having fun, making friends, building character, and learning to be a good teammate.

The value system it reinforces in children

If you've been to one of these sporting events, you know parents can get out of hand in the stands, spewing venomous overly-competitive insults at the opposing team, its coach, the ref, and sadly, sometimes even at their own child when mistakes are made.  Winning becomes the only thing that matters and how one gets to the win is negotiable.  Positive values taught through sports, like good sportsmanship, perseverance, and team work are pushed to the back burner in place of the importance of being the best.

What do top athletes think of elite competitive travel sports?  Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots made the following comment about youth travel leagues in 2015:

“What I remember from being in youth sports, everything was really localized. There was no travel teams. Well, there was a couple, but you really had to be the top, top kid to go on those teams. My parents always exposed us to different things, different sports. It was basketball when it was basketball season, it was baseball when it was baseball season. I didn’t play football ’til I was a freshman in high school. A lot of soccer. And there were just some camps. But I just played in the neighborhood in our street with all the kids that we grew up with.
“It’s just different now, experiencing it with my own kids. All the organized activities that you put them in. I made a comment for a while now, I hope my kids are late bloomers in whatever they do because they’re going to be exposed to so much at such an early time that, yeah, you do worry about what their motivation may be as they get older or if they feel like they’ve been in something for so long and it’s been hyper-intense and hyper-focused for so long, I think that can wear out a young individual, a young teenager. It’s just hard, because all the parents are doing it, it seems. The competition, it feels like it starts so early for these kids, whether it’s to get into college, or to get into the right high school, or the right elementary school.
“I don’t know how it’s taken a turn, but sometimes it’s nice just for kids to be kids. At least that’s just from what I remember when I was growing up. I think that was a great opportunity for the kids to develop lots of parts of their personality. And certainly for me that’s what I found, ultimately I found something that I loved to do at a young age. The more you’re exposed to, I think the better opportunity is for all kids to figure out what they really want to do in life.”

If your children are not yet old enough for competitive sports, spend some time checking out the landscape in today's world of youth sports.  You will most likely find that you do, indeed, need to have a parenting outlook on sports participation.
book by Skye Arthur Banning, 'Youth Sports in America: The Most Important Issues in Youth SportsToday' . 

John O’Sullivan founded the Changing the Game Project in 2012, which promotes a child-centered approach to youth sports. He is author of the book, Changing the Game, and is a training centre director for the Major League Soccer Portland Timbers. Follow John on Twitter, Facebook, or read more at his blog.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Doctor's Orders: Let Children Play

This summer, Princeton Montessori School enjoyed the gifts of summer from a child's perspective.  Even our youngest infants seemed to respond to the warm sunlight, cool breezes, scent of flowers in bloom, and the outdoor activity of the older children.  Teachers and administrators tapped into this contentment induced by the season and often marveled at the peaceful, relaxed vibe that permeates our summer programs.  It was a joy to witness the children creating, exploring, relaxing, and connecting.

Certainly in summer, the weather allows for much more outdoor time and more daylight to be active in, but those of us who work with children during the non-academic months know that what we witness is really permission for children to just be, to play, and to let their hair down.  As we head into a new school year, the value in playing is important for us to keep in mind, both as educators and as parents.  I hope you have time to read this recent article from the LA Times, which lends pediatric advice to the call for play in childhood.

Doctor's Orders: Let Children Play: Bakersfield: LA Times


Doctor’s orders: Let children just play: By Melissa Healy Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Bully At School Just May Be A Parent!

As an infant through eighth grade school, and one that holds grace and courtesy and kindness central to being a part of our learning community, we take time to discuss with students how childhood friendships evolve, strengthen, experience upsets, and need mending; this is a normal aspect of childhood and rarely involves true bullying. A 'bully', as it is defined in dictionaries, is a “blustering, browbeating person [who is] habitually cruel to others,” who “badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” 

In our Upper School, we teach our students that all parties in a relationship have to take responsibility for their role and even among the triangulated relationships of true bullies, victims, and bystanders. We prepare them to take charge of themselves should they find they are in any of these three roles in their life.

But this blog, and the article I'm passing on, isn't about childhood friendships or bullies. It's actually about parents who bully their schools. Unfortunately, we occasionally find ourselves in the uncomfortable situation of trying to work with such a parent. In today's educational environment, where anxiety and competitiveness are rampant, it may be no surprise.

NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) states that "the absolute level of concern is not the same everywhere, and in many schools, administrators hasten to say that ‘most of our parents are fine.’ We believe them. But every school we visit — every single one — reports more frequent and more severe problems with parents."

And so, I share NAIS's article, published by none other than our Common Ground speaker scheduled for April, Michael Thompson, along with Robert Evans, whom many of our teachers heard speak last year at the New Jersey Montessori Association Corporation annual gathering.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer Reading for Children AND Parents

At the start of each summer, I gleefully create a 'summer reading list' for myself composed of light summer fiction, professional reads I never got to during the year, and at least one biography of a historic figure, usually a past president.

For older children, often they head into those first days of summer with a reading list from school and frequently a looser list from parents who want to ensure summer reading includes some comprehension challenge or perhaps passing on a favorite from their own childhood.  Even our young children, who are used to being read to regularly, probably see an uptick in book exposure during the summer months due to parent vacation schedules and a slower pace, in general, compared to the rest of the year.

These trends are all positive as any reading is a gift - it helps develop literary skills, opens new worlds to us, and is usually a restful, peaceful retreat from the world around us.  However, it's important, among those readings already selected, to include space for children to make their own book selections.

How many of us remember what it was like to be a kid in your local library?  Carefully selecting books whose covers appealed and attracted, skimming pages, looking for that particular book a friend talked about, or just meandering through the book rows observing the quiet readers and browsers and breathing in that book smell mixed with heavy air-conditioned effect all added to the allure of self-selected reading.

Infant and Toddler Reading
Recently a colleague shared a video of her young toddler son 'reading 'aloud to himself 'The Hungry Caterpillar'.  Believe it or not, toddlers and even older infants are actually ready to do some selection of books for themselves and it's helpful to assemble a reading corner in their bedroom or another room in your home designed in the Montessori fashion, with tantalizing materials for them to explore in a safe setting just their size.  Being read aloud to is great to.  If done with love, animation, and frequency, it develops language, caregiver bonding, and a very sensorial experience with non-virtual books.

Primary Reading
Primary age children need little help imagining and wondering or finding a reason to chatter away about what they're experiencing.  Selecting a book that calls to them anchors that natural curiosity for a few blissful moments of focused concentration and a very personal relationship with the content and characters.  When my son was this age, his little library was in his small walk-in closet and I used to find him in there, half-dressed, having what I can only describe as a 'conversation' with a book.  Precious moments, indeed.  This is a great age to share the books you enjoyed at that age; Primary age children love hearing about what mamma or papa did and liked when they were little and a shared book opens the door for conversations about stories, characters, and facts galore.  Another idea for this age is to explore a book together about the natural world and then go out and use that knowledge to investigate, observe, and awe at the living creatures in your own backyard or area.  Remember, Primary-aged children like to 'do it themselves' and book selection is no exception!

Elementary Reading
With our summer program underway, I recently watched an elementary-aged boy walk in to school with his nose 'stuck in a book' as we often say.  He was so engrossed he hardly noticed when I opened the door for him and greeted him.  Such concentration!  Such enjoyment. To the elementary student, the world is opening up!  Non-fiction books appeal, particularly on subjects they have developed a new fascination for.  They may already have a favorite series or character they want to continue following now that summer allows for free time.  Instead of sharing a favorite of yours with your child, this is a great age to ask them to share a favorite with you!  Whether you popcorn read or read in parallel, the opportunities for sharing a love and a conversation are endless.

Middle School Reading
Parents sometimes lament that during these years, their habit of reading together or to their child shows signs of ending, at the child's apparent disinterest.  Yet if you are persistent, flexible, and adaptable, you can find a new way to share literature.  A parent at this year's end of year picnic told me that their family has a tradition of picking out and listening to a book on audio during their long drive to Maine each summer.  What a clever way to connect together instead of into our own devices on a family car ride!  With pre-adolescents, they won't be shy in telling you what they think and certainly will expect to have a say in any 'new' tradition you begin, but isn't it great our children at this age are learning who they are, their tastes, and how to convey their preferences.  Besides, a quiet audio book shared is often a needed respite from overly-animated drama in many a pre-teen conversation!

For the parents, we're just lucky if we get one or two of our summer selects finished by Labor Day.  At least that's how my summer usually ends; my pile of summer picks wait patiently for a crisp fall day when I can get back to them again.  In this month's Mindprint Learning blog, there is a reading on the year's most important k-12 education trends; always a parenting favorite to learn about, right?!  If you have the time, check out this link to learn more:

Mindprintlearning -trends-smart-summer-reading-for-teachers-parents

Resources for summer reading:
(though remember to allow them some choice!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

College Admissions Anxiety

Recently, two succinct and timely articles have been published addressing the damaging misconception of many anxious parents that if they can only puppeteer their child's entry into an Ivy League College, the child's life will be set and happiness, financial security, and career success will be guaranteed.  This same phenomena is true in the independent school world relative to high school admissions.

I share the links to these articles below.  Even parents of young children should take time to read them as they offer sage advice to keep your eye on what really matters in raising happy, healthy, highly functioning, independent, active members of society.  

The deepest fears — and hopes — parents harbor about their kids applying to college

Brennan Barnard, The Washington Post

In this season of college admissions, parents' own expectations and uncertainties are playing out in real time, as admission decisions have become the repository for 18 years of parental hopes and fears.

Deepest Fears

Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out

Recent studies suggest that kids with over involved parents and rigidly structured childhoods suffer psychological blowback in college.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Taking the Long View as Parents

Our staff and I had the pleasure this week of hearing HOS Pam Dunbar, of Montessori Academy of Arlington (Texas), speak about the parent and school relationship in a Montessori environment.  She compelled us to ask parents to paint a visual image of the adult they hope their child will be at age 22.  For most, she stated, the focus is on personal attributes rather than job or social status obtained.  Parents want their 22 year old child to be independent, caring, self-reliant, hard working, happy, able to maintain healthy relationships, and to have passion for their profession and personal lives.
Yet, it is so easy to get hyper-focused on the details and the 'in the moment' challenges for our children.  Often, we end up panicking over their exact academic status, friendship issues, and other factors that take on distorted significance through our eyes, out of concern for their well being.  That often leads to over protection of our children, robbing them of the experiences they need to gain confidence, insight, real skills, and internal motivation.
In Montessori, as most of you know, we are striving to develop this internal motivation, determination, grit, responsibility, kindness, and a life-long love of learning.  We take a holistic view to education and know we are teaching much more than academic subjects.  We are partnering with you to provide experiences your child can have in a safe environment, to learn life lessons.
It seems I am not the only Montessori HOS to be writing on this topic.  Beth Heller Atencio, Head of School at Montessori School of Evergreen, Co, recently blogged on the topic, stating:
"Parenting for the long view is the classic case of knowing in our rational brain what we should do and not giving in to our emotional brain’s desire to protect our child from difficulty....
Parents have good intentions, but that good intentions can have disastrous consequences. Nationally, students entering college are making poor choices because they haven’t had the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. They haven’t gained the experience that comes from bad judgments. Recruiters at college job fairs have even begun bringing kits for parents since they are now key in the job search process."
Essential Parenting newsletter, written by a pediatrician and parent educator, informs us that 3 stages one goes through in developing self-discipline are: 1) being ruled by instinct and impulses, to 2) developing some behavioral control through an internal judge who sets rules to follow, to 3) finally growing into the capacity to read situations and people in real time and make heartfelt decisions about how to act in the face of conflicting needs and complexity (the authentic self).
If we rob our children of experiencing and learning through their own actions, we need to be prepared to take responsibility for them well after the age of 21.  Although we each do our very best everyday as parents, it's important to stay focused on the long view.  After all, we are raising adults, not children.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Raise Successful Kids Without Over-parenting

I encourage you to take fifteen minutes to watch this powerful TED Talk by Stanford University's Dean of Freshman, Julie Lythcott-Hames.  An advocate for unconditional love, but not micromanaging our children nor envisioning their adult lives for them, she gives experiential evidence of the fall out from over-parenting.

How To Raise Successful Kids Without Over-parenting - TED Talk