I’ve been thinking about the modern concept of “enrichment.” You know, exposing your kids to stuff, getting them out there, helping them learn and experience all manner of things. There can be a lot of pressure on moms to involve their children in a variety of age-appropriate activities… and a commensurate amount of pressure, I think, to assess our own households and judge them as lacking in this department.
A few months ago I was chatting with my mom about possible fall preschool options for my son, who will be four in November. I made some passing comment about all he’d do and learn there – how much he would get out of the activities. I must have unconsciously disparaged our own quiet, normal household routine to some degree, because her response was to affirm what she sees that I am doing to build into him and ‘enrich’ him (in a different sense). The overarching goal for a three-year-old, she suggested, should be less about finger-painting or plunking on various instruments or meeting live animals (not that any of that’s bad) and more about living life alongside an invested parent whose primary goal is character-building and instilling skills for godly life.
It really got me thinking, because she may have a point. It’s become so normal for us to think in terms of what our kids – or ourselves, for that matter – are “getting out of” our time. Are we learning new skills? Are we stimulated? Are we gaining valuable or unique experiences? And such questions make some sense too, given a culture that’s becoming increasingly passive and uthinking, and as we lose our corporate skills to mechanization and technology. But on the other hand, programming isn’t the key to a valuable or character-focused childhood either.
I recently ran across an intriguing post on “childhood, industrialized” in which the author (Sharon Astyk) wrote:
“I remember my mother-in-law’s neighbor in New York City who asked, ‘what activities do you do with your child?’ The child in question was about 15 months old. So when I said we really didn’t do any – that we played outside and went to the library occasionally, she didn’t quite know how to respond. Parenting a toddler, for her, was taking them to music and art classes. To me, it was having him help to hang the laundry, but I knew what she was asking – was I giving my child a good start? …Good parenting, to a large degree, is defined (today) as 1) taking your kids places so that other people can teach them things, and 2) buying them things – whether toys or experiences. We want our children to have ‘every opportunity,’ and most opportunities we value are things you can purchase – that trip to Disneyland, the week at space camp, the computer, the beautiful children’s books.”
This quote perfectly encapsulates my point. Spending time with your toddler doing routine things like cooking dinner, reading books, and walking in the neighborhood, as Astyk posits, really does count as much as involving her in “enrichment”-oriented activities. I think about this sometimes when women make reference – and validly so – to the myriad things their kids see and learn and do at daycare or preschool that they would never do at home.
There’s a balance, of course, because there’s plenty to be said for activities, socialization, and exposure to new things – letting our kids enjoy and explore the limitless facets of this rich world God’s given us. I’m excited for the new stuff that our son will see and do in his two preschool timeslots each week come fall – he’ll love it and learn gobs, I know.
Still, I can’t help thinking Astyk’s point about how we want our kids to “have every opportunity” – our ambitions for our kids and their enrichment – versus God’s priorities and ambitions as they’re biblically defined. They often don’t look too much alike. In one of my favorite New Testament verses, Paul tells the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.” Was he suggesting that they hole up and ignore the world and activities? I don’t think so. He was simply emphasizing the importance of a ‘normal’ life diligently and industriously lived. He was encouraging his readers to invest themselves fully in their day-to-day routines, and to find delight and significance in doing that. And I think this is what an intentional home-based life can impart, among other things, to our young children.