Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Evaluating “enrichment” for our kids April 13, 2009

Filed under: Culture,Routine — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 11:35 pm

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.

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6 Responses to “Evaluating “enrichment” for our kids”

  1. Crystal Says:

    Great post! I completely agree and, in fact, is the whole reason why I removed my daughter from her middle school and started homeschooling her. I knew (with many doubts along the way) she needed to reconnect with her “home base” and remember who she was (my daughter and a child of God) as well as have the chance to experience Life outside of a 20’x20′ classroom. I feel she has been “enriched” so much more than she would have in school (not that I have anything against traditional schools – homeschooling was just the way we needed to go). Now that I’m looking at first grade for my son (still with no less questions – every year is an experiment), I look forward to the enrichment he’ll gain from being homeschooled (field trips, classic books, social homeschooling groups, hands-on experiences, etc.). But even homeschoolers (sometimes more so) can fall into the “enrichment trap” and sign their child up for every activity under the sun simply because they feel inadequate as a homeschool. There are definitely some things as parents we don’t have the expertise to teach or offer and we need to look at other resources out there, but that should be the exception rather than the rule and even I need to remind myself of that each year. I agree – life lived alongside an intentional parent is possibly the best kind of enrichment (and education) a child can receive.

  2. EllaJac Says:

    Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

    I tend to swing waaay away from the ‘modern’ plan of ‘keeping your kids so busy they’ll be too busy to go awry’… I’m amazed at what my children know already – compared to my own “gifted” education and childhood at their ages! Nature, food “production”, household tasks… it’s a world far different than mine was!

    The only thing I take issue with above is here: “…doing routine things like cooking dinner, reading books, and walking in the neighborhood really are, as Astyk posits, does count as much as involving her in “enrichment”-oriented activities.”

    I’m sure that those things count far more. I think it may have even been “proven,” but I can’t cite a study. 🙂 Marx knew it, and teachers of children whose parents *don’t* spend that time know it too. 🙂

    Blessings!

  3. Megan Says:

    Good points all around. I admit, that I consciously have to remember that the best thing to do for children is for them to be in a loving relationship with God. It’s amazing how the education card seems to trump all others (even among Christian circles).

    I think back on Deut. 6 when we are commanded to talk about spiritual things to our children at all times. I also think about the ‘limited’ opportunities/experiences people back in biblical times as well as post-modern ones have had, yet they turned out completely FINE! Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like nowadays most things only serve as a well-packaged distraction to kids.

    Voddie Baucham has some very strong opinions regarding public school vs. home school; whereas his main point is that public school is government-based and therefore pretty liberal in its ideology. If it’s values we want to instill in our children, then logically, they need to spend countless hours learning them. What’s challenging about that, is that values are abstract with concrete implications. And it’s hard to see progress made in those areas whereas grades on academic work are cut and dry.

    Praying that the Lord will give all of us mothers wisdom and courage to do the right thing for Him.

  4. heartpondering Says:

    Great and insightful comments – thanks girls.
    You may well be right, EllaJac, about the routine stuff ultimately counting “far more.” So far I am leaning that direction myself!
    I appreciate the thoughts Cyrstal and Megan contribute toward ‘enrichment’ concepts and homeschooling. This is a link I’ve considered myself…
    Your sense of “questions” and “every year is an experiment” are provoking, Crystal, and ones I’ve thought to myself too. As my husband and I talk about schooling (2.5 yrs away from K for our son), we talk about figuring out where we are, what the schooling options are, how God seems to be leading. I think there can be different ways to approach the topic, and God may call different families differently…
    But reflection, prayer, and intentionality must be central ingredients and all. And the Megan’s point that “countless hours” are spent by kids in absorbing values (as parents seek to instill them) is compelling – and true no matter what schooling route we take with our kids.

  5. Sarae Martin Says:

    I find your post interesting. I think the main point you were getting at is getting our kids involved with too many things in the name of enrichment.

    One thing a wise educator told me is that most activities kids aren’t really going to learn until they are eight and older. Music, sports, art…all those things really can be frustrating to a young child…and to a parent with high expecatations. Obviously I do believe there are prodigies that can excell at early ages, but for the most part (and what I have seen in my own children) eight (3rd Grade) is when I see those things really being profitable.

  6. Sarae Martin Says:

    Hey it cut off my comment!! I was only saying in the first sentence that I gathered your main point was filling our kids’ schedules with “enrichment.”


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