Your guide to parenting in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts

By Mary Scott Hackman, Early Childhood Programs Coordinator

The summer crowd has a special feel here at Providence Children’s Museum. Visitors seem relaxed and joyful, peer excitedly around corners, anticipate what the next room or exhibit will hold, hold hands with their children, and run up the ramp, entirely open to the possibilities. The unplugged, gleeful way they experience the Museum shouts, “We’re on vacation!”

In contrast, the approach of our visitors changes in September. Parents or caregivers engage with their children but they don’t necessarily lose themselves in play in the same way. Their cell phones are on and they are likely watching the clock so they can run to school to pick up their other child and deliver him to some after-school activity. Everyone is back on schedule! As summer comes to a close I wonder, how can we hold on to that carefree summer attitude when the reality of fall is moving in so quickly?

Working Americans operate under the myth that if you put in more hours, you are more productive. And ever since “No Child Left Behind,” classrooms have operated under a similar premise, limiting recess or removing it entirely. But this shift is not translating into more academic success. Not only is being too busy not productive, it actually makes us — young and old — more stressed, more burned out, and less healthy.

Overscheduling elementary school-age kids is a modern day parent trap. When parents sign their children up for this lesson and that sport, they think they are being good parents whose children will be happy and accomplished. We think we’re saving our children by keeping them busy, but we’re actually burning them out before they have a chance to achieve.

Parents are also under pressure to start scheduling their children and introducing academics at a younger age.  But research shows that children who attend preschools where academics are emphasized are more likely to experience higher levels of test anxiety, are found to be less creative, and generally have more negative attitudes towards school than children attending a play-based preschool.

David Elkind, noted authority on parenting and child development, stated a sad reality: “Over the last two decades alone, children have lost eight hours of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play a week.”  So what is the answer? I think we need to make critical decisions about where and how children spend their early years and watch them for signs of burnout. Make a goal to leave more hours of non-screen free time in kids’ schedules. Let them have an opportunity to be bored and encourage them to find creative ways to spend their time, allowing them to get caught up in open-ended, self-directed, no-rules play. Give the kids a break — and yourselves a break, too!

 Take a break at Providence Children’s Museum this fall!  The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and Monday holidays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM with a different program happening each day.  Check the calendar for details. 

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