Uh Oh – Did I Snuff Out My Children’s “Beginner Minds”? (A Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop Prompt)

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There were several great prompts on Mama Kat’s this week. The one I got is certainly familiar territory to our family:

It has been said that kids these days are pushed into too many extra-curricular activities and are not given the freedom to play and be bored and to use their imaginations. Is this true?

I used to (non humbly) marvel at myself as I laid out my children’s things each night for the upcoming day. At our busiest, Tenley would need a gymnastics leo and the rest of her gym stuff and dance paraphernalia (leo, tights, bobby pins, hair nets, ballet shoes, tap shoes, jazz shoes). There was a time when I would drop her off at gym, sit through her workout, pull her out of gym a few minutes early, and she would change leos (this took the talent of an … acrobat!) in the car between gym and dance. I actually think at one point, I was leaving my son at the gym to do his gymnastics class while I was transporting Tenley to dance.
 
Food in these situations? In the car if at all. I have many memories of walking my son through his spelling words while sitting in the gym seats or at dance – I bought pre-sharpened pencils so that we would always have them in the glove compartment. If we could have fit a tiny sink and kitchen in there I probably would have tried!

I think the interchange between parents and children in which kids say “moooooom, I’m booored!” is a lose-lose proposition – how many times have you ever heard a kid say, “right, Mom, it didn’t occur to me that reading a book or playing a board game or helping you fold clothes or getting a head start on my research paper could dispel my boredom!” Having grown up as an only child, I may see this question from an entirely different perspective – I was telling my son as we were discussing this prompt about all of my imaginary friends I had growing up, and how my parents probably thought I was nuts when they heard all of the one-sided conversations! He said he has had imaginary friends (but he must keep the dialogue in his head).

This prompt, rephrased, asks “are we keeping our kids so darned busy that their brains have no down time, no imperative to ‘dig deep’ into the crevices — into the spaces where dreams and whimsies germinate, and where our unconscious selves deal with the ‘bad things’ in our lives?”

In his blog “Where Do Ideas Come From?” Seth Godin lists several points that apply to overscheduled kids and burnt out executives alike, such as:

Ideas don’t come from watching television
Ideas come from nature
Ideas come … when we’re not trying
Ideas fear experts, but adore beginner’s mind (how often do we as parents rush to “fill in the blanks” for our children, negating the power of “beginner’s mind”?)

and one of my favorites:

Ideas often come from reading a book (yeah!!)

For the full text of Seth Godin’s “ideas” blog, click here.

When I look back on those hectic years of activity on top of activity, I think the thing I would be more sensitive to (in retrospect) is gauging the children’s motivation to be involved in the activity. I tend to want to be busy (duh) but each child is different. Some of them thrive on having several balls up in the air while others only feel pressure. As the children have gotten older, I have seen Tenley “self select” the ways in which her focus honed in on what she most wanted to do (dance). With Wayne, my son, I quietly backed off from registering him for stuff that he had casually mentioned, and learned to wait until he had initiated the idea repeatedly (i.e., Pop Warner Football).

Was there, mixed in with all that, enough room for their “beginner minds” to flourish? These two are rarely found with a nose in a book (much to my chagrin), but I hope that family Sundays spent with cousins by the pool, weekends at gym and dance meets where there is plenty of “messing around time” between the “official” activities, and my conviction that they’ll still turn out to be pretty cool adults even if their “childhood” resumes weren’t packed with non stop activity, will result in two minds that are fertile ground for playful ideas.

Photo Credit: Filomena Scalise