Let Them Eat Crayons

Do you remember a time when pre-schoolers spent their days eating crayons, flushing inappropriate things down the toilet, and giving the family dog a haircut?  I do because that’s not only how I spent my time before I got into school, but also how most of my elementary school days were spent – doing things that were fueled by my own curiosity, creativity, and imagination.

It saddens me that a lot of today’s youth will never be able to discover the answer to the question, “do orange crayons tastes like oranges?” because they’ll never get to spend an unscheduled or unsupervised moment alone to find out.  I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it kiddies, they don’t.  At all.

See? She was left unsupervised and she turned out just fine.

I think kids today are spread too thin and not given enough downtime to recoup from their busy schedules – the end result being ten-year olds with Wall Street level burnout.

I don’t know when it happened, but nowadays it’s considered the norm to have your child involved in several activities at once.  Some experts believe organized activities foster success in other areas of life, while others believe it is the death of imagination and creativity – I tend to side with the latter.

I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get involved in scheduled activities, but I think they should be limited to one or two things they love.  I also think they should be introduced at a time in the child’s life when they show a genuine interest in the sport/club/musical instrument.  It’s not the parent’s job to choose what their child’s passions are, only to encourage them when they develop naturally.

Does your three-year old have aspirations to become the next David Beckham?  It’s possible, but highly improbable.  Have you seen some of the pre-school children that play sports?  They are too busy playing in the dirt or gazing up at the clouds to pay much attention to the ball being kicked around.  So why not let them do those activities at home where there is no danger of being hit in the head with a soccer ball?

Every kid is different – some thrive on a packed schedule while others prefer more downtime. Here’s a way to tell which side of the fence your kid falls on:  if they throw a temper tantrum or melt into a pile of weepy tears when it’s time to leave the house for practice, maybe it’s time to stop making them go.  I promise no one will call Child Protective Services on you just because your kid doesn’t play baseball or take ballet classes.

I don’t WANT to be a freakin’ ballerina,
OKAY Mom?!

There is a lot of pressure on parents to make sure that their kids are sociable – no one wants their kid to be a social outcast.  They might end up blowing up school buildings or spearheading multi-billion dollar corporations like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates…. wait a minute that last one might actually not be so bad.  I could finally cash in on the years I spent changing dirty diapers and cleaning barf off my shirt.

As adults, we know how painful it can be when you feel like you don’t fit in, and we try to protect our children from ever experiencing those feelings of rejection and loneliness.  But having your child enrolled in half a dozen activities doesn’t ensure that they will never feel lonely.   In fact, it may disable them from coping with feelings of occasional isolation because they aren’t used to it.

My friend was worried that her five-year old daughter wasn’t socializing properly with her classmates – her evidence being the fact that she didn’t have a best friend yet.  She said that she was talking to another mother in the class and the woman was bragging about how her daughter was inseparable from her best friend and how she spent hours talking on the phone with her – this girl was four-years old at the time.  FOUR. YEARS. OLD.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know how to use a telephone at that age, unless you count using the long, curly cord as a jump rope.

I just dated myself there, didn’t I?  Yep, I grew up with corded telephones that were tethered to the wall – save the older-than-dirt jokes until the end, please.  Back to the subject at hand….

Let’s do a little mental exercise right now to help ease my friend’s fear:  think back and tell me what age you were when you had your first, real best friend.  I’m not talking about the kid you were thrown together with because your mothers were friends, I mean the first best friend you made all on your own.

I’ll go first – I was in FIFTH grade (10 years old).  That’s not to say I didn’t have other friends before then, just none that I felt compelled to hang out with outside the boundaries of the playground.  I didn’t meet Kristen through sports, clubs, or any other kind of scheduled activity.  In fact, I’m pretty sure what drew us together initially was our mutual hatred of dresses.  And thirty years later, we are still close friends and I can assure you that I’m not scarred for life because I didn’t meet her right after exiting my mother’s womb.

My point to all of this is that I think a lot of parents are slamming their foot down on the accelerator of their children’s childhoods and worrying too much about their future.  It’s okay that your three-year old can’t read, that your five-year old isn’t surrounded by a gaggle of giggling girlfriends, or that your seven-year old hasn’t decided whether or not they want to play sports.

Does your kid seem happy?  Well-adjusted?  Unlikely to commit his first felony before he’s ten-years old?  Then you’re doing a pretty great job Mom and Dad.  Give yourself a break….and more importantly, give your kid one too.

Studies have shown a direct correlation between baby pole dancing and childhood stress…. or maybe it’s crappy parenting. I forget.

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48 thoughts on “Let Them Eat Crayons

  1. Good old fashioned, sensible parenting does exist!! I remember a very different childhood from the one my kids have. At around five or six I would go off to play with my older brothers, (7 and 8). We would play in the woods, or make dens on the heath. My parents wouldn’t have a clue where we were most of the time. We obviously didn’t have mobiles, but it was fine, the fear culture didn’t exist. Now as a parent I worry if they play on the road with their bikes….much more traffic than in my day. I need to know where they are all the time…lots of bad people about these days, etc,etc. I would love them to be more free, but cant let go of the fear….isn’t it sad how times have changed!

    • I wrote about my kids doing all of those things still just yesterday. I even turn my cheek if i hear them saying things they shouldn’t if they think I am not around. DOn’t get me wrong, if they see me I figure it is my job as “mom” to tell them why they shouldn’t say something that is inappropriate but I also know that “sneaking” around a little is how they will make mistakes that will in turn teach them lessons. 🙂

    • This is another reason i think parents enroll youngsters in soooo many activities. Times have changed, and if you live in an urban setting,its far more dangerous,socially, and traffic wise to simply PLAY ANY AND EVERWHERE.the sport, And playdates are to shield them ( just a little more)from those bad alien influence .

  2. Susanne –

    My childhood was very much the same – we played outside (largely unsupervised), invented games, and found new and interesting uses for dirt. I think that we can allow our kids to have some of that experience, even though times have changed.

    I’m REALLY trying to silence the paranoid, frightened, overprotective mother voice in my head… it’s not easy, especially when there are so many horrific stories on the news to back those thoughts up. But I’m learning not to pay so much attention to what all the other parents out there are or aren’t doing, watch the news less, and trust my instincts more. I figure either my kids will grow up well-adjusted, or they’ll join that baby on the pole…. only time will tell. 🙂

  3. What a great post! I think children these days are on sensory overload from all the activities that are planned for them. I let my boys decide what to do. My youngest wanted to play football in middle school…only to decide it wasn’t worth being cursed at by the coach. It was his decision to quit. My oldest played soccer for only one season. They both ended up deciding they wanted to be in the band. All of these things were decisions they made and I supported. They are both well-adjusted adults now. And having a best friend at 4 years old? Really?

    • That’s exactly what I’m talking about 🙂 My oldest daughter is a bit of a bookworm, so the only organized activity she opted for during her elementary school years was to join the orchestra (violin). But when she reached the 7th grade and started gaining more confidence in herself, and wanted to broaden her social circle a bit (along with her experiences) she opted to join the field hockey team in the fall and then Softball in the spring. Both were great experiences for her – she loved the girls she met and she was lucky enough to have great coaches.

      My youngest son LOVED anything having to do with baseball from the time he was six years old, so he opted to join the local little league team for the past two years. Again, great experiences for him because he has a genuine love of the game and a desire to learn all he can about it. Given the fact that I was never into baseball, I found myself learning right along side him 🙂

  4. Dear Linda,

    I feel sorry for children nowadays. Like Susanne in her comment above, we used to spend most of our time playing in the woods during summer evenings too – and during the holidays we’d be there most of the day. If we were an hour late for tea we’d get shouted at and sent to bed early, but now if a child is late (and doesn’t answer the twenty messages left on their mobile phone) the parents ring round everyone then phone the police. And they aren’t allowed to play in the woods to begin with (our woods had three large fishing ponds too).

    It makes me wonder how these children will be as adults though – by the time they’re old enough to have some freedom, they won’t know what to do with it.

    Love Dotty xxx

    • Dotty –

      I wonder the similar things about today’s youth – both about their inability to disconnect from all their electronics long enough to go explore the outdoors and also how they will fair as adults outside their protective bubble.

      We live in the crowded suburbs of Long Island (New York) so it’s harder for them to get the outdoorsy experience I would like for them. But every year we go camping and try to cram a year’s worth of dirt-eating and rock collecting in a couple of months 🙂

      As for allowing them bubble-free time, like I told Susanne, it’s a process for me. Now that they are 8 and 13, I feel I can let go of them more than I have in the past. The “leash” has gotten much longer and I know it’s only a matter of time before it snaps altogether…. I mean that “leash” in the proverbial sense, I’m not one of those weirdo parents that ACTUALLY puts their kids on a leash. That’s just creepy.

      • Oh,yea i’ve seen the leashbackpacks! Its incredibly restrictive to me , IMAGINE what they’ll do when they arent strapped in

  5. Amen to posting about over-scheduling kids, and making the future more important than the present. Thank you for pointing out that kids need to have some of their own fun, and not have to be organized every minute, or scheduled beyond belief. As someone pointed out to me recently, it’s sorta fun to lie on your back on the grass, watch the clouds float by, and dream some dreams. Great post!

  6. just for the record I believe our friendship was founded on the fact that we both thought we were the Harlem Globtrotters and displayed our skills at recess…Ok- we didn’t have any skills, and we didn’t play on an actual team until, what was it, 9th grade?

    • Kris – I had a whole adorable paragraph about how we spent our time out on the playground practicing our Harlem Globetrotter tricks while all the other girls sat around trading stickers (remember sticker books?). But sadly, all our precious childhood memories ended up on the cutting room floor this time around. You can blame my inner editor who complained that the blog entry was too long to hold people’s attention 🙂

      And yes, my intro into organized sports came in 9th grade when you dragged me onto the field hockey team – so glad you did. I have some wonderful memories to hold on to from those four years… not the part where I spent a year on the bench, but everything else was AWESOME!

  7. I could NOT, it would be impossible, there is no WAY I could agree with you more. It makes me crazy. I have a straight A kid who is annoyed at the you don’t have to dance, soccer, track all at once but she has to live with it. She’ll be a kid if it kills me!

    Your daughter’s eyes are amazing, she is a beauty.

    • Are you sure your mother didn’t give me up for adoption? I never did fit into my own family very well, and I get the eerie feeling that you’re my long lost twin every time you post a comment 😉

      Oh, and the kid with the crayon all over her face isn’t my daughter – google provided me with all the odd kiddie pics this time around (it’s not my baby pole dancing either, lol). There is NO way my daughter would allow me to scribble all over her face in crayon just to illustrate my blog. She only allows that crazy sort of stuff when Justin Bieber is involved.

      • hahaha I figured you didn’t have the pole dancing baby, I loved that! You just never know with girls. It would be cool to write all over your face if it were to upset the mothers but if the mothers wanted to do it? Fuhgeddaboutit!

  8. Great post and echoes my own feelings and sentiments exactly. While I don’t doubt the validity (and heartbreak) of autism and ADHD diagnoses, has anyone considered the possible connection between stimulus overload from the time they’re born onward? We ALL need time to just be. Alone. To take in the world at nature’s pace, and to learn to be alone with our own thoughts. To HAVE thoughts that aren’t merely reactions to someone we’re watching on an electronic screen. Once our kids entered school, they were allowed to play in one sport per season, period. And we never scheduled play dates for them or rented a limo for their kindergarten graduation (yeah, I’ve seen it.) They didn’t have iPods until they were ‘tweens, and we didn’t plug videos in a DVD to haul them to dinner across town. The result? They are each unique people but share some characteristics: they are fun, insightful, purposeful, and outgoing people with a healthy sense of self-worth and a love for others.

    • I do believe autism and ADHD are somehow linked to environmental factors – though I think food additives, dyes, sugars (and all the other crazy stuff the food industry doesn’t tell us about so we can still sleep at night), etc. might have more of a hand in it. But who knows for sure.

      I think that kids under the age of five need more time to unplug and take life at their own pace. I’m sure all of the electronics in the world that they are exposed to now will have repercussions that we haven’t even begun to learn about yet.

      It sounds like we raised our kids very similarly. My daughter thought I was Cruella DeVille because she was the only 5th grader without a cellphone. She finally got one towards the end of 6th grade – I still didn’t see much use for it, but since she managed to stay on high honor roll all year, I felt she had earned it. Besides, I didn’t want the poor kid to be seen a total social leper 😉

  9. It is so funny the worries we parents have to endure these days. Ha, ha! I yell at my kids to TAKE their cell phone so I don’t have to go searching for them when I need them. They never remember. From the time mine were VERY young I told them that they would get “mashed potato brains” if they watched tv, played video games…too long. I would announce, “Time to turn it off I can see the mashed potatoes coming out of your ears. Get outside and blow the stink off!” Eventually they would be old enough to laugh at me but they would usually agree. Do you know what? They would live outside if I let them. They even comment when they are around a kid that doesn’t know how to socialize or do things without an electronic device. They will lean in and say, “His mom let him get the mashed potato brains.” Makes me proud. 😉

    • Why is it that kids can never remember to bring their cellphone with them? I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to reach my daughter, but couldn’t. Then I have to rant like a lunatic and say, “I don’t pay ridiculously high phone bills just so you can text your friends a thousand times a month!” I don’t like being that mommy…. thankfully she doesn’t show her ugly face around our house too often 🙂

      I think it’s wonderful how you are raising your boys. I love all the outdoor pics, especially the ones of them hugging and kissing their reptiles like teddy bears. SO cute. Keep up the good work and I’m sure they will manage to live life free of mashed potato brains!

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  11. I completely agree with you on the, let children learn and absorb at their own pace; it just makes sense. Forcing anyone into anything, especially too quickly, will usually result in lack of interest in the end. — Too many children are technologically advanced these days. Ask one of them a question like, “What do you think about imagination?” or “Do you have an invisible friend?” … just remember not to slap them when they give you ‘that look.’

    I don’t remember quite a bit of my childhood, but I imagine that it was pretty good; I’m still alive. I had little room to maneuver and explore, but it was there. At a young age, compared to friends and other people I have spoken with, I was doing more of an adult routine, making adult decisions instead of being the teenager who I was supposed to be. Now, looking back, I can blame it on so many reasons, or excuses, but it was all by choice. I could have chosen differently, and I would have turned into a different person as a result. I’m thankful for the decisions that I made, though I see that I should’ve remained social.

    You have that tendency to spark a thought out of nearly everything (if not everything) that you write. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks so much! I love reading about other people’s childhood experiences (maybe that’s my psych degree hard at work… isn’t good for much else).

      Your comment, “You have that tendency to spark a thought out of nearly everything (if not everything) that you write” made me so happy. I’d like to think that I’m not just spouting nonsensical drivel just for the sake of getting a laugh or two, but I never know for sure whether or not I’m reaching people. Your lovely comment makes me think that I am… at least SOME of the time 🙂

      • You do more often than not. Just stick to writing about how you feel and what makes you happy; use it to pull the positive feedback that others are able to respond to.

        My mood determines much of the time how I interpret what I read. Sometimes thoughts are provoked; other times, my thoughts are too powerful to allow anything more in.

  12. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart as well. My stepson’s mother has him so tied up in organized sports that we rarely get to see him. I’m not even sure how he gets all his homework done and he’s a sophomore this year because he has two organized sports to practice with every evening after school and he doesn’t have any summer with the other extras she adds. He never gets the chance to be a kid. I love your insight on the topic 🙂

    • Heidi – Sounds like your stepson is in extra-curricular hell. Being that jam-packed with activities impedes not only the kid’s ability to decompress and get their school work done, but also their ability to spend quality time with their family.

  13. While I don’t recall ever eating crayons, my sister and I once hid in the closet and ate cherry and orange Chapstick. The wax content was roughly equivalent to crayon eating, I’m sure. As for my kids, I allow them to participate in scouts and one sport per season. Enough activity to keep them engaged and well-rounded, but not so much that they don’t have unstructured downtime.

    • I think I may have eaten a chapstick or two in my time 😉 Now, I can’t even stand the smell of cherry or orange chapstick, much less eat it as an afternoon snack.

      I do the same for my kids – one sport a season. Seems to be just enough extra-curricular activity to keep them up off the couch, but not enough to cause a stress related ulcer 🙂

  14. we’re going to have no television in our house when we have kids, so they’ll grow up really well adjusted and perfect….either that or they will be naive and sheltered and need therapy from all the kids teasing them about their weird hippy parents.

    • LOL! Kids who grow up with that experience are usually very sweet and down to earth. The only downside I can see is that they will have no idea what the hell people are talking about when they hear the name “Spongebob Squarepants” 🙂

  15. Thanks for the laugh! Between this post and your most recent one today, it’s delightful to find a kindred spirit — someone who sees the world in completely different colors than most of the rest. I’ll carry the pictures on this post in my head all day! 🙂

  16. i agree,with some of what you said, but i also think that parents nowadays(especially my mum) want their children to have the best oppurtunities and MORE options as to w here they wnt to take their life.And as kids, we Always find ways to be creative. We are FOREVER expressing ourselves. I think it can be equally damaging and helpful to a child’s future. =)

    • Thanks for the feedback – I always love to hear about other people’s opinions about what I write. I think you made some really valid points. And I think it’s important for a parent to follow the cues their kids are giving them – if the kid is thriving with a packed schedule, great! But if not, they need to learn not to push them and let the kid go at their own pace.

  17. I think we were in 1st grade when I met my best friend, but we weren’t really that close until 4th grade… I also had an Indian friend when I was little… and I remember thinking one day, “do you taste like chocolate?” So I asked her, of course. She said “do you taste like vanilla?” I said, I don’t know! So we licked eachothers arms. It was much more of a real learning experience than wikipedia is!

    • You are one of the only people who actually answered my question about when you met your best friend – thanks 🙂

      That moment you described with your Indian friend was cute – saw a similar scene out of the Whoopie Goldberg movie “Corrina, Corrina”. Kids come up with the funniest stuff sometimes!

  18. I’m all about the ‘nothing’ – I like doing nothing and thinking about it….and my kid likes it too…listening to music, hanging out, talking …. much more sensible than participating in 5 after school ‘activities’….

    P.S. I liked the rubber cement the best it school ~

  19. I love this post. This topic is a constant debate among the girls I work with. We all have children between the ages of 5 and 9. My daughter, thus far, has not done any extra-curricular activities aside from a try at ballet and one year of Girl Scouts. My son hasn’t done anything. The girls I work with have their kids doing fall-ball, spring soccer, tennis, fencing, swim team, you name it! They (both working moms) spend every spare moment lugging the kids to activities. I can’t stomach the thought of it! I already don’t have enough time to do all the things that need to be done…without having extra-curricular activities 3 days a week! But these ladies SWEAR that if I want my son to be good at baseball when he gets to high school, he NEEDS to be in little league at 4. If my daughter wants to do cheerleading in high school, she’s got to do tumbling and junior cheer NOW! And it always makes me doubt my decision to wait – my gut tells me wait until the kids approach me and say, “Mom, can I do soccer?” But then the way these other moms talk, I wonder if I’m doing my kids a disservice by not exposing them to things early. Your post makes me feel better. :o)

    • I totally agree… but I guess that’s obvious because I wrote the blog post 🙂 You made a great point that I didn’t touch on though – not only is it insane to over schedule kids because it allows for no down time for them, but also because there’s no down time for the parents either. I’ve seen bumper stickers (usually on the back of minivans) that say, “I have no life – my daughter is a dancer.” Seriously? Maybe I’m just a selfish bitch, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to surrender my entire life because my kid wants to take ballet classes.

      I had the same reservations you did about waiting for my kids to take the lead and let me know when they wanted to start getting into extra-curricular activities (my son expressed an interest at 7 yrs. old, but my daughter didn’t until she was 12 yrs. old). I felt like they were going to be too far behind the other kids, but the truth is, unless they are going for college scholarships, it doesn’t matter. My kids are playing sports because they love the games and because they wanted to meet more friends. This is not olympic training people 😉 Can’t kids just have FUN anymore??

      So, don’t listen to those manic moms – keep listening to your kids and your gut and you’ll do just fine. Glad I could put your mind at ease a little bit 😀 And thanks for such a thoughtful comment!

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