Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thoughts on the "Hyperscheduled" Child Trend

We live near Silicon Valley, which has one of the highest concentrations of highly educated white collar professionals in the U.S. In our social circle, I've noticed a big problem with hyperscheduled kids who rush around from activity to activity without any time for spontaneous play because their parents are obsessed with building up an impressive resume for college applications that are often over a decade away!

The college admissions obsession around here starts before most kids are out of Pull-Ups. Our DD has several little friends who've been enrolled in drill-and-kill Jr.Kumon tutoring since age 3 in the hopes of getting into the "right" private kindergarten that the parents hope will ultimately lead to the coveted Ivy League admission. It's not just the recent Asian immigrants either.

I recently leafed through the "Bay Area Parents' Paper Guide to Summer Enrichment" to see if there were any good day camps for DD. I was looking for a traditional camp that offers things like nature exploration, arts & crafts, swimming lessons, and intro to a bunch of sports (similar to a gym class that rotates through the various sports). Instead, I found all these speciality camps: physics, computer science, astronomy, engineering, math, learn-to-read, Mandarin immersion, digital animation, creative writing, debate, and tons of sports camps that focused on one particular sport (basketball, soccer, tennis, gymnastics, etc).

Most of them stressed academics and included "scare tactic" wording such as "Can you afford to wait one more year?" "Are your kids getting enough? Studies show that kids who participate in the arts do better in school and in life!" "Use it or lose it! Over the summer, students may forget as much as 80% of what they learned in the classroom. Even the best students can fall behind- don't let your child's academic skills deteriorate this summer!" One advertisement went so far as to show a picture of a small brain labeled "your child's brain" and underneath it a picture of a larger brain labeled "your child's brain on ___ Summer School" Oy vey!

Do children really learn more from sitting in a classroom all summer than they would by exploring God's creation? Is there any evidence to suggest that formal art training at a young age produces more talented artists than creative art exploration? What about athletics- will specializing in one particular sport early build a better athlete than allowing the child to explore many different ones?

I recently read a profile of the eminent biologist Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Human Genome Research Institute. Dr. Collins was homeschooled on a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley by hippie parents who ran a summer theater. His homeschooling experience included lots of involvement in the arts but little science. Dr. Collins discovered a passion for physics and chemistry and went on to receive a PhD. in Physical Chemistry from Yale. During graduate school, a course in biochemistry sparked an interest in molecular genetics and the rest was history. Noticeably absent from Dr. Collins' biography is any evidence of hyperscheduling or early academic specialization.

This whole emphasis on hyperscheduling, early specialization, unhealthy competition, and external markers of achievement is a big part of why we decided to homeschool (along with financial and logistical concerns). It would be bad enough in high school but these are young kids!

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