The smiles fade a bit, to be replaced by a somewhat puzzled expression when I proudly, answer, “Nothing!”
In New York City, home of IQ testing for 4-year-olds, enrichment classes in subjects ranging from Mandarin to Art Appreciation to My First Splitting of the Atom, and multiple websites to help keep track of Junior’s incredibly busy schedule, nothing is somewhat of a capital offense (if not outright child-abuse).
Here, summer camps are traditionally booked in January. Parents wait outside in the dark and cold to sign up their tots (not to mention any heretofore unborn siblings) for kiddie science courses. Personal coaches are available to drill the sport of your choice daily. Music, Dance, and Drama intensives/workshops require an audition.
New York kids have a smorgasbord of opportunities to choose from (vitally important when kindergarten applications ask you to “List your child’s greatest achievement up to this point.”)
And my kids are doing… nothing.
There are a number of reasons for this.
First off: We don’t have the money. Summer programs can run into the thousands of dollars, and that’s just the basic fees. Equipment, transportation, etc… are extra. (And yes, I have looked into scholarships for Jewish campers. What’s left is still more than we could comfortably swing.)
Second off: My husband is a teacher, and I am a writer (explains the lack of money cited above, doesn’t it?) But, what it also means is that he’s off during the summer, and I set my own schedule. We don’t need camp as a means of childcare, like, I fully realize, a majority of New Yorkers do.
Thirdly: Shlepping a kid from enrichment class to enrichment class by subway or bus in the middle of a sweltering, NYC summer is unpleasant and exhausting. As I’ve stated before, I operate on the assumption that what’s easiest for me is best for the kids.
And finally: I want my kids to be bored.
Remember how I just made it sound like I am oh, so above all those other people who over-schedule their kids in the name of giving said kids a leg up in the rat race to come?
I want my kids to be bored because research has shown it’s the best way to encourage creativity, innovation, and self-reliance.
Kids who are constantly provided with entertainment never learn to entertain themselves. Kids who are placed on a tight schedule have no need to make–and keep–their own. Kids who are always listening to others’ views have little time to think for themselves.
Or so the theory goes. (Then again, maybe I’m merely justifying the whole thing because I’m cheap and lazy. After all, another reason for keeping my guys bored is so that, when they complain about it, I get to cackle, “Then clean the house!” And they do! Thanks to “All of a Kind Family” my 5- and 8-year-old still think “getting” to dust is a treat. They actually fight over whose turn it is!)
Oh, and I guess while I’m in confession mode, I should also admit that “Nothing,” isn’t exactly accurate, after all.
Since we’re spending the summer in Brooklyn, we go to the beach every day. Where my MIT trained husband uses the ocean to explain how light is both a particle and a wave. Later, my father throws some salt at an open flame to demonstrate the resulting chemical reaction. (Science enrichment?)
We’re also surrounded by Russian speakers (Language immersion?)
My son plays a game of chess with an old man in the park (Critical thinking skills?)
We turn on the radio and I give the kids a story to act out based on it. (Music! Dance! Drama!)
We go to the playground (Physical Fitness! With even more language immersion!)
We go to the Public Library (no brain drain here!)
Remember what I said about us doing nothing for the summer?
I just read the above list over and, to paraphrase Gilda Radner… Never mind.