Children learn through play. We see it, we hear it, we know it, yet as parents many of us seem to, at some point in our children’s early development, forget it. We no longer think they should have long, lazy days on a playground and rather expect them to sit at a desk. We do not encourage them to be active and creative, but rather to work at a desk and in front of a computer. We completely forget that there is no substitute for 3-D learning and hand our children an iPad claiming we don’t want them to fall behind so we must educate them with all the latest technology.

Our society seems to have come to a point where kids no longer get to just be kids. Between school and extracurricular activities, there is no time for simple existence, reflection, imagination and creative play. We aren’t building budding architects with wooden blocks, but rather with Auto-Cad and 3D printers for kids. While clearly there are some benefits to the new-fangled technology, our persistent state of overdrive with our children may also be causing mental, emotional and physical stress that is simply too much for their young bodies.


As parents each and every one of us only wants what is best for our children. More so than that, we want better for them than what we had as children. Our aspirations for them include the best academics, excelling in athletics, superior musical abilities and stellar college educations. The generations of parents currently raising children, the generation Y and millennials, were likely all provided with a multitude of opportunities as children that our parents felt we too needed to succeed.

Unhappy with many of our life choices or outcomes, those of child-bearing age are now trying to push even more onto their offspring hoping they may overcome the middle-class barrier to which many of us have fallen prey. Unfortunately for children today most of us parents became college graduates as the economy and housing market crashed leaving us with massive student loan debt and insufficient job options. Although we have likely found our way by now, slowly and painstakingly, we are all dead-set on not letting our children do the same, however at what cost?

Today’s children are being taught in classrooms 6-8 hours a day at a desk or a computer. They are being taught to read, write and do math, but with no real world examples. Children are not learning because they are enjoying what’s being taught, or even because they are ready for the material being taught, but rather for many by rote memorization which may get them through for a few years, but eventually leads to their educational demise.

“Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.” – Roger Lewin

Children are being “left behind” academically as we move away from hands-on learning and turn to worksheets and computers. These children are being forced into stressful learning environments where their abilities are not being fostered, but rather their inadequacies magnified. This results in continual emotional distress which can create deficits in a child’s intellectual abilities, crippling the capacity to learn. There is little movement in our classrooms of today and even less recess. Our children are being bogged down by homework assignments and weekend projects – they are literally being left with NO TIME for play at home or at school.

As parents, so many of us are looking to private schools, charter schools and gifted programs to facilitate the more hands-on, mobile education we think our children need. We want our children learning more, moving between stations and not sitting sedentary all day staring at a blackboard, but in all reality there oftentimes ends up being little difference in these programs. There is still minimal free time and excessive testing requirements that keep our children working for hours a day to become proficient at a task that isn’t necessarily teaching them anything long term.

“There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer

Our kids are not learning to learn, much less are they any longer learning for fun or enjoyment. There is no play, creativity or imagination being fostered in these classrooms of today; instead there is stress, fear and competition eating away at our children’s already fragile and developing self-esteem. As parents, we often see indicators of stress in our children to include low impulse control, difficulty concentrating and irritating behaviors.

Truthfully, once our children enter their classrooms, we as parents so often become part of the problem by competing and transfer this competitiveness onto our kids. WE START TO BECOME THE CAUSE OF OUR CHILDREN’S STRESS. “Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them,” states KidsHealth from Nemours. We want them to be the best reader, the best writer, to win the spelling bee and goodness knows have the BEST project!

To us this is success; success for our child by being the best AND success for us as being the parent to the smartest, brightest child in class. Young children are experiencing more stress at younger ages in part due to being overscheduled and feeling pressured to perform or behave beyond their ability. We as parents are not only allowing, but at some point precipitating the unhealthy competition, overscheduling, and stress that plagues our children today.

Unfortunately for many of our kids the rigorous time management schedule they’re on does not even seem to end with the school bell these days. There are no leisurely bike rides with the neighborhood gang, tree climbing competitions or afterschool snacks with friends. From pre-school on, we enroll our children in dance, soccer, piano and gymnastics all with the best intentions, yet prohibiting our children from having any free play at all. According to KidsHealth from Nemours, “many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax afterschool.”

All of these super-structured, forced learning activities are not allowing our children any freedom of space, time or individual thought. We may mold them into an amazing ballerina or baseball all-star, but not necessarily for their own pleasure or personal gain. Our children are not participating in these extra-curricular activities because they want to, but rather because they are being raised believing they have to.

Each and every one of us parents knows we have “asked” our child if he or she wants to play sports, piano, or dance and we will claim that our child chose to do so…but let’s be real, who is the person herding and corralling a pack of complaining kids in and out of cars, dance studios and sports fields everyday? Whose child would most likely be more happy and carefree on a swing in the backyard until the sun goes down?

We literally stress ourselves to the breaking point because as parents we wake at 5:30am and don’t sleep until after midnight just trying to tote our children to and from their various activities while holding down jobs and running households. We are the epitome of stress and whether we see it or not we are transferring this to our young, developing, unsuspecting offspring. We never take a break; we never relax and we do it all for the sake of our children, but not necessarily to their benefit.


The bottom line is that we as parents need to put our foot down…we need to decide whether or not we are going to allow our children to be overburdened and exhausted tiny people, or if we are going to advocate for additional recess, more relaxed classrooms and less competition. Individually, each of us must determine what is best for our family and each and every one of our children. While one child may be more athletically inclined and excel playing multiple sports, another may prefer academics, either way we need to tailor their schedules accordingly.

More so than that we need to have some time that is not scheduled – no activities, no sports, no homework, no plans – for both ourselves and our kids. Free time, free choice and free play should not be reserved for vacations only (and who are we kidding we usually overschedule those too) but rather should be a regular part of our lives. Relaxing, playing with friends and inventing backyard games entails just as, if not more, valuable learning experiences than anything our children are going to get out of a classroom or textbook. Encourage creativity, encourage imagination and encourage your child to experience the everyday world without playdates, practices or plans as much as possible.

“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.” – Albert Einstein

For more tips on surviving this school year stress-free check out the School section of Daily Mom.

Sources: KidsHealth.org.


Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula, Ashley Wells

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