My Kids Need A Re-FUN-d In School And Sports

Polarizing Major League baseball player Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals is on a mission to bring fun back into the game he calls “tired.”  As with most articles I read, I immediately find parallels to my Good-Bad Dad life.

I love baseball but this is not a piece about the great American past time that kids aren’t playing anymore.

I want to write about fun – about all the fun my kids are having throughout their day.  I should be able to fill pages with all of the joy my kids are experiencing at school and in their extracurricular activities.

Talking about all of this fun will give me the opportunity to relish the thought that my tireless parental efforts are validated through my kids’ laughs and smiles – or maybe not.

When my fingers begin to type, I instead feel like Bryce Harper might have, as he attacked the rigidity of an “old-school” game that frowns upon self-expression and eliminates celebration.  Just as Harper aims to bring more fun to the baseball diamond, my kids and I need more as well – at school, in activities and at home.

The assault on fun in elementary school seems obvious from the outside looking in.  I see less room for fun through minimal free-form play time, cutbacks to creativity-based programs such as art and music, and mandates that forbid all classroom celebrations like birthday and holiday parties.

The fact that my kids practice standardize testing and do not have recess illustrates just how serious elementary schools have become.

I can only remember one serious moment in my elementary school existence – the Challenger disaster.  Other than that one time, my memories are of tether-ball, chasing girls I secretly liked and playing dodge ball.  My kids are getting a different, more serious experience.  Sure, I took standardized tests in the dark ages, but they were not an area of focus at the cost of fun.

Outside of the classroom, kids’ activities today are ridiculously competitive.  Youth sports now require a level of commitment (both in time and money) that is without bounds.  Signing up requires kids – that are far too young to do so – to choose their one, main sport.  The consequences of second guessing that selection apply pressure that little kids simply do not need.

There are fewer breaks to all seasons for kids and, as a result, fewer opportunities for my little Messi to try his hand at being the next Bryce Harper, Cam Newton, Babe Winkelman, Henry Ford or Dr. Dre.

If nothing changes, this “all eggs in one basket” mentality will be driven down to younger and younger levels.  This puts GBD’s like me on the offensive so that our kids don’t find themselves behind from the start.  Involvement born out of fear of missing out does not seem fun to me.

Bryce Harper connects fun to celebrating a home-run with a fist-pump or a slow trot around the bases.  I think of reintroducing fun to my family subtly – by trying to get back to the basics.

My kids do love the activities they participate in.  I love for them to be active.  There is no need to pull back the reins to a complete stop – but I can see the value of slowing the pace.

I should make the effort to be more tuned in.  This requires breaking loose of the robot-chauffeur mode I live in most days as I whisk around town to deliver kids from one activity to another.

I need to hone my ability to detect when missing a few practices or downplaying an upcoming recital might be just the right medicine.  I should more often, and unapologetic-ally, call a family “time-out” in order to re-energize my run-down student athletes.

There should be room to run a tight ship at the same time as allowing my little artists to paint outside of the lines.  Providing time to splash in the pool is as important as practicing the butterfly stroke for another fifty meters.

Back to the basics for me involves asking the right questions to my little gymnast about how she is enjoying learning a new version of the bridge kick-over.  If I’m listening to my kids’ answers and keying in on clues while watching them at play, I can figure out when more fun and less pressure is required.

By going back to the basics, I do not simply rediscover fun.  In doing so, I restore proper balance for my kids – the joy of being diligent and silly, studious yet funny and aggressive while compassionate.


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