I've been thinking the last few days about a letter to the editor in the local paper on Saturday. A woman wrote in to ask for help concerning her six-year-old boy. She wanted to know what community activities were available for him at this age. He's only in every-other-day kindergarten, but he's too old for the community activities slotted for 3-5 year olds. What is he to do with all that spare time?
We as parents are so often guilty of overscheduling our children -- then we wonder why they're stressed, sick, medicated, resentful. A six year old doesn't need community ed; he needs to build stuff out of legos and help mom with housework and ride with his Grandpa (or a suitable grandfather figure; genetics are less important than availability) to the hardware store with an illicit stop along the way at a coffee shop or Dairy Queen. He needs one-on-one time with adults who will pour attention into his life and let him use his imagination. The last thing a six-year-old needs is a group of teammates who are just like him. He is getting more than enough of that in his three days a week at kindergarten.
The Bible talks about raising up a child "in the way that he should go" (See Proverbs 22:6). Part of that duty is understanding how children are designed to grow. They are not designed to be scheduled all the time. They are not designed to have teams, activities, tasks, and obligations every day. They are designed for play, which is the best way young children learn. Watch a child play for a while. Listen to their playful talk. You will realize that they are figuring the world out as they imagine dragons or princesses or tea parties or shootouts. They are discerning the difference between good and evil and they are finding their place within the world. They're figuring out how they are powerful and how they are weak.
When this boy approaches ten, he will begin to grow into a need for teammates. It fascinates me that among many Native American tribes, at about ten a boy was usually inducted into the warrior societies. Until then he lived with his family, with the watchful (and often frustrated) eyes of mother and grandmother and aunts watching out for him and trying to keep him in line. A radical change took place in his life when he was able to start taking on the role and responsibilities of a warrior. His life went from mostly play to serious training. We have muddled the categories so that we think a six year old needs training and a thirteen year old needs play.