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The Bottles And Cans Approach To Child Development

As I noted in a previous post, we have been trying to speed up child development for years.  Generations, really.  Whether through skills-building activities, or Sesame Street or Little Einstein toys, we have made it our mission to get our child to speak first, speak the most words or do Task X first or failing that, do it the best.

It hasn’t been working.  Children today hit developmental markers at the same ages as children 600 years ago.  The amount of words your child will know and use at 18, the amount and difficulty of mathematical calculations they can do in their head and how otherwise “smart” they are is genetically pretty much set at conception.

You may have also heard that we have fallen behind many other countries on standardized tests, especially in the realm of math and science.  Maybe you believe this, maybe you don’t.

The point of this post is that all our obsessive, “must get our children into Harvardesque pre-schools” compunction not only isn’t working, it unnecessarily amps up the difficulty of parenting.

What if simply taking your children to recycle bottles and cans at the supermarket is all it takes to raise them well?  That is what one father from the Netherlands does on Saturday mornings; his wife sleeps in.
That was their special, stimulating, child-directed time: recycling bottles and cans.
Asked if an activity was developmentally meaningful, the Dutch parents
would brush off the question as irrelevant or even nonsensical.
Why think of every activity as having a developmental purpose?
This should ease my wife’s worries (and every other working Mom’s worry) that she doesn’t spend enough time with the kids.  Or that they are somehow worse off.  As I’ve told her: it isn’t the amount of time, it’s the quality.  For instance: We take our triplets all over the place.  And not just the regulars like parks and the Please Touch Museum.  Ours go to restaurants, from diners to Panera to Longhorn.  They go the supermarket with us.

Just because you have 10,000 experiences under your belt, never forget that to kids, everything is new.  Sure, the grocery store is a chore to you and you’ve probably been out to eat 1,000 times.  But these are new, exciting environments to kids.  Places where they learn how you interact with people, how you act in certain situations and how people will interact with them.  Places where they see how “life” is lived.  You may have life down pretty well at this point.  Most of “life” may in fact occur on auto-pilot for you.  But remember, kids have no experience living this thing called “life.” 

I’m always amazed by people on Facebook who are worried about taking their older singletons to an eatery.  If you take a child out to eat occasionally they know how to respond to such an environment.  If you wait until they are 2 years old to take them out, they are going to be hyper, uncontrollable messes. 

A restaurant is new and exciting for them.  How do you expect them to know how to act if they have no experience acting in that situation?

That trip to the grocery store or Target is just as much of a learning experience as playing with that toy truck or latest Einstein do-dad.  We forget this in our culture, and it is to our detriment.

Our losing obsession with development worries the expert at the heart of this article.  She wonders what we are missing out on while we relentlessly push up against the brick wall of child development.
Nothing in American parenting is anything like the concept of ng’om,
which is used by the Kipsigis people in rural Kenya
to describe children who are especially intelligent and responsible.
This concept of intelligence, as Harkness and Super have written,
highlights “aspects of social competence, including responsibility and helpfulness.”
These aspects, they add dryly, “have tended to be overlooked in
Western formal theories of children’s intelligence.”
While we are banging our heads against the unyielding brick wall of child development we have skipped giving our kids experiences that help them behave properly in public or pick up their coats off the floor.  And then we wonder why they “insist on leaving their damn coats on the floor.” 


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