Perspectives on Parenting: Playing Together as a Family

Perspectives on Parenting: Playing Together as a FamilyMotherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child.  We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them!  We are continuing our series, Perspectives on Parenting, with looking at activities for children.  Does your family participate in team sports, or do you prefer to engage in family play activities?  

To read the other side of this perspective, participation in team sports, you can find Megan’s post here.

Participating in organized sports may be in our future, but I hope that we will always play together as a family.

My son, F.T., is seven years old, and my daughter, G.N., is four years old, and neither one has participated in team sports. It’s not that we’ve had a bad experience; it’s more that we have so many other activities that we do as a family, and we haven’t added sports to the mix yet. When we do, I want to make sure they have a balance of organized sports and free play time, and that they are well-rounded athletes and human beings.

Even though I tend to be a worrier, I try not to think about maximizing the benefit of everything that we do. I want to let my kids be themselves and grow. When F.T. was about 18 months old, he seemed to need more space to roam, so we started taking walks around the block and through the neighborhood. He would admire the flowers (and pick a few . . . sorry). We would sit in our neighbor’s porch swing while she was at work.

As F.T. got bigger, we got in the habit of going to playgrounds, especially the ones at Landa Library and Brackenridge Park. We got memberships to the San Antonio Zoo, the San Antonio Children’s Museum (soon to become The Do Seum (post and post)), the Witte Museum, and the San Antonio Botanical Garden (post). All of these places have plenty of room to move, and most of the things there are touchable.

After G.N. was born, she came along to all these places, first in a baby carrier on my chest, then in a frame backpack. Having a stroller never helped me much; the places we go have bumpy terrain, and F.T. had a tendency to take off running faster than I could push a stroller.

We moved to a house that is near a pool and another playground. Every year, we get a membership to the pool, where the kids have had lots of fun and learned to be safe in the water. There is a swim team at the pool; maybe F.T. will join next year. At the other end of the street is a playground, and we like to walk there or ride scooters. Sometimes, there’s a lemonade stand along the way. We enjoy visiting with our neighbors at the playground and the pool. 

I suppose that some kids are born with a more typical amount of energy and some, like mine, have seemingly limitless reserves of energy. I feel like my mission every day is to get my kids tired enough that they will work up a good appetite and will go to bed at night without too much complaining. 

It’s really hard to get my kids tired at home. We have swings and a fort in the backyard, and while it’s good for a quick get-the-wiggles-out session in the early morning or in the evening, it’s not enough to get them tired. On the rare days when we get iced in, I resort to pillow fights, jumping on the bed, turning a bedroom into a balloon pit, painting the shower with food coloring and shaving cream . . . whatever it takes.

My kids are curious, and that’s the best way to get them tired: take them someplace stimulating that they want to explore. At the Botanical Garden, we set goals: let’s walk all the way up to the Overlook, or all the way around the pond. At the Witte’s H-E-B Body Adventure (post), my kids want to try all the fitness tests. At the Children’s Museum, they want to run up to the airplane, and then run back to the Powerball Hall. We take self-guided walking tours of the Alamo and the missions (post) and San Antonio’s historic downtown (post).

In the past year, as the kids have learned to keep their hands to themselves, we have added memberships to the San Antonio Museum of Art, the McNay Art Museum (post), and the Briscoe Western Art Museum (post). As a special treat, we go to bounce castle places like Inflatable Wonderland or Pump It Up, and we are looking forward to visiting the new Thin Air trampoline park.

Brother and sister enjoying the San Antonio Zoo.

Brother and sister enjoying the San Antonio Zoo.

The way we play together is more than just day-to-day survival; I am also thinking about the long-term effects of the habits we am building. We generally go to places that are educational because I hope my kids will always be learning. I also want my kids to have a lifetime of good health. And, my dream is that they will be kind, hardworking people. I have some concerns about the culture of organized sports, and that’s partly why I have not made sports a priority yet. 

For a lifetime of health, I want my kids to have good habits that are sustainable. Going for a walk almost every day is a good habit that they can keep doing for the rest of their lives. It goes along with eating balanced meals, including fruits and veggies (post), and drinking water. Going for a walk is never out of season. You can do it with friends, or you can do it by yourself. The only equipment you need is a pair of shoes. (In a pinch, you could skip the shoes.)

There are benefits to organized sports, too, and I can see us getting involved in the future, but I want to do it the right way. The key is balance. “I think free play, recreational sports, and competitive sports all have a place in childhood development,” says David M. Brennen, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist in San Antonio. “Free play such as climbing, running, or jumping allows kids to use their bodies in ways that are essential to all physical activity. Sports can provide a structure, teach kids about taking turns, working as a team, and provide social contacts. Sports can be done ‘just for fun’ or within a league with rankings and playoffs again providing different lessons about persistence and teamwork.

I worry that, when my kids got involved in sports, the pressure to compete may create habits that are not good for them in the long run. If the goal is to win a game (or a season) or to get a college scholarship, would that encourage them to train for just that one sport? Would it put them at risk for injury? (Read more: “Noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews wants your young athlete to stay healthy by playing less”, Dennis Manoloff, Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 27, 2013.) It might surprise you to learn that, according to Dr. Brennen, “Most good athletes as adults were well rounded athletes as children. Michael Jordan played mostly baseball until he grew in height and then he turned to basketball. John Elway was drafted to play both baseball and football. There are literally hundreds of other examples.”

Dr. Brennen warns against trying to get kids to become specialists at a young age, or playing a single sport year-round. “Stories of burnout and frustration are much more common than a prodigy reaching the pros after playing only one sport all their life. From a purely medical standpoint, it’s also a bad idea because children are more susceptible to overuse injuries because their skeletons are not fully mature.” The key to staying healthy is to rotate different sports with each season. That way, the physical stress is varied. And, it keeps things fun and interesting.

I also worry about the culture of organized sports. I want my kids to be driven to succeed, but also to be kind people who treat other people with fairness and compassion. What if my kids join a league where everyone gets a trophy for participating? Will they learn that hard work doesn’t matter, all that counts is showing up? Or, if they join an elite team, will they come to believe that winning is everything? Dr. Brennen advises parents to talk to their kids about their sports experiences. “A cheating teammate or an over-competitive rival are great opportunities to talk about values and priorities with our kids. And those are the things that will endure longer than any trophy or medal.”
 
As a family, we tend towards the academic: there are lots of books and computers in our house. But I want my kids to be well-rounded, so we make an effort to appreciate art and music, and to spend plenty of time playing outside. I am optimistic about the athletics program at my son’s school, Great Hearts Monte VistaThey care about winning, but they also see sports as part of the overall character education program of the school. (post) The teachers and coaches do not want the students to sort themselves into separate jock and nerd cliques to form; they want all students to participate fully in both athletics and academics.

As we try to find the right balance between school and play, and between free time and organized sports, the important thing is to keep things in perspective. Dr. Brennen says, “At the end of the day, I want my kids to know they are loved whether they are the star of the team or just sitting on the bench or anything in between.” Organized sports need to find their place alongside family time and study time, without crowding them out. (Read more: “Kids activities: What is too much for your child?”, Stepfanie Cuevas, Stepfanie’s Desk, August 30, 2014.) 

In the long run, I hope that, no matter how old I get, my kids will still go for a walk with me. Even if they are having to tell me not to pick the flowers. 

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4 Responses to Perspectives on Parenting: Playing Together as a Family

  1. Mary September 6, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    ALthough we understand the importance of organized activities we also value our time as a family together. There’s nothing like that to build family bonds that last a lifetime.

  2. Denise Barkis Richter September 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    Inga, Our 17-year-old daughter, Aedan, has been in dance since she was three. She’s currently in the dance troupe at her high school, Providence Catholic School, and she loves it. Her fellow dancers are her team members, and her dance instructor is her coach. Aedan tried soccer when she was in Kinder. Only lasted one season. As full-time working parents, we found the Saturday-morning tournaments difficult. Your kids will figure out what their “thing” is, and I know you’ll support them in whatever it is. Cheers, Denise

  3. Jen S September 4, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    My kids have dabbled in team sports, but we are definitely not fanatics. We like our free time too much to commit to sports schedules!

    • Inga Cotton
      Inga Cotton September 4, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      Jen, I know what you mean about free time. I like to see how my kids choose to spend their free time. They are growing and still figuring out who they are.