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Dabbling Vs. Expertise

January 31, 2017 - Stacey Sacco
I’m pretty sure I’m not raising the next Kobe Bryant, Yo-Yo Ma, or Albert Einstein. And that’s OK. When I put the kids in extra-curricular activities, I do it so they will learn life skills, not so they will be prodigies.

I like that they learn physical, educational, and social skills from the activities they participate in. They learn the rules of a game, how to work with a group and take turns. They learn to deal with both success and failure. These are the reasons I pay for activities and encourage my kids to sign up.

We’ve limited the number of extra activities per kid. One thing at a time for each of them. Having four kids, it would be possible to do nothing but run them to and from events. We are busy enough with the few things we do in addition to school, homework, church and family activities. We want balance between learning those skills and the free time that is so beneficial for kids.

Considering all of this, my goal for these kinds of activities during childhood was to provide my kids with a wide variety of experiences so they could make decisions about what is most fun or what they may have an aptitude for. Even if they aren’t the very best at something, they are learning skills that will be important in adulthood.

However, I have recently discovered that my priorities do not line up with those of most coaches, teachers, or instructors. It seems that they want kids to specialize in one thing only and quickly become “experts” in that one activity.

For example, Matthias has played several sports over his decade of life. This year, fifth grade, was the first time he could play sports in school. He decided to give basketball a try. He has never played basketball before and didn’t have the skills or knowledge to pick up a game. I assumed the coach would start with the basics and build from there. Not the case. Some of the other kids on the team have obviously been breathing basketball for years. The coach expected that all the kids already knew the rule, how to dribble and shoot, and positions. And once we started playing games, it was obvious this was the case for other schools as well.

It was a discouraging experience for him, to be expected to be an expert and not a beginner at age ten. The overwhelming message was that he was too old to be trying a sport for the first time. Never mind that he has played other sports, he was expected to know everything about basketball prior to playing for a fifth grade team. In fact, he’s already told me he doesn’t want to play next year. I’m so disappointed that he would be discouraged from trying something new at age ten.

Another recent experience shocked me even more. Anelise, who will soon be five, decided to try dance. She has also done other activities like swimming, gymnastics, and soccer. So I called to sign her up for a tap/acro class at the local studio. They were shocked that she didn’t have any dance experience- at age four. Luckily, she too young or too stubborn to let it bother her that the other kids have been doing this for years. But how is age five too old to start a new class?

My goal was for my kids to be well-rounded. To encourage them to try new things and experiences. But this doesn’t seem to fit with the current method of teaching. I’m not worried about them being able to compete at a national level. I just want them to be active and excited and stretching their boundaries. Eventually they will find something they love and throw themselves into it, but until then, I want my little novices to have fun.


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