Links: Playing, Eating, Socializing, Balancing

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1. Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

“It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys,” says Chudacoff. “Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.”

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

Despite the evidence of the benefits of imaginative play, however, even in the context of preschool young children’s play is in decline. According to Yale psychological researcher Dorothy Singer, teachers and school administrators just don’t see the value.

“Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals. Play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time,” Singer says. “I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills.”

It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage — to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them — our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all.

2. Trader Joe’s Ex-President To Turn Expired Food Into Cheap Meals

“It’s the idea about how to bring affordable nutrition to the underserved in our cities. It basically tries to utilize this 40 percent of this food that is wasted. This is, to a large degree, either excess, overstocked, wholesome food that’s thrown out by grocers, etc. … at the end of the day because of the sell-by dates. Or [it’s from] growers that have product that’s nutritionally sound, perfectly good, but cosmetically blemished or not quite up for prime time. [So we] bring this food down into a retail environment where it can become affordable nutrition.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a hybrid between a grocery store and a restaurant, if you would, because primarily it’s going to take this food in, prep it, cook it [for] what I call speed-scratch cooking. But the idea is to offer this at prices that compete with fast food.”

“But most of what we’ll be selling will be fruits and vegetables, freshly prepared product, stuff that’s really not brand-driven. And [we’ll be doing it] in areas that, frankly, are underserved. There aren’t Trader Joe’s in the inner-cities in America, at least to my knowledge.

This is about trying to tackle a very large social challenge we have that is going to create a health care tsunami in cost if we don’t do something about it. I don’t regard Daily Table as the only solution — there are wonderful innovative ideas out there — but I certainly think it is part of and is an innovative approach to trying to find our way to a solution.”

3. No Thank You, We Don’t Believe in Socialization!

The first time I heard the word, I was attending a Catholic day school as a first grader.

Having been a “reader” for almost 2 years, I found the phonics and reading lessons to be incredibly boring. Luckily the girl behind me felt the same way, and when we were done with our silly little worksheets, we would chat back and forth. I’ve never known two 6 yr. olds who could maintain a quiet conversation, so naturally a ruler-carrying nun interrupted us with a few strong raps on our desk. We were both asked to stay in at recess, and sit quietly in our desks for the entire 25 minutes, because “We are not here to socialize, young ladies.”

Those words were repeated over and over throughout my education, by just about every teacher I’ve ever had. If we’re not there to socialize, then why were we there? I learned to read at home. If I finished my work early (which I always did,) could I have gone home? If I were already familiar with the subject matter, would I have been excused from class that day? If schools weren’t made for socializing, then why on earth would anyone assume that homeschoolers were missing out?

On a recent visit to an Art Gallery, we noticed a man walking back and forth, carrying framed artwork from his old pickup truck. I asked my 6 yr. old if she thought he might be the artist. We both agreed that was a possibility, and after a little pep-talk to overcome her stage fright, she approached him and asked. He was the artist, and he was bringing in his work to be evaluated by the curator. We all sat down and he explained some of his techniques and listened to her opinions about which piece she liked best. He told about how he enjoyed art when he was 6 and would “sell” pictures to family and friends. He recounted how he felt while creating a few of the pieces, and how each one has special meaning to him. He even let her know how nervous he was to show them to the curator and how he hoped she found them as interesting as we did. As he was called into the office, a group of thirty-four 3rd graders filed past, ever so quietly, while their teacher explained each piece on the walls. The children were so quiet and well behaved. They didn’t seem to mind moving on from one picture to the next (The problem with homeschoolers is they tend to linger on things they enjoy). They didn’t seem to have any questions or comments (Maybe they’ll discuss that later in class). And they never got a chance to meet the gentleman in the pickup truck.

4. No Happy Harmony

This thoughtful essay about balancing career and motherhood.

Both the ethical imperatives I’ve described—“must work” and “must stay at home”—reflect noble desires, the one for talents fully used and the other for the vocation of motherhood. But I worry that both are too often promoted ideologically, prescribed as answers to the anxieties young women naturally feel about what they should do. This problem is especially pressing for those high-achieving college students I have been describing, who cannot imagine doing anything—be it career or motherhood—halfheartedly.

It’s the tacit denial of the tragedy of the human condition that I’ve come to resent in the contemporary literature about “balancing” career and family. This literature is full of demands for Justice and Equality, its authors motivated by ideas of social perfection: to finally place a sufficient number of women in the ranks of management and government and to effect true gender equality in the workplace as a whole. Engaged on a quest to change the world, they write with a fervor generated by a political ideal and employ the language of political advocacy, as if the divided desires of our souls can be unified by Reform and Revolution. There is a solution for everything, they imply; we just haven’t found it yet.

But this simply isn’t so. I know from personal experience that this conflict in the soul does not go away, no matter how pleasant and accommodating our colleagues may be, or how flexible our schedules. We are limited, embodied creatures. These limits mean that we cannot do everything to its fullest extent at once, and certain things we may not be able to do at all. The tragic aspect of this is that both excellence and nurture are real, vital goods and that the full pursuit of one often, and perhaps inevitably, forecloses fully pursuing the other.

2 Responses to Links: Playing, Eating, Socializing, Balancing

  1. The Sojourner September 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    I think the general idea behind the socialization article is sound (hardly novel in the homeschooling world, but sound), but I find it amusing that her idea of good socialization is passive-aggressively shaming a random stranger over a popsicle wrapper. Maybe I just hate the environment.

    The career one bothers me. I can’t quite tease out why, but I get stuck on the fact that she conflates pursuing excellence with having a career. And I get even more stuck on the idea that she sets up excellence and love as being essentially opposed to one another. Maybe her students take a different approach to philosophy and music and other such arts than the people I know. In my experience, the reason people pursue them is not because they want to be successful in a worldly way or because they’re going to profit at all. They pursue them because things like that are beautiful and good and take one outside of oneself, which is the opposite of selfishness. And that’s exactly what love does too; you experience a sort of leaving behind of yourself in contemplating the beauty of the other. (Disclaimer: I’ve experienced that for all of about 5 seconds in my life. Most of the time loving people is hard work, just like how most of the time my writing is hard work. But both are worth it for those moments of tapping into something true and beautiful and bigger than I am.)

    Now, that isn’t to say that there isn’t a conflict between being a concert pianist and a mother. We’re beings limited by time and space. The practical details of piano practice or travel or sick kids or whatnot are certainly going to come into conflict with each other. But I see them as being essentially oriented toward the same thing when done…properly, if you will.

  2. Jenny October 2, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    As a working mother, the career one doesn’t bother me at all. It touches on the inherent tension between mothering well and having a career. I don’t think she is setting up excellence and love as opposed to each other in the abstract, but as opposed to each other in the type of excellence being pursued. The excellence she is discussing in her article is the pursuit of excellence in a personal ability. An aptitude, if you will. It may not be selfish but it is an inward looking process. You can absolutely pursue excellence in mothering and even outside hobbies or avocations, but it is not the same type of activity as a full time career.

    The only way to pursue excellence is time. I’m sure you have heard of the 10,000 hour rule. The tension is that this time you are spending in pursuit of excellence in a personal aptitude is time not spent mothering your children.

    Mothering children is a time intensive process where the focus is not on your personal aptitude but their needs. You can’t schedule when and how they will need you. If the majority of your time is spent honing your craft at a full time job, it is extremely difficult to meet the needs of your children beyond a basic level. There is not a lot of room for the type of organic relationship that develops when one spends a lot of time with each other.

    Most of the time spent together during the week is an exercise in time management directing the children from one activity to another. I am not referring to the over scheduling of outside activities, but the very basic tasks of eating supper, cleaning up, getting ready for bed, going to bed on time, getting up in the morning on time, eating breakfast, getting ready to leave. It’s go, go, go. Hardly any leisure at all and you are attempting to mold their needs into your work schedule. It doesn’t really fit.

    So let’s take the feminist model and say this working mother gets all the help she needs to run her household, be it from husbands or hired help, so that her limited time with her children is that vaunted quality time. The feminist model fails here in the mind of a mother. Generally speaking, mothers do not want to relinquish that much control over their household, so even when that help is there, the mother is not happy but feels conflicted.

    She wants to be the one to take them to the doctor. She wants to be the one deciding what’s for dinner. She wants to be the one deciding how her house and kitchen is organized. She wants to be the one the children turn to for help. And be the one to witness their ‘firsts’ and not hear about it secondhand. All the help in the world cannot make her present to her children while she is at work. And while she is at work, the thoughts of her children and their well-being (and their schedules) are never far away. Even when she loves her job.

    So her life turns into a balancing act. How much time can I spend with my children without compromising my work? Are my children being damaged by my career? Is my career being damaged by my children? There truly is no satisfactory answer. So most of us half-ass it. We cannot fully pursue a career because we have children. Children for whom we want to be present. We also cannot fully pursue mothering because we have a career. A career that demands most of our waking hours.

    I have mixed emotions about the advent of women in the workplace. I am glad that the opportunity is now available and that women can do and be anything they choose. I also wish that working were not the expectation for mothers and most would choose to stay home. First, children need their mothers, and second, working mothers have their hearts torn in half on a daily basis.

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