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  • Betsy Singleton Snyder

Child's Play

During the big-reveal ultrasound that identified our triplets’ genders, the tech announced we were having three more boys. With a ridiculous total of four, we assumed we’d spend hours on soccer or baseball fields, maybe sitting on bleachers, the back of our van filled with sports equipment.

How would we navigate the unfamiliar, organized sports for kids that has become the American norm, the meets and weekend-long tournaments? As older parents, scheduled sports were not our experience because we played in neighborhood tribes in front yards, or the thick of mysterious woods and winding creeks — the inexpensive adventures our parents could afford.

First things first: we wanted to discover our children’s interests, not ours or what is expected of boys or what the cultural norm assumes, but the emergence of individual passions. (The same criteria applies to girls and all sports available to us now, thank you very much Title IX.)

For physical development, we went to Diaper Fun, a local class for parents and babies. At four, the oldest tried T-ball, but after three years said he had enough participation trophies and was ready to ditch the hot uniform. Clearly, not his passion. With his love of music, he tried dance, good for movement, exercise and five years of discipline and confidence on stage.

In the summers, our kids took swimming. The teacher pressed us to get the oldest on a swim team. Each practice, I marveled at his natural grace and beauty in the water, but he grew to hate laps. Swim’s not a competitive passion for any of our boys, but all can swim and they love to play in water.

We tried basketball camp one summer. They claimed it nearly killed them. Not a passion. So far, one loves tennis, another likes tennis, golf and recently said he wants to be a pitcher. One is in gymnastics. My bank account loves the one who reads voraciously, is always up for a game of chess and is hard to get off his bike. In fact, seeing my kids push off daily on bikes to explore the neighborhood with no particular goal has become my passion.

Mike Lanza’s book, “Playborhood,” suggests parents create neighborhood cultures with less screen time and less adult-supervised activities to allow more free play and to develop greater self-reliance. Competition is healthy, but organized sports can become too professionalized, and less play-filled, especially for kids who get burned out early, or aren’t capable of reaching elite levels. Follow the passion, but don’t kill it.

Two years ago, one of our boys insisted he had to ice skate. I resisted. How does that even work in our hot-house state? I soon learned, and we spend Saturday mornings watching all four while freezing our rears off. The boys have mastered the basics of freestyle and know what it’s like to glide, jump and spin on ice.

Yet what did our family do during vacation? Ride bikes everywhere and throw the football in the ocean.

Play always wins.

This blog post was originally published in Betsy's column, "Parent-ish" in Little Rock Family Magazine.

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