Big Events for Little Kids? Um, No

small kids prefer calm to festivals, parties, and fairs

When my firstborn was 10 months old I went to hear a speaker at the evening meeting of a local mother’s organization. Except for nursing babies, children weren’t allowed. Sleeping baby on my shoulder, I sat happily among other women who were going through the same experience that had changed my life so completely at the age of 22. I was acquainted with Le Leche meetings, but women here ramped up the game: hair done, make-up on, reasonably trendy clothes worn. I was wearing the equivalent of a sack, feet stuffed into pre-baby boots, hair an artless mess.

A business meeting was conducted before the speaker was introduced. These were serious women. They ran a tight group with weekly programs and seasonal parties for kids, plus monthly speakers, all made possible by active committees and subcommittees. At the close of the program, two welcoming committee members greeted me, extolling the virtues of the organization and inviting me to a kids’ party in the community rec center the next weekend. My son wasn’t remotely old enough to care but, easily pressured, I agreed to show up.

The party was held in one of those stark recreation center gyms. Even an overload of decorations didn’t make that cavernous space seem welcoming.  Large and surprisingly fancy games were set up. These weren’t rented games, they were constructed from plywood and artistically painted, surely the result of much parental labor. Costumed figures roamed at a slow pace. Their progress could be tracked by children’s horrified shrieks and mothers’ eager exclamations. Tiny children were strapped in strollers, slightly older children were expected to do things like stand between taped lines to throw a ball at a brightly painted hole or sit at a table where pre-cut shapes were meant to be glued onto paper. There was a lot of noise. I was more overwhelmed than my son by all these frantic attempts to manufacture fun. We escaped after a few minutes.

The next morning a committee chair called, sweetly informing me the group allowed attendance at two events before I was expected to join. Serving on a committee was a condition of membership. She outlined the group’s structure at length while her baby daughter screamed unrelentingly in the background. I awkwardly explained that membership wasn’t for me,  blaming it on my baby’s need for calm and structure. (Pretty much what most other babies in my acquaintance needed as well.)

I didn’t learn quickly. Over the next year or two I checked out a number of weekend events for families. I took my little one to fairs, children’s concerts, and open air arts programs. These were flustering events with more chaos than either one of us could tolerate, punctuated by the wails of tiny children who clearly preferred to toddle or run around rather than be strapped in for an afternoon of overstimulation. End-of-their-rope parents walked grimly by with balloons tied to strollers. I overheard one parent hiss between tightly stretched lips, “We’re here so you can have FUN.”

My little boy seemed smaller at these events, constrained and passive, while at home he was a mighty explorer and intrepid experimenter. Being stuck in a car seat, then a stroller, forced into the observer role —- this wasn’t the way he thrived.

I’ll readily admit my firstborn was an experimental child.  Trial and error proved many of my choices for him to be poorly considered, or, more often, far too over considered. (I have apologized to him, even thought he laughs it off as experimental offspring learn to do.) But thanks to those early experiences I spared his younger siblings crowded and contrived events meant to entertain children. The public events we did attend were quieter and more enticing for kids: a yearly peace fair with non-competitive games, an arts festival held at a junkyard, an outdoor international fair where one could wander along while watching music and dance, a nature area’s pioneer program with stations along the trails to teach traditional hands-on skills.

I’d venture to guess there are very few loud, overdone events that really appeal to the youngest kids. When we see this through our children’s eyes we see that exhausting ourselves in pursuit of purported fun isn’t fun at all. Rather than all the fuss getting there, the expense, the promises of merriment, and what always seems like a longer trip back I’m pretty sure kids are happier with an unexpected pleasure like using the garden hose to make mud pies or having mom bring home a big cardboard box to make into a fort or  filming some silly home movies with dad’s phone. Invite a kid friend over and it’s even more fun.

Meanwhile, adults can relax a bit. Read a book, sit in the sun, chat with a fellow adult, drink a glass of wine, or heck, make some mud pies too. This isn’t just slacker parenting at its best. It’s also a prescription for peace.

More thoughts on parenting groups:

Collaborate with others to create your own more relaxed parents’ group, meeting up for kid-friendly gatherings at nature areas,  playspaces, and back yards.

Find an existing group that meets your needs. If you are nursing a child, try your local Le Leche League chapter.  Consider joining the Holistic Moms Network, your local Mothers & More group, Mom’s Club, or check out Meetup.com for groups in your area.

Set up a playgroup that meets in a senior center or assisted living facility. Here’s how.

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Big Events for Little Kids? Um, No

  1. My parents weren’t ‘joiners’, and coming nearly at the end of a long string of siblings, I benefited from a hard-learned laissez-faire raising system. There’s a line in ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the classic children’s book, where the children’s distant father is consulted about whether they make take their sailing dinghy and camp on an island in the lake. He cables back something like this: “If not duffers, won’t drown. If duffers, better drowned”. It was meant humorously, of course, but sums up my parents’ attitude rather well!

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  2. Amen to that! I could not agree more, Laura. And I learned the hard way as well. It can be so challenging/enlightening to remove our adult lens, slow our pace, and receive this tremendous gift of LESS that children give us. I miss those days when small and simple things seemed much more than enough… and I’m hoping… with the grandchildren?

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  3. So very very true, and I learned the hard way too. But what a blessing, like Janet above says to have learned that! To have learned the true joy, thanks to our children. I loved your line: “My little boy seemed smaller at these events”…..
    We had a group of 4 moms with young children leaving Waldorf school to create our own weekly meetup. We planned out topics for each week, we purchased the Little Acorns curriculum. Children ranged from newborn to 5, very young. Although we had relaxed home atmosphere weekly, still, it took us almost a year to allow ourselves to accept the fact that children just wanted to play…:)

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    • This sounds very familiar BeeHappee! Although I gave that sort of thing a go when my kids were older, They knew as truth that a craft project isn’t as artful as playing with art supplies, that a themed game isn’t as fun as a made-up game, and so on, but they went along almost as if the kids were humoring us….

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  4. When my first child was born, I was struck with a strong urge to stay home with him. It was a full 7 weeks before we ventured out into the world except for the obligatory doctor’s visits. And I loved every minute and did the same (actually, it may have been longer) with my second child. Once we were out and about in our limited way, I was astounded at the number of people I saw with newborns (and I mean brand new, like a week old) at church, the grocery store, etc. My children are now almost 4 and almost 5 and we still have the least number of activities on our calendar of anyone I know. And I know deep in my heart that it is the right choice for us and for our children’s personalities. Fortunately, I have (finally) found a group of three mamas and their children who have similar values on this subject and we get together here on our farm once a week (our only scheduled activity, actually.) It is unfortunate that following a less-is-more approach in just about anything in life (parenting is just one area) can be very isolating in our current culture. It was frustrating to feel, one the one hand, that I knew what I was doing (or NOT doing, more precisely) was the right thing for my children but, on the other hand, to wonder where was my tribe? Certainly, we couldn’t be the only family who felt this way. Of course, we aren’t but the funny thing about being social in a different way than many people today are social is that you have to look a bit harder to find your tribe. But, it is so worthwhile when you do especially when you keep in mind that the most important people will always be your family whether anyone in the outside world supports your decisions or not.

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  5. Being the introvert that I am, I’ve never even attempted such an outing. Heck the idea of Friday co-op scares me. I’ve always feared that my kids were missing out on some great adventure. That others could provide better than myself. This was slightly encouraging. We still get out and about just nothing big like that.

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  6. I think it depends in part on why you go to these events. If you’re going to these events, as that one parent said to their child, “So YOU can have fun,” it’s not going to work. Because if the kid doesn’t have the maximum amount of fun, everything is ruined. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, the kids will pick up on it. On the other hand, if you go to them because you think everyone in the family will enjoy it, then it’s much more likely everyone actually will. Not everything has to be designed specifically to entertain kids for them to still enjoy.

    The other part of it is how much you’re willing to let your kid lead. Since my son has been able to walk, I’ve had him in a stroller as little as possible. We still use it when we have to walk far distances (more than half a mile), but I prefer for him to walk hand-in-hand with me or just follow him as much as possible. It can make certain tasks more difficult – Christmas shopping was rather stressful – but it’s helped foster an exploratory nature and independence as a result. I wonder how much more those kids would enjoy those events if they weren’t strapped down.

    Personally, I have to get out of the house on the weekends. Sometimes a quiet afternoon in the park is perfect, but I like getting out and doing things as well.

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  7. I guess we are weird my kids have always loved big festivals and events the louder and brighter. Even as older babies they seemed to love taking in what they could. We didn’t go for them but because I needed to get out if they had ever seemed stressed out we would have left but never remember it happening.

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