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Over-scheduling children during the summer is unnecessary (qz.com)
78 points by kafkaesq on June 15, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

I run a summer program that teaches kids to code, and I find that the kids who come into our classes are legitimately motivated to learn computer science. One of the key focuses of my program is to have them be creative with code, like building games with Java, solving problems with Python, or constructing Arduino robots from off-the-shelf materials. A lot of these kids would not discover their passion for technology without taking a structured class that introduces it to them in a fun way and encourages them to be creative.

That being said, there are some programs that are simply horrible at introducing these ideas to kids. There are large summer camp organizations spread across many locations that have over-commercialized the summer camp business, who have become skilled at leaving parents oblivious to the true level of education their kids are receiving. A kid who loves Minecraft will be thrilled by the brief exposure to Java code while modding it, followed by hours of playing Minecraft on rented computers (something they can easily do on their own at home).

In my particular niche of summer education, there are countless programs that do an absolute disservice to kids trying to learn something outside of their normal schoolwork during the summer. They are placated by simple copy-and-paste coding, drag-and-drop blocks that they could easily discover on their own, and the trivial blinking of LEDs. Becoming a maker requires a commitment to learning on the part of students, and an organization willing to accept the challenge of teaching it.

Can you link to any info about your program online? I am particularly interested in the tools you find most effective in fostering creativity.

Glad you're interested! I didn't want to make my original post a marketing statement, the program is Techlab Education (techlabeducation.com). One tool we use to foster creativity is our Java game development library at apcs.io, it makes it easy to build games and creative applications of code. We're working this summer on open-sourcing all of our curriculum and methodology so schools and partner organizations can benefit from it. Let me know if you have any questions!

What age group do you target, and is there a subset there where kids are more interested and/or teaching winds up being more effective?

We target 8 - 18 year old kids, and I've found that the 8-11 year olds learn best with Python while the older kids 12+ learn best with Java. Our general progression is to start kids of any age with Python using pythonroom.com, and then move toward Java/web development/iOS as they become more comfortable with computer science principles and syntax.

I've worked with brilliant 8 year olds that absorb programming like sponges, and I've had reticent teenagers who discover a passion for computer science through Java game development. I've also had the kids who refuse to make an effort to learn despite my best efforts. More than anything, the experience of teaching real computer science to kids has taught me that it's not for everyone, and that's not a bad thing at all. As long as every kid understands what technology can do and what problems it can solve, they can be effective adults in our rapidly modernizing society.

We are secular homeschoolers. For us, there is no summer break and when the kids get bored during their free time they come up with the most creative things. Ex: They decided to build their own mud cafe with menu, prep kitchen, seating etc. Every food item was essentially made out of mud. Another ex: my daughter was bored and tinkering around with a snap circuit set. All the sudden I hear a faint sound of sports radio. She had built her own AM radio without any help.

Over-scheduling, scripted play, etc in my mind hampers a childs ability to develop deep imagination and creativity.

Checkout the unschooling or self-directed learning movement.

my parents are originally from a communist country and when i was young they tried scheduling my free days down to the minute. i still remember the incredible feeling of constraint and frustration.

to anyone reading that has these tendencies, let me just tell you, this is not healthy for children.

if you undermine a child's natural curiosity and propensity to learn undirected, the only thing you are undermining is your own credibility in their eyes.

Do you plan on homeschooling your children for the entirety of their K-12 years?

We plan to make the assessment for each child, each year. I can imagine at least one might want to go to high school. But they will likely be so ahead academically we might just send them directly to college like these people: http://www.thebrainybunchbook.com/meet-the-harding-family/

I was unschooled K-6. Private school in 7, public middle school in 8, public high school 9-11 (did 4 years in 3), straight to work. My brother was public middle school 7-8, public high school 9-11 (4 years in 3), University. And my other brother was no school, GED at 16, start a business. We were far ahead academically when my brother and I joined. We mostly went to socialize, so that was the main goal. If I had to do it all again, I wish my parents pushed me harder to go to University first and skip high school. This is what I will encourage when I unschool my kids.

The trouble is that a 16 year old college student really is going to have trouble fitting in socially if you go from home to college. Academically it could work, but a big part of what I found valuable in attending college was the social aspect, learning to live independently, dealing with bigger problems on my own, balancing academics and social life, those kinds of things.

Take it with a grain of salt because my own child is only 4 right now, but I'm leaning toward encouraging her to take a year off after high school and starting college a little later. If I could do anything over again, it'd be that, as the extra year of maturity would have helped.

The other thing to think about is how quickly do you want your kids to grow up? You don't get a do-over on childhood and assuming a stable family life, that's a time to really enjoy everything going on around you. There's a balance to be had, and you can continue to promote advanced academics without having to sacrifice childhood. I'm from an immigrant family and part of the reason I work hard is the same reason my parents did - so that my kids can just be kids and not have to rush to the workforce, but I do admittedly have a pretty even blend of American and Italian professional and social values.

I would encourage the kid to maybe do an exchange abroad, live in a different culture, work on a farm or something like that then go to college when ready. I don't understand the rush to get to college.

I generally don't understand the rush to "grow up" to be honest. Everyone's in a hurry to get to work. If I can manage it at all financially, I'm not putting that pressure on my kid. I'm not saying I want her to be living at home at age 30, but if she took a year or two off between high school and college, I'd support it as best I could. See some of the world, get some perspective, then head back to school with possibly a greater focus on what she actually wants to do. I'm with you.

I would think that really depends on the school and the person. When I was at University of Chicago, I knew a 16-year-old girl who had been homeschooled, and she had tons of friends and fit in really well. On the other hand, I was 17 and much less social and well-adapted (and I went to 12 years of public school).

I don't know if a 16-year-old would fit in as well at a big party school where they'd never be able to partake in much of the social scene (legally), though.

How do you manage screen time?

I'd like to add to a personal anecdote.

Sitting outside bored on a stump doing nothing productive was more "harmful" for my development than spending hours on the computer playing an MMO. On the MMO I learned social interactions, supply and demand, how bronze is made, puzzle-solving skills, how to touch type, and even got to delve into some basic statistics (drop rates, DPS calculations).

My father saw it as "wasting time playing some video game" instead of "playing outside". Thankfully my mother had watched me play the game and saw that I was actually learning and benefiting from it in a fun environment and would allow me to play more or less as long as I wanted after my homework was finished. Other benefit: this was the only time in my life I ever did my homework.

We have pretty tight control over their access. They do not have their own phones nor tablets. We have a family iPad. We let them watch educational television in the evenings 2-3 nights a week (Thomas the train, Calliou, Magic Schoolbus, etc). We have a bunch of educational games on the iPad (ex: pettson's inventions) which they can play a couple times a week.

We dont play regular video games whatsoever.

Good in principle, but I assume most parents are more or less desperate to find some kind of childcare in the summer, not having the luxury of being bored themselves with the little dears. So it's off to chess camp or else. Unless one parent doesn't work, or you're well-off enough that junior can be bored with some kind of nanny or minder...

^ This. I love the idea of spending this summer at home with my kid, reminding her to look at her list of interesting activities ... but realistically that's not going to happen.

It's hard to stay in the same city as the grand parents, but that's where it becomes incredibly useful.

Am I the only parent who feels incredibly guilty every time I have to foist my kid onto my parents? It's not like they don't have their own lives and their own shit to do.

I also think you should talk to them. Both pairs of grandparents to my children enjoy the time they sometimes have alone with my children. That relationship across generations can be a great gift to both your kid and your parents.

Talk to your parents about it. I know many grandparents who'd love to spend more time with their grandchildren, but don't want to intrude on their children's lives so don't offer.

Probably not. But one of my grandmothers managed her older daughter's household--a bunch of kids, fifty weeks a year. I never felt that bad about leaving one son with his grandmother for a couple of weeks every summer.

Interesting. Depends on the culture I guess. My grandparents would offer to take care of me every summer, and say they wouldn't mind doing it now (I'm 22!).

I think the article misses a crucial component of this tendency--working parents who have to fill the time left by summer vacation from school. If you don't have a high school aged child, you really can't leave them completely to their own devices for eight hours a day (yes, there probably are some 10 year old kids that are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, but I don't know many parents who leave elementary school aged kids at home every day, alone).

That said, I do know some parents who don't need to over-schedule their kids' time (that is, one parent does not work, or has a flexible schedule), but still do it because they don't know how to just their kids be kids. Every wasted moment is a moment their kids aren't being prepared for college.

on the other side of the spectrum, I distinctly remember forgetting all about math between secondary school and high school (the only year you don't get summer homework around here) - so I had a very rough first year.

but hey it all turned out ok in the end, so just my .02

I was 8 and I ran all over my apartment community/neighborhood. I just had to be home before dark. Now my parents would get reported apparently.

I find that many of my friends try to pack their lives full as adults. No one embraces boredom at all. I'm a rock climber, so I know what it's like to get out and do something, but holy crap are people scared of "wasting a day".

I think it's an epidemic we face. We have everything at our fingertips, and compare our average to other peoples best (think of all the posts on facebook). Being bored for long enough time, eventually leads to introspection - and I think that for some people that is a scary thing.

It may just be confimation bias, but when I look around me, people that are fine with sitting a sunday in their garden and enjoy a book, are more content with their life, than people that have the next 9 weekends booked with various activities.

This comment really spoke to me. To a surprising extent, actually. I love having some days with no responsibility, no plan, no compulsory activity. That feeling of freedom and effortless enjoyment is one of the most satisfying feelings I know. And, looking back, it's often been that same freedom that's spurred me on to learn/make things.

So, anecdotal, but don't be too busy!

I don't know, man. Being bored out at Fort Funston leaves me way happier than being bored at home.

Boredom and waiting is when all the essential thought-structuring happens, that we miss nowadays. Because we are able to fill every minute with media, which often engage our emotions too, we get distracted and worse at prioritising.

If you can, allow yourself 5 minutes each day without apps, music or even books. It's worth it.

As long as I can remember I have had periods when I have been bored. When I was small I kept nagging at my parrents and they just ignored it, it's important as a child to find things to do by yourself. When I got older I started feeling proud that I could just sit and wait without bouncing off the walls. Now I get a bad conscience when I'm not doing something, it feels like I'm not pulling my weight. But at the same time I know that being bored is important for my wellbeeing. This is time when my brain gets to rest and recover.

I totally sympathize with what you write, let me just fix the spelling/word usage:

"conciousness" -> "consciousness", but what you mean is actually "conscience".

Ah, that is why it seemed so wrong, thanks!

Running my own business and developing my own products, I find boredom useful. After finishing a project I find it more useful to just relax for a few days. As well as preventing burnout, it also allows me to think about what would be the most productive use of my time.

"Over-scheduling" is by definition harmful, but the core disconnect is that there's a 9-month calendar of organized learning (with occasional breaks) and year-around parental commitments. If the article is correct and boredom is beneficial for internal motivation, it doesn't make sense for that boredom to be "overscheduled" into a 3-month section of the year.

In the US: "the 9-month calendar that most schools operate on was established when 85% of Americans (and students) were involved in agriculture, and when climate control did not exist in school buildings. In today's United States, only about 3% of Americans are engaged in agriculture [and] most schools have air conditioning." The result is a roughly one month loss in education level over the three month break, depending on parental involvement (the kids whose parents are less involved in brain enriching activities lose more). [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_learning_loss

They loose some math & reading skills, but they also get some other skills and benefits, depending how they spend the summer. Some will socialize, some will play sports, some will read a book or play games. And if they're at least averagely intelligent, these other skills might be more important for their future mindfulness and life, since they'll be able to pick up on math & reading anyway, it's not THAT hard after all. Also, in my own experience, forgetting and then re-learning usually leads to a much deeper understanding of the subject than what you get first time you go through it.

So nice theories, but are there any studies made to back this up? I see no mention of any kind of science here.

Isn't it possible that science is, occasionally, the problem, not the solution?

What experiment would you perform? To falsify what hypothesis?

"Science" really shouldn't ever be the problem. The problem is that people are bad at science. They draw incorrect inferences, they get tunnel vision on a set of results, they overgeneralizw results, they make bad assumptions...

That said, I don't really think itd be a good use of time proving that boredom can be good.

Science isn't a problem or a solution, it's the search for the truth.

Strictly, for knowledge, which isn't the same thing as truth.

Obvious headline is obvious. That said, I went to school with kids who were very much overscheduled - nearly every moment of their lives seemed to be planned out by over enthusiastic but well meaning parents, who thought that well rounded meant 'do everything'. I was left alone - I found my way to technology, and many of my peers are still wandering alone in the metaphorical desert trying to find their spark or purpose in life.

> Dr. Teresa Belton [...] told the BBC that boredom is crucial for developing “internal stimulus,” which then allows true creativity.

This also applies to grown-ups.

I'm not exactly a child anymore, but between the end of spring semester and the beginning of a summer studying abroad, I've had three entirely free weeks. The first three days, I was extremely restless. I thrive on accomplishing things and am accustomed to a very full schedule. But as this article suggests, empty time isn't useless; having no deadlines and no forced deliverables encourages self reflection and exploration. Looking back, having a few days of emptiness forced me to evaluate my interests and goals and then rediscover things that I'm genuinely excited about. I finished a couple of books that have been on my shelf forever, learned (at least the basics of) python, and spent some time working through interesting CTFs. I'm not sure if I'll ever have such an opportunity again, to simultaneously not work, not study, and have zero major responsiblities, but I'm incredibly grateful for the time I've had.

In our 6 week summer holidays we did the following: 1 week visit grandparents, 1-2 weeks other vacation, rest time spending time outside, building treehouses, playing in the mud, doing stupid things, chilling at the lake, going swimming, bike tours, camping with friends. <-- my summer in a box. America really has an issue with stressing out their children with education and extra curriculums

The real solution is to abolish summer vacation. Education should be continuous and year round.

Ugh, let's just lock them in a box with a hamster wheel and a feeding tube. Or a Dr. Venture learning bed. Nothing good will come of wasting even more of children's time in public schooling. Let them go outside, read some books they actually want to read, go fishing, work a little bit. Let them be children.

Really, we should all get a summer vacation. Obviously, doing it all at the same time would be problematic, but the standard ten or fifteen days off over the whole year is just stupid. I would kill for two and a half months off to learn some hard things and get some projects done.

If you really want this, you can probably have it, and you needn't go anywhere near as far as murder to get it. I know of quite a few people who make a living through various types of contracting (software and mechanical engineering in the cases of two personal friends who do this) and take off a few months each year to travel and relax. It won't maximize your cash flow, but it could maximize your happiness if that's what would truly do it for you. I suggest that you seriously look into it and consider if that would give you more fulfillment :)

I desparately wish we as a society would stop clinging to the 40-hour work week and working non-stop until retirement. I don't think we live in a post-scarcity world, but we could sure make things easier on ourselves.

Learning is continuous, and year round. It's weird but it's almost like they come equipped with their own OS and don't need anything installed...

P.S. Yes, I know you were being sarcastic. Love you lots, kthxbye.

Clickbait headline is clickbaity.

TFA pretty clearly indicates that they're recommending kids be forced to design their own activities to overcome boredom, not have their summer pre-planned by their parents with "chess camp, art school, cooking classes, or tennis lessons."

Since most people only read the headline, as stated this seems like justification for parents depriving their kids of options in a sterile environment (or just banning whatever the latest moral panic is) while telling themselves, "Boredom is good for you!"

Ok, we changed the title to a representative sentence from the article.

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