There seems to be a general consensus here in the United States, and I suspect, most anywhere, that those of us who are parents want our children to have the opportunities we had, and then some. I came to ponder this again after a breakfast outing with a friend. We were discussing – not for the first time – how to teach all of our many children to swim. Both she and I have what constitutes, by American standards, a “large” family. The task of swimming is a more advanced one in terms of coordination development. Most children are comfortable on a bicycle before they are comfortable in six feet of water. Additionally, there is the fear of the cold, of a wet face, and of possible liquid down one’s throat that can be a great intimidator. I found myself unintentionally trying to sell her on swim lessons, though the financial cost could be substantial for such a large number of kids.
She finally posed an important question, “Why?” Of all the many things we could sink our money into, why was I so adamant about teaching my kids to swim properly – freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke. Why did they need to know all this? Did I hope to raise an entire swim team?
Oddly enough, I hadn’t taken much time to define that myself, which generally speaking, is not a good method for going about life. It’s important to be proactive about where we invest our time and resources. Hmmm…water safety came to mind right away, but the kids didn’t need several different strokes to be safe in deep water. Was I living vicariously through my children? This is a big issue for parents. I had to stop and think on that one for quite a while. I learned to swim as an adult and still could only manage a sloppy (albeit, very wholehearted and slowly improving) freestyle, and sometimes a marginally-straight-ish backstroke, on my better days. Was it in an effort for them to compete? No, not really. When we enrolled various children in swim teams from time to time, it was to improve their stroke and comfort in the water. As I saw it, there was only one who had any chance of swimming competitively, and he didn’t care much for the water temperature so we were already debating ruling that out.
I love water. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve gathered that much already. I love that I can show up at a safe body of open water and feel completely confidant that I can swim out as far as I want and back again. I enjoy early morning swims in the lake with a friend, when we can stop for a moment in the middle and observe the mist rising off the water.
I returned my answer to her later that day: For the enjoyment of it. I want them to learn to swim properly for the enjoyment of it. Perhaps, because I enjoy this activity, this is some form of vicarious living. I don’t know. But I want them to be free in water because it’s simply just that fun.
Every family has their own set of experiences and priorities. Below I share three gifts we have chosen to give to our children.
Jesus Christ is the center of our family – at least, he should be. Sometimes we get busy and miss this, but we circle back. How would Christ interact with those around us? There are constant opportunities to be Christ-like. The recent election was a prime moment for discussing and practicing appropriate interactions with people who saw the situation in a different light. Along with Christ, we teach the Bible as our source for truth and correction. Sometimes this means diverging from the school curriculum and offering explanations or evidence of why we are choosing to do so. Ultimately, all of our children need to decide on their own if they will ask Christ to be their Lord and Savior, but in our house we provide lots of opportunities for them to follow him.
Right out of the gate, let me say that learning to read can be a real drag for some kids and learning to write requires development in fine motor muscles, therefore, I think it is important to follow their cues and not overdo it. Additionally, learning disorders can create challenges and may require a unique approach. Some of our kiddos have taken to understanding the basics of phonics as early as age three. Not surprisingly, these are the ones who tend to enjoy reading the most. However, they would not have become literate that early if we had not been diligent to expose them to the alphabet and early literacy materials. All five (our eldest only joined our family at the start of Kindergarten) have had a basic understanding of sight words, vowels, and phonics by the time they entered Kindergarten; one of them has a diagnosed disability in cognition. A few were reading before entering school, including our youngest, who is currently in Pre-K. What is our reasoning for this? Provided we’re not pushing them too hard (and it’s usually easy to tell if we are), early literacy will only help them. Kindergarten is academic enough these days that having them enter with little or no knowledge of phonics can make the first year(s) of school difficult. Operating in the role of stay-at-home mom the past several years has allowed me extra time to invest in teaching our children to read.
As mentioned above, all of our kids, from age four to 12, can swim in one form or another. Some of them know several strokes. All can swim across a 25 yard pool. I am not comfortable with the four year old doing so by himself, so I walk or swim alongside him when he wants to go in the lap lane. Me being the lover of water that I am, usually am the one who takes the kids out for swims. I frequently work on back floats, kicks, and some basic form with them. We also invest quite a bit in lessons so they can improve their form and be more efficient in the water. Why? For the enjoyment of it. So they can be more comfortable, and hopefully safer, in water.
Since time is always limited, we cannot possibly teach our children all there is to know. I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment and assess where our family time is being allocated, and make adjustments when necessary.