Is the idea of the well-rounded child dead?

Is the idea of the well-rounded child dead?

When I was a kid, I remember hearing often that it was very important to be well-rounded. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines well-rounded as “having a broad educational background” and in the 1980s, that meant that I participated in a variety of disciplines across a multitude of backgrounds, including athletics, arts and academics. Today, though, the phrase “well-rounded” isn’t heard much.

I think the idea of the well-rounded child is dead.

The concept of a child trying a sport or activity to just experience it has flown out the window with jelly shoes and WHAM! music. It has been replaced with the idea that specialization is important and the belief that even a young child needs to focus exclusively on one area, especially if he/she is going to get a college scholarship.

My daughter has activities in the arts, she plays a sport, and she does an academic activity at school. Even the last one is competitive. The Battle of the Books team is serious, I tell you. I have consciously worked to make her well-rounded, and while that includes sampling from a variety of disciplines, I think it also means having some down time so that she can learn the very important skill of entertaining herself.

It is getting harder and harder to keep her well-rounded because of the time requirements of activities.

Most of the options for extra-curricular activities, even those offered through our local park district, require practice/rehearsal at least twice a week. Is that really necessary? I love my daughter and as her biased mother, I believe she’s ridiculously talented.

But let’s face it – my child is not destined for the grass courts of Wimbledon or the stage of the Bolshoi. Given that, why are multiple practices necessary at such a young age? Why force specialization upon them at age 10?

Based on the fact that there are only¬† so many hours in the day, that homework comes first and that I am not willing to sacrifice her sleep (or mine) for a travel team or anything else for that matter, what’s the reason for the push to make a sport, dance or anything else the focus of such a young life when there’s so very much out there to explore?

The proliferation of park district offerings seems to be in direct contrast to the requirement that kids do more classes of one thing. Why not make it physically possible for kids to try a host of new things, or make it so that they have time at home if one activity is enough?

Can’t teach an “old” kid new tricks?

I guess it makes sense though when you consider that rarely can a children just “try” a sport when they’re 9 or 10. They must have been enrolled in it since pre-school. I looked into my daughter trying out softball in 4th grade, something that hadn’t been available where we had previously lived, and all that was available was fast pitch softball. Nothing introductory. As my dear husband said, “They’ll take her head off.” As much as I want my child to be well-rounded, I don’t want her losing her head.¬† So we found another sport, but there weren’t a lot of options for someone so old. You know, in 4th or 5th grade.

When I was a tween at the end of junior high , I decided to try out for the high school color guard. Not one person in my class had ever twirled a flag. Level playing field. Now, you can start twirling in kindergarten. I fear that if trying something new is difficult now when she’s a young tween, it will be nearly impossible as she gets older. But doesn’t that mean that parents are picking their kids’ high school activities for them at a young age? Is that fair?

All about high school

I know many parents who insist their children participate in activities that the kids have said they don’t enjoy because the parents think the child may derive enjoyment from those activities when they get to high school. You can’t stop participating in the choir/cheerleading/soccer in fourth grade, or you won’t make the group/squad/team in high school.

But what if they still hate that activity in high school? And what if it is all they’ve done?

Part of my job as a parent it to insure that my child gets a taste of all that this big, wonderful world has to offer, both at home and far away. Intense schedules don’t allow for a lot of travel time to see what’s out there beyond the court, field or studio. And isn’t that discovery one of the best parts of being a tween?

Do you think that parents no longer have the goal of raising a well-rounded child? Is being jack of all trades, master of none not the way to go?

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