I recently took a tour of the Hall of Life in our Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. Its renovation is complete, and the enormity of the project has been amazing to witness. As I toured the new exhibits during the grand reopening, I saw something that caught my eye just inside the entrance. There on the wall is a quote that Ray Alf was famous for: “What will you do with your moment in time?” - an exhortation of sorts, a call to seize the moment, “Carpe Diem!” It’s all Ray Alf and I so wish I could have met him.
But as an admission director, I began to think about our young parents; those with children in pre-school and elementary school, the ones that have put so much pressure on themselves to be certain their child gets that “edge,” that elusive magic bullet that will assure their child a success they often can’t define. I know they must be struggling. I think: what kind of training do we really get before becoming parents? Frankly, I think we often were just winging it; learning as we go; or trying to emulate our parents’ child-rearing model. And in our yearning for answers we spend a lot of time listening to our neighbors or hanging out in the school parking lot after dropping little Sally off at the pre-school door. That advice comes fast and furious: “Be sure she’s reading books by age 3”; “ Get a tutor for math…now! You don’t want her to get behind!” “Check out Webb now and get on their mailing list. Yes, I know he’s only four but you want to learn all about what Webb is expecting so you can prepare him.” “Soccer (or fill in your favorite sport) is the best sport to someday get him a college scholarship.” I am not kidding when I say I’ve actually heard this nonsense.
Childhood is not just our child’s moment in time; it is right now their only moment in time. Are we to waste these precious days or hours asking our child to go to school; go home; and essentially go to school again the same day? Is there any empirical evidence that reading an entire book by age five has made any difference at all in the child’s life? I am hearing that there is such a demand for some of the fine private schools in New York, that parents actually have their children working with test preparation tutors. For pre-school? What can they possibly be reviewing? Lego design?
Do we want our child so engaged that they don’t know what it means to be a child? What time is being set aside for those quiet moments when mom and dad participate in the fantasy play of their children? Is there anything better than walking through the woods with your daughter pointing out the antics of the local squirrel family? Isn’t spending time on the beach to find that perfectly shaped shell just the best? Isn’t spontaneous, belly laughter something to be shared with your son? When did we decide that appropriate developmental learning includes preparing for the SSAT at age 10? We only have so much time with our children before they become teenagers – a whole new world of parenting, by the way. There’s not a moment in time to lose, your child’s moment in time.
Leo Marshall is the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Webb Schools.