Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dear Organizers of Kids' Activities and Sports,

Dear Organizers of Youth Activities,


I am so glad you spend time organizing events and activities for the kids.  Whether it is soccer, dance, hockey, flag football, Bricks for Kids, or t-ball, I appreciate all the effort.  I know you don’t do it for money (and if you do, my kids aren’t in your activity).  I know you likely are passionate about the sport or activity.  


Maybe even as a kid, you wanted to play the sport you run all day, every day, and twice on Tuesday.  That is cool.  I want my children to be as passionate about everything they do as you are about your chosen activity.


I enjoy you being so into it by bringing my kids to your events and activities.


I suspect that your kids likely were or are very into the sport you lead.  At one point of your or their life, they might have wanted to play all the time.  Maybe you were just providing what they wanted.


I’ve got some bad news.  Don’t take it the wrong way.  Think of it as a call to action.


Your passion can make you blind.  It can make it hard to see that if you force kids, if they want to be involved.  It weeds out the riff-raff, the kids who want to sample a bunch of sports before choosing their focus in middle school.  What you’re doing, though, is narrowing your scope too early.  Kids and their interests change.  If necessary, offer up the three or four nights a week, along with a weekend.  But, please allow there to be a rec option, where kids can keep up with your sport/activity as they try others.


For example, forcing third graders to take ballet (if they are going to stick with hip-hop or jazz) stinks.  Two practices per week with a game on Saturday stinks.

You're killing your sport.  You're killing yourself.  You're losing my kid.




I want my kids to run around the yard.  I want my kids to do homework (and not at 8 PM).  I want the weekends to do family things, and I don’t mean sleeping some Red Roof Inn outside of Akron for a travel basketball tournament.  I want to eat dinner with my family as much as  possible.  


I don’t want to pay a year of college tuition for you and your activity to dominate my kids’ lives.  


I just don’t.


You really shouldn’t either.


If you want the maximum number of kids to be varsity ready and interested, keep your net broad.  Even if people get pushy, keep saying, “I want the kids to be kids.”


Some of the kids will change.  Some will stay the same.  You’ll have a broader audience.  You can charge a little more for a little less work.  You can sleep more.  You can eat dinner with your family too.  Your life will be better.  So will mine.


Focusing too early, by all researcher, causes many problems.  Injuries.  No sports you can play for a lifetime.  Limited friends.  Bored easily.


Please, please don’t try to manipulate my emotions by telling me my kid is “accelerated” or “really talented” when he or she really isn’t.  My kids are going to make their money with their brains, not their bodies.  My wife and I have advanced degrees, not advanced experience in professional support.


Here’s what I would like you to do:


  • Keep the total commitment for your activity/sport to two nights per week until 7th grade
  • Partner with other activities the kids might want to try to allow the kids to try more than one activity per year
  • Don’t make the kids travel longer than 20 miles to play sports/activity unless your location is EXTREMELY remote
  • If you do have to do two nights per week, make the commitment durations six weeks or less
  • Don’t manipulate me or other parents with untrue estimates of their kids’ skills
  • Understand your sport will be better in the long run if you don’t burn younger players out in the short run
  • NOT question my commitment to my kid if I don’t want to do what you want


Thanks for listening.


I look forward to a better tomorrow.

Kevin

Thursday, September 4, 2014

This summer's greatest misses (2014)

Some of my favorite albums from the 80s were those where the group, rapper, or singer went over their greatest misses.  Songs that could have and should have been good.  But they weren’t.  They ended up buster.

You’ve seen a lot of my greatest hits on the blog.  Trips and adventures that went well, that the kids loved, and that I would recommend.

Here are my five greatest misses this summer.

Motown Hitsville Museum- Detroit, MI- I made Motown mix that we listed on the way.  As I pulled up, there were several problems.  The first was it is just two houses put together on a busy boulevard.  Only street parking on the busy thoroughfare was available.  When  I went to cross the street, the light wasn’t long enough, and a teen hot roder gunned his engine and scared my one slow walking kid.  Once we got there, we found that the museum only offers GUIDED TOURS, which last about an hour.  As someone who has gone on several guided tours for free in museums I paid to enter, this is an altogether bad idea.  Finally, they had two or three senior citizen groups that had reservations, which are recommended by the museum (but not mentioned anywhere on their website).  Though Motown was important to the American history, the museum isn’t appropriate for kids.

The Zoo and Aquarium at Belle Isle- Detroit, MI- The zoo and aquarium are only open certain days.  I missed the days they are open (maybe two or three times a week).  If you are going to promise the kids a zoo or aquarium, you have to bring it.  Check first on when it is open.

Tiger Game for 4 year olds- Unless your numbers are 1 to 1, taking kids before they are 7 is a fool’s errand.  Here is why:  they have questions; they need to use the restroom; and they need to have the game explained.  Unless you have 1 on 1, you won’t be able to do that.  There will be a lot of whining and gnashing of teeth.  Get your numbers down to 1 to 1 or wait.

Dad, what is a run?


MOCAD- Detroit- You’ve read my railings already modern art in general.  To briefly review, you cannot touch any art.  It’s not clear what the art means.  It looks like you can touch it.  The people there are snotty (about their art, I guess).  Bad idea with kids.


Zingerman’s- Ann Arbor- In theory, I love everything about Zingerman’s.  The way they treat their employees.  The eclectic feel of the interior.  The trendy way you order.  Except, it really stinks with kids.  There is no real kids menu, so kids’ sandwiches still cost you $12, plus milk and chips.  The food takes forever to get out to you.  The food also is too complex for most kids’ palates.  There will be a day when all three kids can appreciate a $15 sub.  That day is not near.

Kevin, how did we just spend $80 on sandwiches and chips?


So..these are my disrecommendations...hope they help you avoid some of my mistakes!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why To Run Fun Runs by A Dad Who Dislikes (Hates) Running

Though "hate" is a word my wife and I don't allow our kids to use, it accurately describes my feelings about running.  I don't dislike physical activity.  I like elliptical; I like full court basketball; I like soccer; and I like bike riding.  I don't like running.

Too hard on my knees/ankles/feet, too painful in my chest, no scoring, not enough ground covered (to make me feel like I am accomplishing something),  you name it, I have a million reasons.

But, I am running in my second fun run type run today, the Run for the Rolls, in Chelsea.  And I am going to be miserable.  Chloe, my daughter, won't love it.  But..we've leveraged 3 to 4 days of running and bike riding out of it.

Why do you have to do a race?  Like almost all things, kids/people engage more when there is going to be an audience.  If the letter is going to grandma or grandpa, careful spelling and letter spacing are used.  If writing is to be for improving for school in the fall (without the teacher seeing it), the writing is quickly and unenthusiastically done.  It helps to have a place to show the world the fruits of your labor.

Chloe was pretty tentative before our first race.  She was nervous about racing, as fun runs seem a little bit like a race.  She's been a dance and gymnastics participant; she only played basketball for the first time last winter (and we did not keep score for the first and second graders).



She had done a running club with a couple of cool teachers at school, so that is where an interest (amplified by me) came up.

She liked the dressing up part.  She liked the excitement of race day, as we signed up.

Once we were off, we talked; sometimes, we walked.

The last quarter mile, where a small group of people gathered (waiting for their 5K or 10K), she was off.  After finishing the race, she enjoyed the small gift certificate for a free ice cream cone, but she loved the ribbon.  She had accomplished something she didn't think she wanted to do.

Here are my tips for training:


  • Vary it up.  Bike riding is cool.  Playing soccer for a half hour is cool.  As long it is running, it is training.
  • Let the kids use headphones.  Adding "Frozen" songs to the training made Chloe like the running portion of the training.
  • Praise the effort (not how fast, how smooth, or how well he/she runs)
  • It's frosting for the adults.  I do my own workout in the early morning or at night.  I do not rely on training with Chloe 

I do hate running. I will all during today's race.  However, if I am willing to coach sports I know little about, I certainly should be willing to run.  And have fun doing it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park (Traverse City Area)

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

Ages- 5 and up

Cost- $10/vehicle (if there is a senior citizen in the car, they can purchase a lifetime pass for $10)
$20/year pass

Location-  6748 Dune Hwy (M-109), Glen Arbor, MI 49636—Directions to Different Locations

Phone- (231) 326-5134

Parking- Free on Site

Places to eat nearby- Joe’s Friendly Tavern (Empire), Boondocks (Glen Arbor), Good Harbor Grille and Botanicals (Glen Arbor), The Homestead (Glen Arbor)

Why to go there: It’s flat out going to be the prettiest water scene you’re going to see in the lower peninsula of Michigan.  The Dunes climb is a mix of adventure, exercise, and challenge (and a killer view once you get
to the top).  The scenic view tour sounded silly, but had some pretty cool spots for the kids to run around on the dunes (without physically taxing themselves beforehand).

The museums and the little village are subpar.  Dipping your feet in Lake Michigan is nice and convenient at the end of the park.  It’s hard not to marvel at all of the natural beauty in the Sleeping Bear area.

What to do before hand: Read and understand the legend of the dunes.  Research some of the plants and animals you’re going to see.  Talk to your kids about the prettiest place they’ve ever seen and why it is so pretty.

Be careful:  Pick a day 80 degrees or below if possible.  Bring water for the Dunes climb.  Do not use the bathrooms in the scenic drive.  They are gross.  Don’t go down the Dunes on the scenic drive.  We saw a few families do that.  Long way back up.


Summary:  Great deal..fun stuff for adults and kids.  Simple, beautiful, pure Michigan way to spend an afternoon around Traverse City.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Halloween in August? Yes and Why

Do I complain about the over-commercialization of my favorite holidays?

Yes.

Do I sigh when I see Halloween and Christmas decorations out in August?

Yes.

Do I also make myself “part of the problem” by going out on Thanksgiving night to get fantastic bargains on Christmas gifts and other things I need?

Yes

I am torn on preparation, buying things, and many things regarding holiday celebrations.

Do I think you should consider getting your kid hooked up for Halloween in August?

Yes.

Why?

It comes down to the kids now being able and interested in designing their own costumes.  They have
definite ideas and that is good.  Before this year, my boys would take whatever (more or less) that was handed to them.

My daughter, though , always wanted very specific things for her Halloween costume.  This year, it is Elsa from Frozen.  The coolest part about the whole dressing up thing is that your kid can put his/her mind into creative ways to make their chosen character/creature come to life.  This year, that visualization did not align with whatever Target, Party City, or Costco had in mind.  One is example is my son Max's desire to have a Captain America shield to go with his Iron Man costume.

Guiding kids through how to turn their vision into reality is a great precursor to how to bring arguments to life (by thinking them through, using resources, and carefully assembling).  If you start this process in mid September, school will be in session.  It will be harder to get things.  Timelines will be tight.  Visions will have to be cut short.  Not cool.

So, this year, we decided to let the kids begin thinking about these things on the weekend before they went back to summer camp/pre-school (after spending a month with me, adventuring).  It worked great.

Backorders, difficulties, special requests, and other complications were able to be addressed.  For example, Chloe wants a cape/shawl to go with her Else costume.  Because it is August,  she can ask one of our extremely talented family members to help sew what Chloe envisions.  She wants little snow flake patches.  These can be identified and procured.  The costume can fulfill Chloe’s vision.  Nice.

We also can read reviews of the costumes (instead of quick buying in a store).  Max wanted to by a Skylander.  The reviews online said the mask was heavy and made it hard for kids to breathe.  We were able to steer him to a better rated (and just as cool) Iron Man costume.

It also leaves you time to think about how you decorate the outside of your house for Halloween.  Lights, pumpkins, ghouls, and goblins can all be a part of the drawings and plans.  Another avenue for the vision->planning->procurement->completion cycle.


Yes, is weird to be penning a column on Halloween in August.  I accept that it seems early to do it.  However, I want the kids to get used to the process of bringing what they envision into reality, so I think it is worth the acceptance of decorations out a little before I am ready to see them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Buffalo Ranch and Horseback Riding- Hanover, MI

The Buffalo Ranch- Hanover, MI

Ages- 4 and up

Cost-   Horseback Riding-$5.00 for 5 minute lead around; $20.00 for 1/2 hour; $25.00 for 1 hour; and $45.00 for 2 hours

Buffalo Tour- $35.00 for a wagon ride to feed the buffalo (up to 7 people) $5.00 for each additional person;  $25.00 to take the Bronco to feed the buffalo (up to 4 people)

Check website for other prices

Location- 12770 Rountree Road, Hanover, MI 49241-    Phone- (517)563-8249 Email- cp12770@yahoo.com

Parking- Free On Site

Other attractions nearby- Not much..it is 240 acres in the middle of farm country.

Places to eat nearby- Snacks there..The Cuttyshark (American) and Backwoods Bar and Grill (American)

Why to go there:  Feeding buffalo and riding horses are both awesome.  You also have interesting and colorful wranglers to take you out to the buffalo or help your kids ride horses.  If the kids are 6 or over, they can ride their own horse (Chloe rode an older horse and she was able to do it all on own).  Max and Will
needed help.  I would recommend the 30 minute horseback ride.  We got to go through trails, across a small stream, and even got to gallop.  The kids just beamed about it both then and for the rest of the day.

The buffalo tour comes with an interesting tale of a white buffalo who was born on the premises.  Feeding the buffalo is not for the weak at heart; those dudes are really big. 

They also have zip lining and other things for families to do.

What I really liked was it was like a Michigan safari.  You get in the back of a Bronco and ride out to buffalo.  It is not well paved or overly slick.  You’re going into the woods in Michigan.  The air is fresh; you get to kick it with the animals.  A really refreshing experience.

It is a little expensive.  Basically, you have one or two of their employees with you all of the time, so you 
have to compensate those folks for their time. 

For four people to ride horses and do the buffalo tour, it is about $100.  For a safe and real ride of horses (with the buffalo thrown in), it seemed worth it.


You’ll need snacks, but my kids were so excited they didn’t realize we missed lunch until we were pulling into our hometown.

Be careful:  Eat first.  Call ahead and make reservations, so you won’t have to wait.

Summary:  They all wanted to go back on the weekend, just two days away.  Kids loved it.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Form or fun: How to teach your kids sports


Basketball.  Hockey.  Soccer.  Baseball.  Gymnastics.   There are few parents who would not like their kids to be physically skilled and able in sports.  Maybe this is because parents see their kids as little versions of themselves.  Maybe it is because athletics are so important in many American high schools.  Maybe it is because many parents think they were just a little bit better than the coach thought and see their kids as a way to get it right.  Whatever the reason, it seems a certainty of raising kids.

It’s one thing for your offspring to be dominant in backyard sports and not to play official sports (for whatever reason: lack of interest, choosing another sport, and so on).  It is quite another situation if your son or daughter cannot play a sandlot game because they are afraid or do not know how to play.  Of course, there are a range of dispositions to sports in between.  Overall, every parent wants their kid to be able to make a hoop, score a goal, and hit a ball.

I’m sure there are kids (mine are not one of them) who have beautiful shots, wonderful swings, and slingshot arms.  For the rest of us, we have to teach our kids how to do those things.  Learning these things and how to do them consistently well can be pretty boring.  So..how should you do it?

The key is fun.  Fun comes with variance, encouragement, and making it into a game.  We’ll go over each.  then I read this..I now always try to praise effort, not outcomes.  Third, my kids never wanted to line up soccer balls and kick them into the goal..until I became the goalie monster and kept their balls out..now we can try to kick balls in every night.  Another side tip: the goalie monster has to allow goals.  It hurts my pride, but I do.  There has to be occasional proverbial pay dirt.  There will be a time when I can try hard, but not to start. 
First, variance means you increase and decrease the difficulty of whatever you’re trying to do.  If you’re playing catch, move further away and then closer.  Then, further.  Count the number of tosses, include a brother or sister.  Keep it moving.  Second, make a big deal about the effort.  If a kid is throwing overhand, encourage the effort (not the outcome).  It sounds a little soft and maybe a little too politically correct.  I thought it was kind of lame too..

Expanding on the fun..you gotta watch the sports on tv with the kids.  And on the radio.  This might sound like a desparate plea from a Sportscenter  addict.  It is..sort of.  After bath on summer nights, we watch some of the Tigers game.  On Sunday nights, we curl up in our mother in law room and watch Chris Berman et al go over the football highlights.  In the winter, it is hoops.  It explain the game.  We cheer our team.  As much as possible.  It underlines the point: this sport is fun.  I talk a little more about it in this blog post.

Eventually, though, it comes down to a basic question, what happens when your child kicks with his/her toes?  Or shoots two handed?  Or doesn’t put his back elbow up when he/she hits?  Or throws underhand?  Or catches with his/her chest?

My daughter, Chloe (7), wants to shoot with a basketball that is bigger than she can control and shoot with good form.  She DOES NOT want to use a mini-ball (like you’d see in a pop-a-shot) because we used bigger basketball s in her first formal basketball league last winter.  However, she cannot shoot the ball with one hand (with the other as a guide) with the bigger ball.  I had to choose: her pride or form.  I chose to let her shoot the ball.  I concentrated on her shooting from her chin.

In situations like this one, I think it is important to focus on skills kids can do well.  For example, Chloe can do dribbling and passing with good form.  She also can learn how to move without the ball.  I can teach (or reteach) her how to shoot later.  Fun first.  


However, there are still ways you can encourage good form.  Lighter equipment, larger goals, anything to make good form and success both attainable.

I’ve also had success with making things like races, monkey in the middle, and swat-aways the way to learn good form.   When I work with one, two, or three, I can do this well.

I think form is important, as long as the kid is having fun and can have some success, while keeping form.  Overall, fun is more important than form.  You (or a more educated coach) can teach the kids form.  They cannot teach them games are awesome and sports rule.