One Saturday as I was getting ready for work, the news ended and a cartoon show I’d never seen came on. It was playing in the background as I struggled to match a skirt to a shirt. Something about the show caught my eye.
The show is called “Willa’s Wildlife” and is a story about a little girl who has several wild animals living in her room because they have followed her home like a stray dogs. These animals vary from elephants to crocodiles. But the story line of this show revolved around the little girl. It was activity sign-up day at school, and little Willa was excited to tell her dad she had joined the dance team. Her dad was excited that she had a new activity and not a new animal. Then she announced that she had also joined the soccer team. Again, the dad didn’t think that bad because it wasn’t a new animal.
Ok, so you’re wondering where, as a musician, I’m going with this, but the next part is what caught my attention. It was only my fear of not making it to work on time that kept me from sitting right down and watching the rest of the show.
Little Willa announces to her dad she has one more great thing to tell him. He’s sure it’s a new animal, but she walks in with a Sousaphone. He’s tickled that it’s not another animal, and she runs off to practice her dance, soccer, and Sousaphone. That’s when things start to get interesting.
She finds she doesn’t have time for her animals because she has to practice all the time. Then she finds she’s having trouble being as good as some of the other students. Finally she has a crisis: the first band concert is the same day as a big soccer game and a dance recital. I had to leave for work just as she was running from event to event with the help of her animals.
A cute cartoon with a very valuable message!
What really held my attention was I could see in Willa many of kids that I have taking lessons in the conservatory. I field phone calls from parents saying little Tommy can’t be at guitar lessons because he has a band concert that night, and they won’t be able to do a make up on Tuesday because there is a ball game, but they would be available from 5:00 to 5:30 on Wednesday between afterschool math club and church night…or Thursday’s not looking good because there’s gymnastics and karate.
I start to wonder when the student has time to eat or sleep. We are starting to hear the term “over programmed” more often in reference to children’s schedules. Often, talented children feel the need to be a part of everything. Sometimes, it becomes a way to fill up time with the feeling that a busy child is a happy child because they can’t possibly be bored. I’ve even seen students enrolled in everything in a parents attempt to make sure that the student doesn’t miss out on the things the parent didn’t get to do.
Whatever the reason, students who are involved in everything often find the same problems as the cartoon character. It’s hard for them to excel at any one thing because they are spread so thin doing everything.
They miss out on key events like games or performances in an attempt to squeeze every minute out of the calendar. Most importantly they lose the downtime. The time they would used to go out and kick a ball around for fun or sit at the piano and play a made-up tune. They even lose the time they would spend playing with pets, reading, or just relaxing.
Of course kids need structure, and in down time a parent may need to unplug a video game or encourage play time outdoors, but by setting an example parents can achieve this. Playing catch for a half hour or setting down with the student while they play their instrument shows them how important their activities are to you. If you have the ability play a duet with them or sing along you make the time they spend ‘just playing’ both fun and interactive. Soon, you may find that they pick up the instrument on their own to ‘just play’ because it becomes a habit.
I regret not getting to see the end of the cartoon. I feel that Willa would have found that she couldn’t do it all, and I’m curious what activity she chose to stay with. Being a musician, I hope she picked the Sousaphone, but even if she picked soccer, I’m glad she is choosing one thing and doing it well.
Besides, as I remind people, sports can be played more easily when you are young but music is something you can do for a life time. So I know there’s a good chance those soccer players will return to music some day.