Activities VS. Programs – What’s the difference?
Posted: August 13, 2019
Q: Do our children need to develop physical fitness habits and important life skills?
Q: Do kids need daily physical activity?
A: I (personally) think so.
Q: Do you as a parent need to schedule every minute of their day with activities?
Activities VS. Programs – What’s the difference?
So, maybe this isn’t a blog, but perhaps open letter to parents everywhere?
I understand how you feel right now.
Though many of our blog topics can often be similar from time to time, this is one that keeps popping up with new families we meet with during orientations.
First, let’s talk about what I’m referring to when I say, “activity”. To me, an activity could be anything physical, sensory (touch) related, bike rides, playing with a neighborhood friend, building a fort, quality family time, reading books, or something engaging that keeps our brain or body active.
A program, such as martial arts - I had to sneak that one in somewhere, scouting, musical instrument or choir and sports that have pathways to measure progress or advancement is what we’ll be comparing today.
Ultimately, we know it’s good for your children to be physically (and mentally) active. I don’t disagree with the “outlet aspect” activities provide. However, what [for lack of a better word] irritates me a little bit is the money and time parents dump into activities that don’t produce results. In essence, who will you help your child become, or what outcome will they accomplish as a result of “just-fill-in-the-blank” as an activity? My guess is they’ll get the exact same trophy that everyone else gets. Not only the kids who worked their hardest, but so will the kid that stared off into space or picked dandelions all season. What if your child were praised for the effort they put into training, versus the outcome of a ball game?
Sure, I hear you, parents, “But my kid has way too much energy!”
How is she or he ever going to focus that abundance of energy into something positive when their “Teenager-with-a-whistle” (Sorry, I just can’t call that an actual Coach) only tells them to run after the ball. A program (EX: Martial Arts, Music lessons, Scouting, etc.) will help your child gain the tools and skills they need to develop a mindset of focus, more importantly a growth mindset that helps them accept (and learn from) criticism, learn from their failures or mistakes and overcome obstacles, versus crying over losses, and quitting when their desired outcome isn’t easy or given to them.
A quick story:
Back in 1994, an eight-year-old-rookie martial artist was enrolled in Taekwondo. He was outfitted with a white uniform and belt. Next, he was put into a room of wall-to-wall-to-wall mirrors and asked to “pay attention to the Instructor”. For months, he had several “lukewarm talks with his Mother” about following directions in class and at school. Until one day, a new sheriff came to town. A real gunslinger. The newest “tough guy instructor” just moved from Texas to Minneapolis and he looked mean. Rumor had it he could “Break Concrete Bricks with his bare hands”. He probably even knew Chuck Norris.
One sunny Saturday morning, “Tough Guy” was assigned to teach the orange belt group, a group of real spring chickens, if you will.
The rookie, now an orange belt (who must’ve eaten an entire box of fruity pebbles for breakfast along with a tall glass or two of kool-aid), was in rare form that day. “Tough Guy”, called everyone to “attention stance” with his trademark Texas Bark. Everyone answered with a prompt, “YES-SIR!” Well, everyone except for the rookie. He was checking out his freshly stained kool-aid mustache in the mirror, and then the mirror to his right, and so on.
The class began demonstration of their forms (patterns). By now, tough guy had just about enough of the rookie, who by now wasn’t practicing with the group but onto making faces in the mirror. Tough guy tapped the rookie on the shoulder, knelt down to his level, made strong eye contact and talked just quietly enough for only the two of them to hear and said, “If I catch you making one more face in that mirror, I’m going to make you go over and kiss yourself in front of EVE-RY-ONE… Now go get focused, Sir.”
The rookie, now red-faced and scared straight, had just received his first and a very important lesson programs like martial arts incorporate, such as the unbeatable power of FOCUS. That Rookie went back to his group and began to have increased concentration which helped him gain confidence in his abilities. Not to mention Discipline to no longer goof off in class. Over the years, he gained many more important life skills. It’s told that he may even be teaching the same valuable lessons to other young rookie martial artists as well. Rumor has it he can break concrete bricks too.
Now, back to the point. As you’ve likely noticed, not only are kids (who am I kidding, anyone under age 70) as early as a few months old seem nearly dependent on devices to stay occupied to the point of “Toddlers with tech-addictions”, eyesight issues and trouble sleeping (high levels of blue light) which can lead to anxiety, restlessness and behavioral issues.
Are your kids hooked on “the DOPE-amine?”
For those unfamiliar, this (Dopamine) is a hormone created in the body which can be linked to increasing the amount of habit-forming activities such as constantly checking social media on our phones, playing Candy Crush for hours and so on. For more details, just ask Alexa or Siri on your mobile device. I’m kidding. Maybe.
To borrow a line from one of the greatest thought leaders of our time, Simon Sinek, author of Leaders eat last, “Kids today are walking around with portable dopamine pumps in their back pockets, while striving to collect likes, hearts and shares as an increasingly popular form of social acceptance. This is not only dangerous to our bodies but also to our culture.”
A program - primarily one that leads to one getting off of a couch and or device, will reduce dopamine the brain and body receives from being on a mobile phone, tablet or video game, and instead boost the “all fuzzy and warm feeling” oxytocin levels as a result of smashing through a board, mastering a new piece of music, high-fiving a member of your team or accomplishing a goal you set out to achieve. To explain it in caveman terms, too much dopamine, bad, Oxytocin, good.
We’ve all been guilty (as parents) of letting tech and gadgets be a baby-sitter from time to time and it’s certainly not my place to shame anyone on that. My message is for parents to remember this:
Put your hard-earned money, time and attention into programs that help your children thrive on a physical, mental and emotional level versus checking the activity box. Remember too, they don’t crave your money and the stuff you buy them, but instead your time, attention and affection as well.
One last take-away I’ve seen very helpful for a lot of parents at our academy. Mention you noticed how hard they trained in practice versus being on the winning team. I guarantee they’ll increase their effort even more from then on.