Monday, March 15, 2010

Quality time, quantity time and sifting through family values

Now that we're "melted" as it were, we ventured out on Saturday, meeting up with the mother in law for lunch after the boys' Saturday morning activities. Once again I find myself on the opposite side of things with poor MIL, with whom I can never seem to connect or share any type of understanding. This week's difference of opinion came in the form of she wanting both the boys to celebrate their Austrian heritage by signing up for a full year of Saturday morning German classes. I kindly let her know that the boys already do soccer and drums, respectively, and that the time just doesn't work. She says we just need to find a way to reschedule our other activities. Hmm. I spent the weekend considering the options.

I spent the rest of the day at odds with myself. Why was I so opposed to them just taking this class? Wouldn't it be good for them? Wouldn't it promote good family relations and a bit of global perspective? Now I *love* the idea of them learning German because it is their grandmother's language, and because I think foreign language is very very cool to teach kids because they are young and teachable.


These classes are 2 1/2 hours ever Saturday, for a full school year. Plus a 25-minute drive each way. Additionally, Zack would have to give up his drum teacher (who is very very good, a PhD and professional musician in a local symphony, who only has a two-hour window for students on Saturday mornings due to his having other jobs, and a life.) Plus Zack has been asking to give soccer another go too, since he sees little brother having so much fun at it.

I worked out a theoretical alternative plan for Saturday mornings, which would incorporate this class into things. It would go something like this:
9am Leave for German
930am-12 Noon German class (during which I guess I would either have to take German adult class or bring a book or learn to crochet.)
Noon-100pm Hightail it to the soccer center and eat a brown bag lunch there
100pm Nathan's soccer
200pm Zack's soccer
315pm Arrive home, exhausted
??? 1/2 hour Drum lesson for Zack, assuming we can find a teacher in our area that will take a student younger than 3rd grade, which took only two years to accomplish last time.

I am aware that this is normal for a lot of families. But for me it just doesn't work. As a family we can't overburden ourselves. We prefer to save the lion's share of our leisure time for activities we can enjoy as a family, like hiking, camping, doing things around the house or just running errands. We do think it is important for all of us to have a leisure activity of our choice. Even my husband and I take ballroom lessons every week. However, we keep this activities limited to an hour at a time, in 6- or 8- week increments. If we feel the family is getting a little run down, we take a unit "off" and just let ourselves rest for a couple of months. This particular German class is a 9 month commitment, only breaking for Christmas and spring break.

Additionally, I very much dislike this idea of driving almost an hour a week for this activity. We basically look for activities that are 10 minutes or less from home, the exception being the occasional week long summer camp activities. In the past the boys have gone to "zoo school" at the zoo, and taken summer classes at the local art college and science museum. Again, these are week long opportunities, so I'm willing to venture out a little for them.

We are very lucky to be able to give these opportunities to our kids, and we are happy to do it. But not at the cost of burning people out and taking so much family time away to do them. Frankly most of the summer will be spent digging in the garden, going to the pool, hiking at the local metro park, or having friends over for a video on a rainy day. We also love to check out local museums. I believe kids need the "nothing" time more than anything. The other day I played board games with Nathan for like two hours after preschool, and he was so giddy, saying "Mommy, this is the best day of all!"

Kids will always find more to do in their own imaginations than we can find for them. Richer things too.

It's important that they find things that they really love. Not things that are foisted upon them. Are they going to have anything but resentment if I were to pull them from the things they love to take a language class? Probably not.

I also had to consider what the point of it all is. Heritage preservation, certainly. And we do want to travel to Austria some day, so learning the language would be a bonus. However, is any of that a good enough reason to plop my children in a classroom every Saturday, and not even in the same classroom? How does that promote family unity? I suppose if were all into it as a family, I mean if that was our primary focus, then it would be great.

At the end of the day, I always go back to this: the simplest things are the best things for kids. They need myself and Ken. Doesn't matter if we're taking a fancy vacation (aka "quality time" ) or going to gas up the car and get something from the hardware store ("quantity time") it is the act of being together that matters.

My goals will be to 1)find an alternative way to incorporate German language into our lives as a group, like listening to cd's at home or using Rosetta Stone. 2)Suggest that the German group that they consider doing a shortened workshop or camp for younger kids. 3) Gently convince the mother in law that the best way to foster love for Austrian heritage and German language is to teach to boys at her knee.


  1. Are there options for private tutoring? If she's willing to pay for weekly 2.5 hour lessons for 2 kids, having private tutoring for 60-90 minutes per week would be more flexible and probalby more in the right price range. Private lessons are certainly more flexible than the set weekly meetings, and perhaps things could advance more quickly if the two kids are in sync on their learning.

    I was just looking at French classes for Amy yesterday and the Alliance Francaise here in LA offers group lessons which are, indeed cheaper, or private lessons for 1-3 people. The privates are $30 per kid per hour -- so not cheap cheap.

    Being the diligent snoop I am, I saw that the classes for the two kids at the OH German Language School will be around $800 per semester, or $1600 for the year. That would be 26 weeks of private lessons at the rate I posted above (based on LA prices). It's just a matter of whether they offer private lessons or if you can find someone to do them (maybe an OSU German/education student?).

  2. you can also use and it's free

    overscheduling kids lives is a major epidemic in this day and age and altho it would be awesome for them to learn german, do it in your own time.

    but seriously rocks! I'm learning to speak japanese, russian and polishing my spanish. And people are extremely helpful

  3. Hello. I left you a message on my blog but then I realized you might not check it again.... Check out my reading blog. The last book I read is really good -- I think you'd like it. It's not due back to the library for 10 days. If you want to borrow it, you're welcome to it!