There is nothing like a week of holiday to make us appreciate schedule-free time with our children. What a relief it was to take a break from the morning routine, and from all of the shuttling to and from schools, classes, play dates and appointments.
We've noticed lately how many thoughtful commentators are speaking out about the value of quiet and slowness as an antidote to over-connected, over-worked, over-stimulated, and over-scheduled lives. (Pico Iyer's recent piece in the New York Times is instructive.) These insights can be of tremendous help to adults managing complex lives. But for small children, we dare say, they are crucial.
It is during childhood that we learn to think, create, handle emotion and simply to be in the world. None of that is possible without free and peaceful moments during which children can choose to spend their time as they wish: playing, building, reading, making up songs, dressing up, drawing and painting, digging, running, exploring. These things don't require any scheduling, other than perhaps a trip to a park. All they require is time and a few simple materials.
We find, though, that parents are often afraid of unscheduled days. We've felt that apprehension ourselves: "what are we going to do with the kids all day?" And indeed it's true that children who are not used to free playtime may initially complain of boredom. And that's where the challenge lies for parents. We must restrain ourselves from rushing in to fill the void, and give the kids a chance to come up with something interesting... as they are sure to do.
The unscheduled days and afternoons that work are magic: the imaginary games, the spontaneous expeditions, the baking projects with improvised ingredients. Our kids need days like these, because making it up as we go along is surely the most vital and necessary of all human skills and it is one that they will need down the road.
So let's resolve to schedule in more unscheduled time, shall we? With our un-scheduling, we will be protecting our children's basic freedom to learn to think for themselves. What is more important than that?
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