As the new school year approaches, homeschool moms are busy poring over lesson plans and curriculum in order to make sure we have all our bases covered. Well, at least in THEORY we are. Some years my lesson plans used the seat-of-your-pants method (that’s a method, isn’t it?).
But I never actually took the time to intentionally make sure we were including DOING NOTHING in our schedule. I DID try to capture down-time when we could so that the kids had opportunity to go outside and play, but I really didn’t consider it a critical part of their development and education.
You see, we feel the pressure to use their time wisely. We don’t want them lazing around when they could be more industrious, like taking Russian lessons, or learning computer code, or any other “very good” activity.
Don’t worry. I am not saying that those are bad things. In fact, they are very good ways to use one’s time. But if you stare at a blank spot on your child’s weekly calendar and feel the need to fill it up with something that will “help them do better on the SAT,” you may actually be preventing them from one of the best things they can be doing.
A recent study completed by Kim John Payne, showed that when he simplified the lives of children with ADD, 68% of them went from clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional within 4 months. Over a third of them increased their academic aptitude, too. These are startling findings.
It is no secret that contemporary society, with its advanced teaching methods and highly technological opportunities, has enriched education even down to kindergarten levels so that students are primed and prepared for college and beyond. Every moment of their day is planned, including their play time so that there is no missed opportunity for an educational boost.
Play Mozart’s concerto while finger-painting a replica of van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Teach them their colors at age 2…and not red, blue, and green, but crimson, turquoise, and celadon. Read “A Tale of Two Cities” out loud while they are in the womb.
You get the idea. We make sure everything has an academic element. There should be no WASTED time. And that thinking spills over into our lesson plans.
But Payne discovered that with too much going on, children actually build up stress, and when stress is added to normal personality traits in children, it can push those traits into the realm of disorder. So a child who may be inherently organized, liking to line up their toys in rows and place things into and out of baskets may start to develop obsessive behaviors. Dreamy children can lose the ability to focus. Normal behaviors, when combined with the stress of always having to do something productive, can quickly grow out of control when they are placed under the burden of doing too much.
Children today are being constantly bombarded with a flood of information that they are unable to process. We are forcing them to grow up too quickly by placing high expectations on them well before they have the mental ability to deal with those expectations. Sure, they may be able to recite the periodic table or they might be able to read at 1 ½, but are they ready to process what they are taking in? If that is all we are throwing at them, are we giving them too much educational material in their arsenal without the practical skills to wield it?
Of course, we want our children to do well. We want them to have the best possible start in life. But too much designated play and not enough down-time can be dangerous. If we want them to develop well, believe it or not, we need to give them less. Less toys, less structure, less designated time. They need time to become lost in their imaginations. With fewer toys, they can imagine that their car becomes a boat and it sails on the ocean in order to fight sea monsters. They can take those empty paper towel rolls and convert them to musical horns, periscopes, or whatever their minds are dreaming up.
In our great desire to enrich our children, we are removing their creativity. It is suggested that providing as little as two hours a week of unstructured play time will significantly enhance a child’s creativity. Are we as a society not even giving our children two hours to themselves??
So when we feel the need to add extra soccer practices to their schedules or add in three playdates and a field trip to their week, perhaps it is a good idea to step back and think about saying “No” a little more so that you relieve some of the tension on them (and on YOU!).
Maybe it’s time to weed through their toys and eliminate some.
You see, young brains are not able to process the things that adult brains can. Childhood has a purpose. It is a time for a little one’s brain to take in information bit-by-bit and chew on it for a while, turning it over and over in his or her mind until it is fully grasped. By providing our children the time to do that, we are giving them the opportunity to build the skills they truly need so that when they are grown, they can truly thrive.