There are so many things we’d like to do, things we’d love to learn and try, do, and say we’ve done. Not to mention tasks to accomplish, errands to run and places to stop. And what about all of those extra-curricular activities?
Many of us have been nurtured to fill up space, lest we feel worthless or lacking in use. Packing our schedules with things to do all day, then classes and workshops, sports, retreats and clubs to fill our evenings and weekends. As adults, we are sometimes prisoners to this schedule, apparently trained early on that a spare schedule equals a boring or unfulfilled life.
I personally wonder if what our children miss is more than they gain when we include them in our scrambles and sign them up for every interesting activity that comes along – creating their very own pint-size rat races.
What do we teach them, really, when we drag them around, seemingly seeking one stimulus after another, packing the space and time?
It seems in this modern time, many of us fear what children might do if left alone with a block of free time. And how do we give them this time when there are so many things to sign them up for? Play dates, lessons, camps… What will other parents think if we can’t compete in the pissing contest that consists of whose child did more on spring or summer break?
Yikes. It all makes my head swim. I was recently informed by a mother that she is truly concerned because her daughter is not in any social activities yet ~ and she is “almost 2!”
I have different ideas of how a two-year-old child should be spending her time and it involves mama’s hip, blankies and books ~ not dance and art classes. I don’t think I’m alone on this.
I have a family in my past whose parents filled every hour of time from the end of school til the (late) bedtime of their children ~ worried for what they might ‘get in to’ when left to their own devices, in their own child-created spaces.
I fear that our tendencies to pack our children’s lives are leading them toward lives of pure discontent as young adults.
I recently watched the 4 neighbor children out my window while working in my studio. My husband had taken our boys to their grandma’s house to visit for a couple hours, and I had some time to paint as the warm breeze filtered through my studio window. The children on the lawn across the street enthralled me. I found myself feeling, first and for only a few moments, how they might be bored, as they sat around in the grass. They spend every weekend (and most of the summer) doing just this – laying and playing.
Very quickly, however, I realized the wisdom in their (lack of) activities (I stopped painting to watch them), and I was truly enchanted and informed by the way they pushed each other around in a big vacuum box; the way they carefully played with their stuffed animals, conversed with each other, and chased around on bikes and roller blades. All on a piece of lawn that is surprisingly moderate in size.
These children were growing up the way I grew up ~ free and easy, allowed to be children. They are not rushed (neither was I and neither are my boys) to and from activities in some parental fascination of just how much can be crammed into a day. They understand what if feels like to be bored, and on the flip-side, they do not fear boredom. They know how to occupy themselves creatively and in ways only children can imaginatively come up with.
What if we gave our children an entire weekend to bum around in their jammies and do whatever strikes their fancy? What about boredom and letting them experiment and build their own internal toolbox of ideas and creations to keep themselves busy?
What if, instead of placing the most value on learning some extra-curricular skill, or competing in some way, shape or form each day, we placed more value on giving our children the skills to get along with their siblings after school; the nurturing goodness of a family dinner around the table each (or most) night(s); the comfort and strength of not only togetherness, but solitude.
What if we emphasized enriching the ability of children to make up their own games and be responsible for their time; the value of helping around the house, hanging out on the front porch with friends, and reading on the lawn.
Maybe I’m justifying the fact that I honestly feel one of the greatest gifts I can give to my boys is the Gift Of Space. Space in their schedules and in their days. In our family, the skills learned through family time, setting the table, helping with dishes, finding something to do, sharing stories, and general interpersonal relationship strategies outweigh filling up each afternoon with activities outside the home.
The bottom line for me stems from the world’s devastating need for healthy family relationships.
I am asking questions because I am not entirely certain of the answers, I know how I feel in my heart, but I do not mistake the fact that every family/child is different. It is possible that my Gift Of Space could also be called old fashioned, lazy or selfish. But my two best-friend boys are really happy, creative and inventive and I have only heard “I’m bored” from one mouth, one time, in one year.
above image: Fly, by Katie m. Berggren