“Children need free, unstructured time. They need time to do ‘nothing’; time to do handstands. Or figure out a way to get the ice-cream truck to continue straight down the block without always turning at the corner. Or to make a good ice-cream truck plan while practicing handstands. ” ~ Kim John Payne.
Simple living and un-scheduling your kids lives
Last Summer, my younger kids and I packed a lunch and spent most of our afternoons at a neighbourhood park. They were 4 and 7 at the time and they were content to spend several hours riding their bikes and scooters and playing on the park equipment.
They didn’t complain or tire of the ritual. In fact, they woke up everyday asking if we could go to the park again, please. I honestly couldn’t believe it was that easy to keep them content.
For a treat, we sometimes walked 20 minutes to enjoy some frozen yogurt. That was a busy day.
We had an amazing Summer. And you know what else?
I got to read at least a dozen books on my wish list. It wasn’t always like this.
I used to spend hours planning day trips and scheduling activities for the Summer break so my kids wouldn’t get bored. After all, 10 weeks is a long time.
How else would we survive?
Why I had to slow down
When I was a mum to two little girls we were involved in several extra-curricular activities. The girls had swimming lessons, gymnastics, skating and various art classes throughout the year. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t feel frazzled by the hectic schedule. In 2006, we welcomed baby number three into our family. Then in 2009, we welcomed baby number four.
Well! A mum of four wasn’t quite the same as being a mum of two!
I was forced to slow down. Everything except swimming lessons got cut from the schedule.
I didn’t want to un-schedule. Circumstances forced the decision and I struggled with feelings of guilt. I felt like I was depriving my kids the opportunity to participate in enriching activities. After a year or so, we started to re-introduce some of the activities back into our lives, but I had come to dread the days with scheduled after-school activities. They felt more like a chore than an opportunity.
In the Summer of 2010, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. I’ve read a lot of books that make me feel like I want to change.
In my experience, that feeling usually passes.
This book was different. I had an “ah-ha” moment. For the first time in years, I felt that I could do something about the general sense of discontent that surrounded my life. I started simplifying on so many levels I felt giddy with excitement.
The gift of time
Many of us feel that we should give our children the opportunities we never had as kids. A good portion of us try to re-live our childhoods through our kids. This certainly held true for me.
I never learned to swim or to skate. I didn’t even learn how to ride a bike. I wanted my kids to acquire these skills. Not just learn them, but to excel in them. I wanted them to be strong swimmers and I looked forward to the days when they would confidently spin on their skates.
As a child, I was envious of kids who could do cartwheels and handstands. Oh, how I wished I could do that! Twenty years later, I enrolled my girls in gymnastics.
I still want my kids to learn how to swim and skate. Reading Simplicity Parenting didn’t change how I feel about this.
But whilst I could fork out hundreds of dollars to provide years of skating lessons, I won’t. Instead, I will give my children the gift of time. Time to make lasting memories as they practice their skating skills at the local ice rink. They may never learn to do a proper pirouette, but they will learn to skate.
They will learn to skate in their own time.
I intend to give them plenty of space and time to do handstands and to practice their cartwheels. I know they can learn on their own because my 7 year old already has.
Benefits of slowing down
Un-scheduling presented us with the opportunity to slow down and share our lives and our experiences, as a family. There’s no rushing out the door or hurrying home and dinner times and bedtimes are more relaxed. There’s always time for a bedtime story.
The kids are better at entertaining themselves and are engaged in play for longer periods of time. Don’t get me wrong. They still get bored. At least once a day.
I’m okay with that.
Children need time to be bored.
Because that’s when magic happens.