For many years I lived a short distance from my elementary school. My friends and I would play baseball over on the school field, riding our bikes home for lunch and then meeting back up for another 4 or 5 hours of play.
No uniforms. No umpires. No adults. Just the kids – like a typical Charlie Brown episode, minus the “wah, wah, woh, wah” adult soundtrack from the sidelines.
When I lived with my dad, his apartment complex had a swimming pool. I would spend hours at a clip in there, often alone, diving for coins and rocks on the bottom. In fact, I spent so much time in that cement tank that I rubbed off multiple layers of skin from my feet. The bloody toes and heels couldn’t stop me from going back for more.
But I wonder if in the interest of many factors including safety, keeping up with Joneses, acquiescing to kids’ desires, expectations of year-round training for young athletes and even a lack of imagination we’ve wound up overscheduling our children, signing them up for a litany of camps, classes and other formal activities. These are probably all good things – but what if doing “nothing” was best of all?
As I’ve mentioned before, there is tremendous value for children in unstructured play. It forces youngsters to use their imagination and learn to daydream and improvise. Given the opportunity, many will create games, invest in their current hobbies and even develop new ones. If you’ve ever doubted the potential of a child to make something out of practically nothing, try giving them an empty refrigerator box, a roll of tape and a Magic Marker. Or bring them to the shore and give them a shovel and a pail.
It’s important for parents to remember that they’re not the recreational director on a cruise ship. A parent is expected to lead and guide their children in every area of life, including play – or no play at all. In an age of helicopter parenting and moms and dads who often invest significant time and resources in their child’s formal education, it’s easy to forget that helping teach our children how to play and rest is also very important.
By helping our children see the value in unstructured or unscheduled time, we’re preparing them for a healthy and balanced adult life. That’s because despite what many people seem to believe, busyness does not necessarily equate to success – and it most certainly doesn’t lead to happiness as a family if we spend half of our time in a car shuttling our children from one outing to the next.
Are you overscheduled as a family? Have you been in the past? How did/are you handling it?
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