“Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the moment last.” -Simon and Garfunkel
I have been thinking a lot about schedules lately. As snow piles are trying to melt, signs of green life are popping out of the ground and lots of parents are a buzz about summer camps and classes. I have found myself caught up in it as well; sitting down to plan out the summer week by week. Art class, music class, yoga camp, gymnastics, t-ball, camp on the farm….the list goes on and on. It sounds fun and exciting, but there is something inside me that’s feeling resistant to it all. Lately I’ve discovered that when we have days without set plans, these are some of our best days. Everyone moves at their own pace, finds their own joys for the day, and there’s very little stress.
When Big Brother was a toddler, I took every single class that was available to us. We participated in every playgroup, sing along, and enrichment class that I could find.
I thought it was what was best for him and it kept me entertained. I would randomly hear people talking about too much structure not being good for kids but I would think to myself “What? How? These classes are so great! He’s having so much fun!” But as he’s gotten older, I have started to see it. The days when we run from class to class he can be in the crankiest of moods. The classes and groups are fun and often he has a blast in the moment, but the aftermath doesn’t seem worth it. He comes home and immediately runs up to his room to absorb himself in his own world. The last few hours of the day will sometimes be a struggle because he is so spent from a day of running here and there. For some reason, it has taken me a long time to put it all together and realize that we just have too much on our plates. As homeschoolers in an urban area, the resources are so plentiful that it is too much to do it all. Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly cutting things out of our schedule and replacing them with a lot of unstructured days. The results have been rewarding for all of us. It’s given us the gift of time to do as we please…read books, draw, build, imagine, play, and get out to explore. The boys can really dive into activities and games without interruption. I have benefited from this freedom of not packing everyone up to rush off to and from the next class. I can get more projects done around the house and that leaves me with more time to stop to really play with my kids. Or we can spend our days outside exploring nature without worrying about keeping a schedule. Nowhere to run to, just enjoying the day.
A Spontaneous Morning Hike
Several weeks ago, I shared this study on the blog’s Facebook page that discusses the benefits of unstructured time for kids. The study found that children who spent their days with an overload of planned activities/classes presented a poorer self-directed executive functioning simply because they lack the freedom to practice these skills on their own. When children are given the time and space to choose what and when to do things without the direction of adults, they have the gift to refine their problem solving, planning and execution skills.
“That is, less-structured activities may give children more self-directed opportunities. From this perspective, structured time could slow the development of self-directed control, since adults in such scenarios can provide external cues and reminders about what should happen, and when.”*
I try to never go to the extreme of things, but instead practice a healthy moderation. Am I swearing off all classes and camps? No way. But I am moving forward more cognizant of how we spend our time, making sure to leave plenty of unstructured time. Rather than planning classes and camps back to back, as we have in the past, the boys will enjoy these enriching classes here and there. I look forward to more relaxing days and allowing our time to unfold organically.
*Less-Structured Time in Children's Daily Lives Predicts Self-Directed Executive Functioning, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol 5, 2014.