“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavor.” ~William Cowper
Socially I find myself in a wide variety of parenting circles from the radical unschoolers to the parents who have their children in school or afterschool programs from dusk till dawn. By casting my net so wide with my fellow parenting friends I see a range of views on how kids should be spending their time. In one ear, I hear the cry for unlimited, uninhibited, unadulterated free time and in the other ear there’s a humming buzz about all the amazing classes, groups or sports that kids are enjoying. There is a fierce debate between the scheduled child and allowing a child to work through the beauty of boredom. I have often felt torn between the sweet pace of an unscheduled day and the enriching world of classes and camps during the summer months (and truthfully all year long). I was debating the value of each with my friend the other day and the struggle I have felt to commit to one philosophy when she pointed out that I don’t have to marry just one approach.
This simple idea was so eye-opening to me. Right! Who says I have to be a purest? There’s value and fulfillment on both sides of the fence, as long as you find the right balance. This short conversation immediately gave me peace with the whole idea of busy plans vs slow, nothing on the calendar days. And so I’ve been fully embracing that mentality this summer by enjoying both fast and slow.
In our slow do nothing days, the kids have had to work through their boredom to find something that ignites their imagination. Sometimes it can be a steep mountain to climb when the boredom induces whines and flopping on the floor, but once they push on through, then the magic happens. One day, that looked like a dumpster dive through the recycling bag for art supplies. Big Brother had just seen his first musical on stage and was eager to recreate the stage and audience with cardboard. Then there was that day when pipe cleaners transformed into his beloved Star Wars characters to engage in battle. Another day, my living room turned into a different stage for music as they boys found their drumming beats on stools and chairs. During these plan-less days, Big Brother also found his love for the game of checkers and chess. Little One took the time to work on his Lego creations or puzzle skills. Or my personal favorite, when they both found joy in building elaborate forts and kingdoms and decided to include Baby Girl in their play.
Then there are those middle of the road days when we aren’t completely plan-less, but I do have an objective in mind such as a day at the beach, a trip to the museum, or a stroll through the local farm. These are the days that are directed by me but then I am happy to hand over the reigns upon arriving so that they may explore and construct their play in my chosen environment. For instance, the day my friend and I took our boys to a 30 acre sculpture park and they perused the art for a short time and then quickly changed their focus to superheros climbing rocks and a silly game of let’s see if I can throw my hat into that tree branch.
Finally the pendulum swings to the other side and we have our full scheduled days of camp or classes. Truthfully, I have a love-hate relationship with these days. As a homeschooling mama, the opportunity to have a quiet house for a few hours doesn’t come along all that often so for my own peace of mind, it is a much needed break. The kids come home happy and full of stories to share. They bring with them their creations or trinkets they’ve made or collected at camp or class. I see excitement and passion in their eyes as they tell me about what they learned, where they went for a walk, or who they played with that day. But all of this structure comes at a price. After the initial welcome home, I see a marked difference in my kids for the rest of that day. They’re worn out, cranky, highly emotional and unable to cope.
These last 2 weeks both Big Brother and Little One have been emerged in a lovely Waldorf camp that I know they have loved. It is the first time that I have ever sent them anywhere for a full 5 days with “school hours” (roughly 9am-1:30pm so even slightly shorter than a typical school day). Many of my friends that choose to send their kids to school tell me they could never homeschool because of a variety of reasons, but one being that their kids would never listen to them or they would drive each other crazy. And this week, I have discovered what they were talking about…after being away from me all day, my kids come home so spent from holding it together emotionally and keeping their behavior in check at camp that they have nothing left. They are not behaving well or listening when they’re home and we are not as connected as we are in our regular homeschooling life.
So, I get it. When you send your kid away all day, they may have some fun but they’re a bit of a wreck when it’s all over and have no strength left to cope. For families that choose to send their kids to school, they might think that this version of their kids is what it would be like in a homeschooled setting. It is not. Thankfully.
Without the pressure of adult enforced schedule and agenda, kids are more easy-going and calm. There is so much less push back, attitude, and stress. So while I think these short sessions of camp are good every now and then for my kids and for me, we can not live on so much structure on a regular basis. It has solidified even more that I do not want my kids in school. Our relationship and they’re emotional well-being is much better without the stress of a constantly structured schedule.
Variety is the spice of life, though. A little of this, a little of that. This is my motto as I am looking ahead to our fall plans. We will have a healthy mix of freedom and schedule, structure days and plan-less days so that we may enjoy both sides of the fence.