Our world is full of many interesting, exciting, educational, and seemingly necessary things to do that it is all too easy to over-schedule til our days and weeks resemble an precariously piled plate at a cruise ship buffet. And, unlike the edibles at most buffets, many of classes and activities available for homeschool kids are drool worthy.
Your kids can choose from typical enrichment classes like piano, guitar, choir, Hebrew, and French, to more academic classes likes writing workshops, Model UN, Odyssey of the Mind, current events, biology lab, and American Gov, to more avant-garde lessons like circus aerials, upcycle sewing, naturalist class, and Reader’s Theatre literature class. Or, like me, you can not choose and just sign your kid up for all of it.
As parents we are all aware of the need for unstructured free time for kids. Free time not only increases “children’s academic potential, social skills and creativity” but kids who never get to play “grow into anxious, socially maladjusted adults.” Unstructured time is essential for adults mental, physical, and emotional health as well. So chauffeuring them around hell’s half acre isn’t good for either of you.
When my daughter was younger I was better at making free-time a priority. And I knew if I ignored her complaining “I’m bored” that within 30 minutes I would find her intensely engaged in some uniquely creative activity.
But this year, once I got a look at the exciting array of classes available to her, I behaved as if there were nine days in a week instead of seven, and thirty hours in every day.
To be honest though, I think Zephyr still spends less time on her activities than traditionally schooled kids do on school, enrichment classes, and sports. And they are all activities that she enjoys, most of them she loves and she would cry if I tried to take them away from her. She is learning a lot and having a good time. Be that as it may, unstructured time is just as important to her development and health as any other thing she could be doing. Given her age is it probably more important that almost anything else. The benefits of unstructured time are myriad and far-reaching. On her blog, Reality Check, Dr. Borba lists The 11 Benefits of Play:
1. Play boosts children’s creativity and imagination. Play gives children the chance to invent, build, expand, explore and develop a whole different part of the brain.
2. Play stretches our children’s attention span. Playing outdoors just 30 minutes a day increases child’s ability to focus and pay attention.
3. Play and rough-housing boost boys’ problem solving abilities. The more elementary school-boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving. (Don’t ya love that one!)
4. Play boosts self-confidence and self-regulation. Kids learn to become masters of their own destiny without an adult directing, pushing, managing or scheduling.
5. Play forges friendships, strengthens social competence and teaches social skills. Undirected play allows kids to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, communicate and develop core social skills they need not only now but for the rest of their lives.
6. Play helps kids learn to enjoy just being in their own company, entertain themselves and develop identity. Ease that guilt when your kid says, “I’m bored, Mom!”
7. Play reduces children’s anxiety and diminishes stress. A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows that play is also critical for our children’s emotional health because it helps kids work through anxiety and reduce stress.
8. Play creates joyful memories of childhood. Come on, no kid is going to remember the car pools and worksheets but the swings, jumping in leaves, playing leapfrog in the mud, blowing bubbles, building forts–those are the unforgettable childhood moments. Sigh!
9. Play boosts physical health and reduces risk of obesity. Henry Joseph Legere, MD, author of Raising Healthy Eaters points out: “Rises in screen time have led to the rise of a sedentary lifestyle for our children. In 1982, the childhood obesity prevalence in the United States was actually less than 4 percent. By 2004, that number had grown to about 30 percent.”
9. Play expands our kids minds and neurological development. Self-initiated play improve skills such as guessing, figuring, interpreting and is important to brain development and learning
10. Play builds new competencies, leadership skills, teaches lifelong hobbies, and develops resilience. “Play is what allows kids to manipulate their environment,” says a report written by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. of the AAP, “And how you manipulate your environment is about how you begin to take control, how you begin to develop your senses, how you view the world.”
11. Play nurtures the parent-child bond. Child-driven play also improves our parent-kid relationship.Play offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to see the world from our children’s eyes as well as strengthen our relationship when we join in.
As a parent newly committed to self-direct learning I am impatient to reclaim and protect unstructured time for my daughter. As her parent it is my responsibility to act as her last line of defensive against a society that gluttonously consumes childhood by increasingly demanding her time, energy and focus via tantalizing but unnecessary educational opportunities as well as threats that she will end up living out of the back of her car if she doesn’t have a perfect test scores for college. I also need to protect my daughter’s from her own tendency to overload her schedule. The rest of the world sure isn’t making it easy for her to have that essential unstructured time, but when she does have it, the world seems easier, day to day life feels better for all of us, and I am able to see the benefits, first-hand, in her creativity, health, confidence and development.