Thursday, April 14, 2016

From the Archives: Making Time as a Family

It has been heartening to me to see a recent resurgence in the recognition that allowing children time to play is extremely important. Maybe it's a reaction to the Tiger Mom phenomenon. Maybe it's a recognition that it is possible to have too much of a good thing when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Maybe it's just a greater humility in parents who can recognize that their child will probably not be the next Steve Jobs or Yo-Yo Ma no matter how many classes and specialty camps she is enrolled in. Maybe its realizing that testing standards are by their nature arbitrary and result in classrooms where the natural learning processes are not only curbed but often destroyed. Maybe it's frustration with ever increasing homework loads. Whatever the cause may be, there is a growing movement that advocates for giving children time to play. Time to be kids. Time to get into scrapes and exercise their imagination.

I know we have talked about this before (if you missed these posts, check them out here and here and here) but today I want to take a different tack. The benefits of play have been well documented. There is even an article from The Atlantic extolling the benefits teaching your children to daydream. It's an excellent read and well worth your time.

But today I want to focus on an intangible that is difficult to measure. How would your home life change if you were to actively resist the compulsion to over-schedule? When I think about my own life and look back on my childhood, the times I most treasure were those in which life was less hectic. Now, I have to make allowances for the fact that I am an introvert in a family of extroverts, but I don't think any personality type enjoys the feeling of frenzied chaos. And yet, many of our homes feel like Grand Central Station, where we pass those we love the most in a rush, making our way to one meeting or co-op class or music lesson or sports tournament or church event. And yes, this is the nature of modern life. But, I wonder what we're sacrificing, especially in terms of our family life, with this constant on-the-go lifestyle. Is living this way conducive to being available for one another? Does it allow for time to ask your sulky 14-year-old why he's acting withdrawn instead of just telling him to "Snap out of it!"? Does it allow for spouses to connect in ways that ensure they still know one another when their nest is empty? Does it allow for setting aside time for spiritual investment and growth? Does it allow for you to take a break from worrying about academic achievement and just lay in the grass with your kids and watch the clouds go by? Does it allow you to be there for a friend in crisis?

Of course, every family has obligations and commitments and some are unavoidable. But is it possible to introduce a bit more play and time together into your family life? Homeschooling can prove to be a double-edged sword in this respect. There is the pressure of ensuring your children stay on track and are performing at grade level. There are more hours spent together but this can also be a bit crazy-making! So, how to balance the need to give your children time to play while ensuring they don't fall behind and you can maintain your sanity?

Incorporating play into schoolwork is a great place to start. One family that uses our curriculum does a wonderful job of creating fun projects based on books used in our study guides - like making Karana paper dolls during the unit on Island of the Blue Dolphins, or creating a board game based on Uncle Tom's Cabin. What fantastic ways to allow your children to play and create, all while learning more about history. Choosing curriculum that gives you the flexibility to chase down rabbit trails of creativity is key to ensuring your children do not get bogged down in drudgery. And that you all enjoy what you're learning together.

For families that have a difficult time setting aside family time and down time, it may be a good idea to actually schedule
it, like you would any other obligation. A well-rounded childhood will incorporate extracurricular activities. Sports, art lessons, musical training - these are all wonderful things to provide for your children and I don't want that to get lost in this discussion. Just make sure your children also have time to be with you. And this means time to just be with you - not doing anything obligatory. The gift of availability is one that cannot be overestimated in its importance to your children. Sometimes I hear from other parents who never consider the fact that their children do crave time with them. Don't make this same mistake. Your children want to be with you and the moments you are able to give them will have more of an impact on their lives and how they see themselves than any lesson or extracurricular activity. So celebrate that and try to keep it in mind when you're looking at that family calendar and trying to decide whether or not to add another activity.

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