Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overschedule

Have you hugged your kids today?

Looked them in the eye and gave them your undivided attention as they told you a story?

Got down and dirty and explored the earth? Grew a bean sprout? Smelled the flowers.

We sometimes forget the simple things in life. Letting our kids be kids. Letting them explore on their own. Figuring out who they are, not who we or society wants them to be.

I've spent the last year of my life on the road. Living in a motorhome with my family. To the surprise of many, with NO TV. Haven't had one in 1 1/2 years. And we're perfectly happy without. I cherish every moment I've had with my children. Watching their eyes smile every morning as they peeked out the window to see what their backyard was that day. Allowing them to make their own schedules, to take time to breath, to learn about others and the world around them. Letting them be in charge of themselves. (somewhat. i do still remind them to brush their teeth. :) ) And guess what? My kids pulled out books and read on their own. Colored, crafted, built forts, laughed and learned.

School has started again. I see the stress in the neighboorhood as parents stress to find the time to go to work, make dinner, do homework, go to football pracitce and finish the laundry. All in a day's time. I wonder if they've even asked their kids what they learned today. I wonder if the kids even care.

A friend passed this on to me and it's a simple reminder to slow down. Say no. Stay in. Let kids be kids.


Doing Nothing Is Something – The Overscheduled Children Of 21St-Century
America, Deprived Of The Gift Of Boredom
By Anna Quindlen

Summer is coming soon. I can feel it in the softening of the air, but I can
see it, too, in the textbooks on my children’s desks. The number of uncut
pages at the back grows smaller and smaller. The loose-leaf is ragged at the
edges, the binder plastic ripped at the corners. An old remembered glee
rises inside me. Summer is coming. Uniform skirts in mothballs. Pencils with
their points left broken. Open windows. Day trips to the beach. Pickup
games. Hanging out.

How boring it was.

Of course, it was the making of me, as a human being and a writer. Downtime
is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at
the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the
tedious blue of the summer sky. I don’t believe you can write poetry, or
compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a
hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels
inside that fuel creativity.

And that, to me, is one of the saddest things about the lives of American
children today. Soccer leagues, acting classes, tutors–the calendar of the
average middle-class kid is so over the top that soon Palm handhelds will be
sold in Toys “R” Us. Our children are as overscheduled as we are, and that
is saying something.

This has become so bad that parents have arranged to schedule times for
unscheduled time. Earlier this year the privileged suburb of Ridgewood,
N.J., announced a Family Night, when there would be no homework, no athletic
practices and no after-school events. This was terribly exciting until I
realized that this was not one night a week, but one single night. There is
even a free-time movement, and Web site: familylife1st.org. Among the
frequently asked questions provided online: “What would families do with
family time if they took it back?”

Let me make a suggestion for the kids involved: how about nothing? It is not
simply that it is pathetic to consider the lives of children who don’t have
a moment between piano and dance and homework to talk about their day or
just search for split ends, an enormously satisfying leisure-time activity
of my youth. There is also ample psychological research suggesting that what
we might call “doing nothing” is when human beings actually do their best
thinking, and when creativity comes to call. Perhaps we are creating an
entire generation of people whose ability to think outside the box, as the
current parlance of business has it, is being systematically stunted by
scheduling.

A study by the University of Michigan quantified the downtime deficit; in
the last 20 years American kids have lost about four unstructured hours a
week. There has even arisen a global Right to Play movement: in the
developing world it is often about child labor, but in the United States it
is about the sheer labor of being a perpetually busy child. In Omaha, Neb.,
a group of parents recently lobbied for additional recess. Hooray, and
yikes.

How did this happen? Adults did it. There is a culture of adult distrust
that suggests that a kid who is not playing softball or attending
science-enrichment programs–or both–is huffing or boosting cars: if kids
are left alone, they will not stare into the middle distance and consider
the meaning of life and how come your nose in pictures never looks the way
you think it should, but instead will get into trouble. There is also the
culture of cutthroat and unquestioning competition that leads even the
parents of preschoolers to gab about prestigious colleges without a trace of
irony: this suggests that any class in which you do not enroll your first
grader will put him at a disadvantage in, say, law school.

Finally, there is a culture of workplace presence (as opposed to
productivity). Try as we might to suggest that all these enrichment
activities are for the good of the kid, there is ample evidence that they
are really for the convenience of parents with way too little leisure time
of their own. Stories about the resignation of presidential aide Karen
Hughes unfailingly reported her dedication to family time by noting that she
arranged to get home at 5:30 one night a week to have dinner with her son.
If one weekday dinner out of five is considered laudable, what does that say
about what’s become commonplace?

Summer is coming. It used to be a time apart for kids, a respite from the
clock and the copybook, the organized day. Every once in a while, either
guilty or overwhelmed or tired of listening to me keen about my monumental
boredom, my mother would send me to some rinky-dink park program that
consisted almost entirely of three-legged races and making things out of
Popsicle sticks. Now, instead, there are music camps, sports camps, fat
camps, probably thin camps. I mourn hanging out in the backyard. I mourn
playing Wiffle ball in the street without a sponsor and matching shirts. I
mourn drawing in the dirt with a stick.

Maybe that kind of summer is gone for good. Maybe this is the leading edge
of a new way of living that not only has no room for contemplation but is
contemptuous of it. But if downtime cannot be squeezed during the school
year into the life of frantic and often joyless activity with which our
children are saddled while their parents pursue frantic and often joyless
activity of their own, what about summer? Do most adults really want to
stand in line for Space Mountain or sit in traffic to get to a shore house
that doesn’t have enough saucepans? Might it be even more enriching for
their children to stay at home and do nothing? For those who say they will
only watch TV or play on the computer, a piece of technical advice: the
cable box can be unhooked, the modem removed. Perhaps it is not too late for
American kids to be given the gift of enforced boredom for at least a week
or two, staring into space, bored out of their gourds, exploring the inside
of their own heads. “To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do,” said
Victor Hugo. “Go outside and play,” said Prudence Quindlen. Both of them
were right.

2 comments:

Thirsty_Moon said...

Excellent post!!

laurie l. goodman said...

Love this post... resonates with me in many ways... I too believe creativity can come out of 'down time'. doing nothing is sometimes the best motivator to think outside of the box and follow your nose and heart...Looks like we have a similar recent history as well. Will you go back on the road? I soooo want to... cross your fingers for spring :) Feel free to email me and chat...will have to look back into your blog to see about your travels-maybe we were in similar places ... :) Small world eh?