With the busy schedules of extracurricular activities, children have fewer opportunities for unstructured free time. Learn why and how to protect your child's down time.
So much is expected of children today. We expect them not only to make good grades, but also to be well-liked by classmates, physically adept, computer literate, and to shine in a particular area, such as music or dance.
Extracurricular activities often begin in the preschool years. It's common for three- and four-year-olds to take ballet, gymnastics and even a martial arts class, frequently going directly from school to after-school appointments, without the chance to rest in between.
Benefits of down time
- The physical body requires time to rest and restore itself, and the amount of rest children need varies. One child may require a half-hour between activities to feel refreshed; another may require an entire evening.
- Stilling the mind during periods of quiet results in increased ability to focus one's attention and concentrate. Children who are constantly bombarded with input often have difficulty keeping focused in classroom situations.
- Most creative individuals—artists, writers and inventors—regularly spend time in meditation or periods of reverie. These periods often precede bursts of creative connections and ideas.
- During quiet times, we are able to reflect and get to know ourselves. What do we think about certain issues? What are our feelings about individuals and situations? Spending time alone, we get to know the most important person in our lives, our own selves.
- Children need time to daydream, to imagine alternate futures for themselves. Daydreaming allows us to fantasize about what we might be, without the consequences of actually taking action.
Here are some suggestions for restoring a natural rhythm to busy days:
- Refuse to schedule anything that conflicts with the family dinner hour. This should be a sacred time for sharing and support.
- Limit extracurricular activities to one or two during the school year (depending on your child's age), and let your child choose the activities. If necessary, cut back on one weekly commitment, even if your child objects at first.
- Allow your child some down time after school. Let them talk on the phone with friends, have a snack, or listen to music before beginning homework.
- Skip the extracurricular activity when your child comes home from school tired or has to study for a test.
- Periodically schedule weekends with absolutely nothing planned.
- Turn off the television and take an unhurried bike ride or hike in the woods.
- Allow your child plenty of time before a family vacation to plan and dream about it, and time off afterwards to reflect and remember.