The gift of free time

I am always struck, every time I spend any time in the company of school kids, by how little initiative any of them have. And I'm talking good kids here. Middle class, socio-economically speaking (though some are more privileged than that), good stable families, living in a good city with all kinds of opportunities, attending what are considered good schools and doing well there. Everyone agrees they're great kids. But put them in an unstructured environment and they do not know what to do. Literally. They sit around waiting for you, the Adult in Charge, to tell them what to do.

I don't work like that. When the kids have friends over I don't run it like it's some kind of camp. I explain some very basic ground rules (ie "don't drown"), show them where the important stuff is, and turn them loose.

It freaks them right out. Because most kids these days are never turned loose. They go from daycare to playdates to organized extracurricular activities like piano lessons and soccer league to school to summer camp. Everywhere they go there is a structure, detailed rules to follow, schedules, and adults who run things fairly tightly. Nowhere is there freedom to explore anything unsupervised.

Personally I give my kids lots of free time. It's one of the greatest perks of homeschooling, in fact. The flexibility to arrange your days in such a way as to give your little ones a couple of hours of unstructured time every day. We do have a daily schedule, but it mostly lists chores, my own working time, and the few things we have that aren't movable, like karate classes. There is time set aside for homeschooling and kids' assigned reading, but then where it says "edit Magna Carta documentary" the kids know this means free time for them. And off they go, find something to do that does not involve ipads or other electronics (with the possible exception of laptops when they want to write a story or watch a documentary). But as a rule they are expected to find ways to keep themselves busy without fighting or resorting to video games.

I believe in, and do my best to follow, the principles of free-range parenting. Because children are not machines to be maintained. They are organic beings who need time and space to find out who they are and what matters to them, what they want to do with themselves and how to go about achieving their own self-determined goals.

School kids are never given that kind of free time. I worry about them. How will they ever develop a sense of initiative if they are always told what to do, where to go, what to aim for and how to behave?

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