Most of us are rather enlightened parents these days. When our children hit or scream or take another child’s toy, we don’t spank them. We put them in time out.
There they sit, one minute for every year old, contemplating their transgressions and regrouping. They take a break from out-of-control emotions and behaviors and call on inner resources and external support systems to return to a harmonious state.
As I walk through our modern world, watching adults running like hamsters on treadmills and children getting exercise from the wii, I wonder:
If children had more time out(side) and time off, would they still need time outs?
We live in an age of over-stimulation and overwhelm. For all of our time-saving devices, we work more and sleep and relax less than humans of times past.
Children need time off from school and from schedules. They need to have time to do nothing and time to do whatever they want. There are studies that validate the importance of play in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. But we don’t need studies. Be observing our children at play, we can see this natural development in action.
My three children (13, 11 and eight) often play in our yard with the neighbors (12 and 10). Even though they are an odd number and different ages, even though one of them is autistic, they figure out how to play kick-ball and other games in a way that is fair.
“Sarah and I get only two outs and the boys get three,” my daughter informs me one day. The next day, if three or four of them want to play, they find another solution. No adults mediate or suggest anything. When they are red-cheeked and sweaty, they reach for water and flop on the grass to rest.
Implementing the New Time Out
Amidst school or homeschool activities, sports, music, and dance schedules, and work obligations of parents, it can be challenging to find a way to, as my children say, chillax. Here are some ideas to get started:
1. Take a Mental Health Day away from school.
Let the kids stay home and do nothing once in a while. This may keep them balanced and healthy so they don’t have to get sick to get a break.
- Check out this excellent video on how we get sick.
2. Schedule at least one day per week with no planned activities.
For us, this is Sunday. We all look forward to it.
3. Encourage free play.
Let the children fill their own time. Save your boxes and paper towel rolls and see what happens.
4. Spend time outdoors that is not in organized sports.
Children love to make up their own games or explore. You don’t have to do anything (beyond ensuring safety). They will create worlds, climb trees, and make their own fun.
5. Be Silly.
I’m not good at silly, but the children love it. So Daddy takes over and they giggle and scare each other and tell jokes. If you need help, share your children with an adult who knows how to have fun.
6. Go All the Way: Take a Year Off
Consider how you can take a Really Big Time Out. Take a vacation. Homeschool. Travel. Enjoy.
Check out these families who did it.
Benefits of the New Time Out
There is a Sufi tale that tells of a scholar being ferried by Nasrudin across a body of water.
“Have you learned mathematics?” he asks the ferry-man.
“No,” Nasrudin replies.
“Do you understand the sciences?” he continued.
“No,” Nasrudin answered.
Next, the scholar chided Nasrudin for his ungrammatical language, and, hearing that the boat-man never went to school exclaimed, “Half of your life has been wasted!”
Shortly afterwards, Nasrudin asked him: “Did you learn to swim?”
“No, I did not,” replied the scholar.
“Well, in this case it seems all your life has been wasted. We are sinking,” said Nasrudin.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are useful skills. Proficiency in sports, music, and arts can bring much enjoyment. But over-planning and over-scheduling may produce an ignorance of how to live.
After I post this, I will go and enjoy my own time out(side). I hope that after your read, you will too.