The Gift Of Free Time

The Gift Of Free Time


Parents are getting used to being told not to overschedule their children. Yet the enrichment classes, the sports clinics, the many after school activities offered continue to be full. Why?

Some parents want to give their child an “edge,” whether it is a leg up in a sport, an ability to play brilliant chess, or to learn a new language. Others fear that their child will be bored if left with open time, and “get into trouble.” Even unavoidable downtime is now filled with TV, or video games or just playing on their parents’ smart phones. Some children can’t sit for a minute without picking up a screen.

Unscheduled time allows children to figure out their own interests, and find ways to explore them. Children gain self-reliance from realizing and developing these interests, which, among others can be drawing, or building with Legos, or making a collection, or lining up toy figures, or reading (for pleasure, not assignment), or pretending. Children don’t need constant outside stimulus because their minds are busy when they are engaged on their own.

Don’t be worried if your child spends time seemingly doing nothing. Some of our best thinking happens when the mind is free to just roam. We reflect on past experiences and plan creatively for the future. It is not a waste of time, but an important way for children (and adults) to gain self-knowledge and come up with new ideas.

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years experience in working with young children.