Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Free Time?

Well, it depends on who you ask. 

The two week period between when camp ends and school starts strikes fear into many a parent's heart. These weeks are a hodge-podge of frantic school preparations, last licks of swimming, and a melancholy good-bye to a season where ice-cream and a solid blast of AC cures most woes. As children, we remember that familiar gut clench accompanying those school preparations as we said so long to our summer friendships, some fleeting, others remarkably resilient, and looked ahead in reticent anticipation of the upcoming year that would bring us one step closer to real life.

There was an opinion piece in the NYTimes a couple of days ago discussing a concept called unschooling,not to be confused with home schooling. 

In this concept of unschooling, children are free to establish much of the ground rules, relying on nature walks and other organic settings in which to learn math, social sciences, even astronomy, allowing for their natural curiosity to propel them forward. The article goes on to say that these children when integrated into disciplined, traditional settings such as college, do very well. As a mother who very clearly remembers her own children finding friends of varying ages at bungalow colonies, and allowing them the freedom to explore endlessly throughout the summer, I think there is a major distinction between summertime and all year round. Yes, the idea has merit--but up to a point.

That point being the parents' sanity. Following on the heels of all that free play comes the boredom monster. This monster has been known to rear its head when siblings are getting on each others nerves, during rainy days, and on long road trips or cramped airplane cabins.

For the child who is free-spirited, lack of structure is a gift from heaven; but even the most stalwart anti-establishment types can agree that structure is simply the way the world turns and the sooner children learn deadlines and accountability the better. Children crave a schedule. Sure, they will whine about bedtimes and rules, but it shows them deep down that someone else is in charge and doing the worrying and that in turn allows them the opportunity to concentrate on schoolwork and extra-curricular activities.

As any frazzled parent who is braving back-to-school sales in the summer heat that finally decided to show up, this period of time gives pause for reflecting on how fleeting these days are as we mentally check off a year closer to graduation and our children's future. 

So long that you finally showed up, we will surely miss you!!

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