Monday, November 2, 2009

Do Your Kids Have Enough Time to Daydream? Over scheduling and the End of Free Play

Is your average day at work filled up? Is your calendar filled with appointments, conference calls, meetings and deadlines? Do you have too much to do, and not enough time to do it? If so, congratulations – you are probably a modern working adult. Now the hard question: do you let that pace determine what your child's day looks like? It’s so hard these days to not want to schedule every minute of our children's time – weekends or after school, stay at home or not, we want our children to be engaged in meaningful activities. We want their days to be enriching. All good, but take this noble impulse too far and you risk over scheduling your kids right out of the time they need just to be kids. Resist the temptation! Let your kids have enough unstructured time to have a childhood.

Between the school day, after-school care, sports practice, birthday parties and homework there really isn't a whole lot of time to just be a kid. While some experts believe that filling time with enrichment activities will help children be better, faster, stronger, smarter, there is another school of thought that goes the opposite way entirely. We tilt towards that side, and say let them learn how to entertain themselves, and they'll be happier and healthier for it.

The Washington DC area is rich with opportunities to entertain and educate your children, and Our Kids list dozens of events and activities each day. Don't let all those opportunities trick you into feeling that you are “Failing as a Parent” if the kids are spending the morning in the family room or kicking a ball in the back yard.

Here are some simple rules we at Our Kids try to live by:

  • One Before and One After Plan just one activity in the morning and one in the afternoon. Let lunch be a break between an activity in the morning and another in the afternoon. Don't let your weekend become a reality show race from one place to another. Too many birthday party invitations on Saturday? Pick just one, rather than dashing to two or three and messing up the flow at each. It really is okay if you opt out, and your thoughtfulness will be appreciated by the hosts at both ends.
  • Keep It Simple Kids thrive on the simple things in life. Remember their first birthday? Was the wrapping paper more interesting than the toy inside the box? They don’t always need the most expensive class or activity. Instead find something that you and your child can do together. Explore nature; visit one exhibit at a museum (vs. rushing to cover it all). Thoreau, that strange but venerated childless loner, put it best "Simplify, always simplify."
  • Keep It Age – and Child - Appropriate Sure, you can take a three year old to Disney World or to Paris, but why would you want to? What are they really going to get out of it, except some pictures, bragging rights of a sort, and stuff you don't really need? Save the money, and let them grow into the bigger trips. They'll have more stamina for busy days and more awareness with which to benefit from these precious moments.
  • Always Call to Confirm an Event You might have entered the wrong date in your iBerry. Avoid disappointment by calling to confirm just in case weather, traffic, a broken water main, or another cancellation. If an event or activity is cancelled, sold out or otherwise not available, focus your disappointment in a positive way, and use this teachable moment to let your children learn how to handle disappointments.

Bottom line: enjoy life’s little pleasures. For more resources and activities that you can do with your children, visit - Your Link to Family Fun!

About Our Kids

Our Kids is the leading and most comprehensive online resource guide to family fun in the DC Metro Area. We provide time-pressed families with the most comprehensive and easily searchable resource of information on activities and entertainment for kids. We also offer insightful parent reviews of activities and establishments and valuable promotions, discounts and giveaways.

About Amy Miller

Amy Miller is a local Washington, DC-based mom and is the owner and operator of When she is not busy researching activities for the Our Kids weekly newsletter, she volunteers at her children’s elementary school and tries her best to keep life at a slower pace.

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