Often times we find ourselves overscheduled and tired, shuttling ourselves or our children from one appointment to another, from one class to another, from one school to another with barely anytime to take a break. And the frightening part is that we are passing this on to our children: the need to be busy, to always have someplace to go and something to do. But as parents we are also afraid that if we do not fill our children’s time with meaningful, engaging and educational appointments, classes or events then they will will be bored, or somehow they are not be living up to their potential.
In recent years numerous studies have highlighted the need for taking a break and the dangers of over scheduling. Many times we find ourselves trying to keep up with the Joneses, the Abdullahs and the Ahmads in terms of what we provide for our children. But if we were to take a step back we’d realize that perhaps the thing our children need most– and maybe we do too – is some breathing space.
Perhaps what they really need is some time to just be, to just sit, and maybe even time to simply be bored. While we want our children to experience all that we didn’t experience growing up, or to have all the opportunities that we didn’t have, we parents have to think about what exactly that means. My husband and I grew up with loving albeit quirky families, yet we don’t feel we missed out too much. My husband had school, learned swimming in a neighbor’s pond and learned to fish while in the boy scouts. But, he also remembers days on end, especially in the summer, where he and his brother would just spend time outdoors looking for and making their own adventures. That kind of creativity cannot be bought or experienced through any play date, after school class, or crafting event. It’s the type that stems from not being sure what comes next, and then using your own energies to make something for yourself.
Giving ourselves and our children some breathing space allows for a certain type of creativity to foster and grow; to become second nature to the child. How do we cultivate this? Here are five simple ways to help us develop a generation of creative thinkers in a world that feeds us the myth of busy:
1) Unschedule: Minimize the schedule to what is absolutely necessary. In our home, as a homeschooling family, we try to keep only two activities outside of “school”. Usually this is a sports-related activity like swimming or gymnastics, but sometimes it can include a summer drop-off camp or a crafting class. We also try not to schedule something in every moment of the day. While we have some structure, we are also flexible. Prayer helps us with this structure, by allowing our son to determine how to use his time between prayers.2) Reflection: Take out time in your day with your child where you simply engage in reflection through remembrance of God. Our Prophets did this on a regular basis even before embracing prophethood and it is part of our tradition.
3) Boredom: If my son says he’s bored, I will mention some things that he can do, or depending on my mood, I will tell him, “So what are you going to do about it?” Pretty soon he will be furiously engaged in some game or activity that he came up with on his own. Remember to put the responsibility on the child. Never let screen time be the answer to boredom.
4) Nature: Allow children, even in the coldest weather to engage with nature at some level. If you’re in the desert like us and it’s too hot outside, fill a sink with water and let your child’s imagination guide them.
5) Turn off the screen: In this era where technology is at our fingertips it is hard to simply let go of it completely. Set up times that you think are okay and look at what is developmentally appropriate for your child based on their age. Be firm about screen time for yourself and your child. They learn by watching us.
While there are many more options to allowing breathing space in our daily lives, the goal is to develop children who are creative and God-conscious in an era where being busy signifies how important you are. Instead of filling our children’s lives with empty activities that may or may not benefit them, giving children breathing space allows them to determine what they are really interested in and what is really important to them.
Omaira is Torontonian from Canada trying to adjust to life in the desert in the Valley of the Sun in Phoenix, AZ while jointly homeschooling her 5 year old son with her former-US Navy husband, Josh. She is an education consultant and course facilitator with the Islamic Teacher Education Program (islamicteachereducation.com). When she’s not busy with all that, you can find her musings on education on her own blog at blackboardwhitechalk.wordpress.com.