As in everything that is changing and evolving around us, so should the phrase – ‘An idle mind is a devil’s workshop’.
Who has the time to be idle in this day and age? Even our children are not spared! They are pretty much occupied every single waking moment.
So if there is no idle time, there really cannot be a workshop – let alone a devil’s workshop.
But it is important for the devil’s workshop to keep working. The term ‘ destructive innovation’ hasn’t emerged for no reason. If we carry on the way we are currently going that is seeking comfort in a structured environment, the next generation is going to have even fewer breakthroughs and the world may stop progressing. Ok. I admit that may be overly dramatic but the moot point is we all need free time and our children need it more.
I belong to a generation where we had loads of free and unsupervised time both indoors and outdoors. And we turned out ok – with as many quirks as a normal human is allowed.
We were shunted out of our houses in the evening and were only told (very categorically) – be sure to be back before the street lights switch on. And magically we would be back before the street lights turned on! One could argue that today the world is not safe to allow unsupervised time. And I agree! But what about ‘free time’?
And what about in the secure comforts of our home? How much time are our children getting to just be ‘idle’?
Peanut in that sense has always preferred his ‘me’ time, even as a baby! Today all he needs is one piece of a toy (not even the whole thing and when there are 2 children in the house – there are many such pieces) and he can somehow be occupied for hours, revving up his imagination and concocting all sorts of stories.
Buttercup on the other hand has always been very clingy for human affection and presence and time, even as a baby! She didn’t enjoy anytime apart from us, even if it meant being with her brother. But we persisted with her – starting with stealing a few seconds away from her, then it took nearly a year where would be away for 5 minutes tops and she would seek our company ( She’s not really the idle kinda girl I guess J). Today she can last a full half an hour away from us and what is she doing? She is imagining, she is pretend playing and most of all loving it.
Most often kids left ‘free’ will end up doing some mischief or another. When there is complete silence in the house – I know there is trouble. But that mischief is a learning – a self learning – the kind of learning that is critical to growth. Often both my kiddos hands are found in the cookie jar ( literally and metaphorically) and never to eat the cookie! Then I hear peals of laughter and by the time I rush to the crime scene there is cookie crumbles everywhere. ‘Look mama, the cookie was so soft and see how it crumbled’….. Aggghhhh, the mess! Frustrating as it is, I take solace that they learnt the properties of the cookie! No, Iam not crazy! Nor am I forgiving! They will help clean the mess, I will be annoyed! But….by the end of the day I know deep down that this self exploration is also important.
In this busy busy world, the only time my children really get any ‘free’ time at home is post lunch for an hour or two. During one such hour Buttercup came rushing to me asking if she could water the plants (Peanut uses her for such requests and errands and Buttercup is generally fearless in the face of authority – that would be me J). I was only too glad to be offered a helping hand in the household chores. After 15 minutes I walked into a water logged balcony with drenched children holding water guns! They had found the water guns and had decided that it was more fun to use guns for watering the plants rather than plain old mugs. Ofcourse soon it turned into a water fight and they were drenched.
On a sunny day they are left with paints and water (with enough messy mats to protect the surroundings) and at the end of that time, fabulous creations are found on paper and on their bodies!
Mischief aside, free time is essential for the child to reach his / her developmental potential. Don’t take my word for it. I recently came across a study on 6 year olds and it stated “The more time kids had in less structured activities, the more self-directed they were and, also, the reverse was true: The more time they spent in structured activities, the less able they were to use executive function,” said study author Yuko Munakata, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Executive function includes a broad range of thinking skills that include planning, problem-solving, making decisions and regulating thoughts and actions. The types of activities that fell into the structured category included sports, instructional lessons, and household chores. Unstructured activities, on the other hand, encompassed reading, free play, and similar pursuits.
God only knows the number of classes I have already decided to enroll my children in from sports to music to dance. But there was a dread building up inside me of whether I was robbing my children of their childhood by scheduling (over scheduling?) their lives. So I guess it really comes down to moderation. As long as the children get some free time on a regular basis, skill-enhancing classes are very beneficial too. It’s all about the balance, really.
I remember back in the day, play time was synonymous with Park time! Whatever happened to that? Today there are fewer and fewer children in parks and this is one so called ‘free’ time that children could so easily access. Recently I went down to the park with my 2 nieces and Peanut and Buttercup and it was simply amazing to see them all play with their friends. Free Play! Zero structure, ok a little structure with the elder niece laying down a few rules of how to play some game in teams. Then came along a boy who wanted to join this group! And she said, ‘ no you cannot join us, I do not know you.’ That boy persisted and said his name and said now you know me! My neice and her friends were convinced and the boy joined this group. I was there kind of hovering in the background but clearly oblivious to this bunch of children and it was lovely to see how they had forged a friendship in their time without any parent prodding.
That is the kind of free socializing, free play, free thinking that is dying a slow death and with our lives only getting busier, we need to make place for some idle time… to destroy…to get creative.