I appreciate the importance of not over-scheduling my daughter’s time. For extracurricular activities we've always had the rule of "swimming plus one". But we've been cheating. I gave in to my desire to give her as many opportunities as possible. We squeezed swimming and gymnastics into one afternoon – and briefly ignored the fact that her schedule included three structured activities.
But then my daughter reminded me that what she wants most is "more time to just play".
Time to play is what our children need most.
Unstructured play is how they learn to imagine, create, communicate, and resolve problems. It’s how they learn to live a meaningful life.
Two recent moments of free play reminded me how valuable time to simply play is.
I made a batch of play-dough. At eight I thought Little Eco might be too old for play-dough. But I was wrong.
She and a friend grabbed some animal figures and built a paddock, horse jumps, stables and a farm house. They spent hours in their imaginary world absorbed in meaningful creative play.
On another day they built a cubby with sticks and decorated it with bunting.
They proudly told me "we made it all by ourselves" and asked to build a campfire.
"Small risks taken early (and the natural world is good place to take those risks) can prepare children to avoid more onerous risks later in life."
I wandered back to their cubby with matches, a picnic hamper, pan and a batch of pancake batter.
They proudly cooked their own pancakes and afterwards set about adding more rooms to their cubby.
Little Eco spotted a tree in one of her pancakes. Can you see it?
She had to photograph it of course. Definitely her mothers daughter.
Free time, some sticks and an opportunity to create their own world evolved into a magical moment I'm guessing they will remember for a very long time.
A similar childhood play session is one of my favourite memories. The moment was so insignificant that my mum can’t even remember it.
It was school holidays and my mum was busy – so she gave me a block of clay to keep me occupied. I can clearly remember the joy I felt in having hours to sit and lose myself in creating with my own hands. It’s moments like this that matter.
I had pottery lessons later in my childhood. But that moment instilled in me a love for creating with clay – far more than the structured lessons did.
Childhood is not a race or a competition.
Our children don’t need to be drowning in extracurricular activities to become talented and capable.
What they need is plenty of empty moments.
They need time to be bored.
It’s the moments of boredom that force them to learn how to entertain themselves.
We each have a lifetime to discover and nurture interests. We don’t need to do everything we desire immediately.
I'm yet to act on my desire to create with clay. I will one day. But there’s no rush.
Similarly, Little Eco is dropping gymnastics for now. Perhaps she’ll drop guitar lessons one day to take up gymnastics again. Or she may move onto something completely different.
Our children don’t need to excel at everything right now.
There’s no sense in rushing their one and only precious childhood.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 31st August 2015.