When the long, lazy days of summer stretch back on us, how do you envisage filling the days? With idle pursuits like relaxing walks in the park, watching the leaves shimmering in the breeze, maybe a spot of rock-pooling or making footprints in the sand? Or are the days more likely to consist of a relentless round of organised days out, rushing from one activity to the next, with back-to-back routines, schedules and timetables? If your answer is the latter, maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and slow down. “There’s a huge amount to be said for unstructured time, giving children the time to invent their own games, to do nothing much but just be,” says Carl Honoré, author of In Praise Of Slow.
Summer is the perfect time to step off the frenetic treadmill, but when you are so used to the fast pace of family life, how do you all slow down? “It takes discipline because there is always so much on offer,” says Honoré. “But it’s essential to have time off and enjoy simple pleasures, like messing around in the garden. Our children are in danger of being hyper-scheduled all the time. We get to the point where we almost have to schedule in unscheduled time, but it’s worth it. A bit of free-range down time can be a real antidote to the rest of the year.”
It all sounds very appealing in theory, but how are our children likely to respond? Expect an initial response of “I’m bored”, says Honoré, but don’t be put off. “Children are so conditioned to being spoonfed non-stop stimulation that it can take persistence to show them the benefits and joys of down time,” he says. “But the truth is children are hard-wired to benefit from some unstructured time.”
Part of the difficulty is that parents are used to giving too much and too little. We give our children too much to do, but give them too little discipline. “We need to stay firm and when our children claim they are bored, simply roll your sleeves up and say something encouraging like, ‘Well, what can we do about that?’ rather than giving in and finding something for them to do. Remember that boredom is the first step towards all kinds of adventures and excitement.”
This article previously appeared in Junior magazine as a print article