AS THE LONG, lazy days of summer stretch ahead of 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 rounds 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 stock, take a deep breath and slow down. “There’s a huge amount to be said for unstructured time, simply giving children the time to invent their own games, to do nothing much but just be,” says Carl Honore, author of Under Pressure (published by Orion) and father of two.
Summer is the prefect time to step off the frenetic treadmill and the school schedule and this time can be an antidote to the rest of the year. It’s takes discipline because there is so much on offer; we’re getting huge catalogues of activities through the mail every day and some of it is really good stuff too. But it’s essential too to have time off and a good sense of messing around in the garden, time when the television is definitely turned off and they are not plugged into the computer.
Our children are in danger of being hyper-schedule. You get to the point where we almost have to schedule in a little unscheduled time! I’d recommend two hours a day, with no tv.
But how are our children likely to react? Expect an initial response of “I’m bored” but don’t be put off. “Children are so conditioned to be spoon fed with non-stop stimulation, that it can take persistence to show them the benefits and joys of down-time. We adults are the same. The first day of the holiday is a nightmare because you just don’t know how to switch off and you’re used to checking emails and so on. But children are hard-wired to benefit from that kind of unstructured time.
Part of the difficulty for parents is that we are used to 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 they claim they are bored, stand firm, roll your sleeves up and say, “Well, what can we do about that?” rather than giving in and finding something for them to do.
“Boredom is the firt step towards all kinds of adventures and excitement,” says Honore. Parents need to roll up their sleeves and it takes training to stand firm. There’s so much ‘pressure’ on everyone, including parents. No man is an island.”
One other important thing to remember is to avoid putting children in so many activities that they have to leave one early to reach the next one on time. “That space to rest and process what's happened is essential,” says Honore.