With the stay at home family, free time takes on a whole new meaning. First of all, what does free time mean for children, and how much free time is beneficial?
This topic is so important right now because many of us are not only parenting our children but serving as their teachers as well. Maybe this is a temporary spot, or perhaps it is a more permanent situation.
The best way I can explain how tricky this new role of parent-teacher can be is to describe how it would look in your life if your boss were with you ALL of the time. Perhaps you have finished your workload. Your day is over. You stop and take a breath, and your boss sees you are free. Being with you all of the time means he can now assign a new task for you to do. And on and on. Think about how this translates to your child's life. We need time to relax after work, and our kids do as well!
Set Up Expectations Ahead of Time and When They Are Done They Are Done!
When we homeschooled our five children, we set realistic expectations for them to finish in a specific time frame. Usually, we had the morning to complete our work for the day. We did some things together and some things they decided on their own when they would fit them into the morning. If an child (not K or 2nd grade) child did not complete the non-negotiables (like math), they finished them in the afternoon. However, most of the time, they realized they were free in the afternoon to run and play or work on a hobby or play with a new toy if they finished their work in the morning. Many a day, we had one or several sitting in the house finishing their math while the others were out playing. We call it natural consequences. And they learn.
What Does Free Time Mean?
Free time for everyone is a space where someone else is not telling you what to do. You make your own choices of how to spend your time within reason. How can we set guidelines here so that this time is quality time for them to do essential things like think and dream and pretend and play, which leads them into future possibilities? (One daughter who at nine years old would organize playing Bingo in Spanish grew up to get one of her degrees in Spanish, and throws great parties today! lol!)
Guidelines for our children's free time allow them to make choices within a framework. We all know a problem in our world today is that our children have more screen time and less outdoor time. Nature Deficiency Disorder is the growing gap between nature and children, which brings the natural consequence of less physical fitness and Vitamin D deficiencies. When our children finished their school work, they headed outside (sometimes pushed) for their free time, at least for a good part of the afternoon.
Make a List
Again, when children complete their assignments for the day, free time starts with guidelines. Now it gets good. As a smart parent, the helpful idea is to sit down with your child ahead of time and make a list of what they might like to do in their free time. That way, they can look forward to that time, and they don't come to you with the "I'm bored" statement expecting you to come up with the entertainment. And that is the most beneficial part for you and your child. They can learn to plan their time and make choices, and you can help them by reminding them of their list, and limiting the excessive time spent on their devices.
How Much Free Time For My Child is Good?
We know the hurried (over scheduled) child is a stressed-out child. Studies have told us that when our children feel overwhelmed and pressured, we will see behavioral and emotional problems. Unstructured free time allows our children a chance to have time to get away from our instant gratification world where they expect to be entertained. It takes a moment for a child that has not had enough free time in the past to adjust. When they whine, they are bored, be patient, and remind them of the list they have made. Have it posted where they see the list. Maybe you worry they have too much free time? Just make sure you have provided some of the tools they need, such as basic art supplies and paper, bikes, sandbox, or corner in the yard where they can dig in the dirt, outdoor toys like garage sale toy trucks and cars, and balls, etc.
Boredom leads to being creative and trying something new. So welcome boredom! Boredom opens up all kinds of possibilities. I remember reading years back that the acclaimed author, Garrison Keillor, spent many hours on Sundays sitting on a hard bench in church. He attributes those tedious hours to developing his vivid imagination, so he later was able to create the humorous and touching stories in his famous books and radio program.
Schoolwork, chores, and free time balanced with a limited amount of screen time all come into play in the day of your child. Together set up goals and expectations and a list of ideas for their free time. Keep that list in a prominent place to be referred to time and again. Gather appropriate supplies and organize a space for your child to work and play and think and daydream. Remember, as adults, we are often happier on weekends or vacations. Why is that? You guessed it! We get to choose how we spend our free time!
We can do this ... together!