The Value of Free Time

The Value of Free Time

Children have a lot of free time and actually need that time in order to grow up in a balanced, integral way. School and programs involve focused instruction and a certain standard of performance. Children need informal time to switch gears, re-charge batteries, talk to people and freely develop other parts of their life. Unfortunately, many parents turn to quick fixes to keep their children occupied, like smartphones and computer screens. Too much time also affects their brain development. There is so little family time in the life of a child. When you put your son/daughter in front of a screen, you give permission to outsiders to role model many behaviors, attitudes and values you might not desire for your children.  They become rivals for your time, values, and relationships. Wise parents make sure they structure, supervise and control this powerful influence in their home. By doing so, they help their children to become more proactive in healthier activities and better engaged in family life.

Free time offers invaluable occasions to develop initiative, inventiveness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, creativity and imagination – qualities running low in many of today’s over-programmed children. Downtime and family time is desperately needed to give balance, bonding and rest to many children’s lives. How much more enjoyable family life would be if we took the time to rest well with things that really re-fuel our lives. Children too need time for spontaneity, creativity, personal interests, conversation, friendship, reflection and deciding what to do next. Free time is not the time for doing nothing. Smart parents take this into account and regularly discuss how their children’s free time could be spent, especially before weekends, school holidays and summer holidays. Programs are fine, but cannot come close to replacing the conversations, memories, and interaction that families develop when they do things on the home front. When you calculate how much time your children are in your actual presence in a given week, it is extremely small. So it makes sense to keep programs to a minimum and make more free time. These moments really become the glue that holds your family together. Build memories that last a lifetime. Bond with your kids. Invite friends and relatives to join in, especially if they can pass on talent, skill, and knowledge. All of a sudden, free time becomes an amazing part of educating your children in an informal, relaxed approach. You get to be in the driver’s seat about what your kids are up to and what they are soaking up. It’s not about helping them to become an all-star anything; it’s all about rounding out their character and exposing them to many facets of living life fully. So, consider making a list of possibilities. Post them on the inside of a kitchen cupboard, your smartphone or your computer for handy reference. It will save you oodles of time, money and headaches when you wonder what your kids should do with their free time.

Here is a list of free time activities to get you started. Take what works with your ages, stages, and resources. I’m sure you can come up with a lot more.

Outdoor Activities:
backyard sandbox, swing set, lawn bowling, basketball, badminton, volleyball, road hockey, tag, skipping, hopscotch, ball, blowing bubbles, soccer, tennis, tobogganing, skating, swimming, hiking, bike riding, water games (water balloons, sprinkler, squirt guns), baseball, football, apple picking, strawberry picking, paint-balling, fishing, kite flying, rollerblading, skateboarding, going for a walk, jog or a run, canoeing, camping, playing in the mud, making snow angels, skipping stones, building sandcastles at the beach, etc. etc.

Cultural Activities:
Music: Listening to different kinds of music on tape or video from various cultures, time periods, styles (classic, big band, swing, jazz, early rock, and roll etc.) The library is an excellent resource for this. Watching, learning or doing different kinds of cultural, social or ballroom dance, even if it’s just dressed up at home with small kids. Singing (even around a campfire), singing with others (in the family, in a choir, with friends), learning musical instruments. Attending live musicals, concerts, piano recitals etc. Watching musicals and concerts on TV as a family (Sound of Music always a family favorite).
Art: drawing, painting, gluing, taping with all kinds of available items from around the house. paint by number kits, drawing books, looking at famous artist’s books from the library, visiting art galleries, arts and crafts (tons of ideas in stores, libraries, school etc.), art videos.
Drama: playing charades, follow the leader, making up skits to share for fun or for a family birthday, playing dress up, doing a play, going to puppet shows at the library, plays at schools, in the theater, in the community.
History: taking their interests and finding books, movies, people who could put things in historical context. My boys like playing war and we used this vehicle to help them read about Greeks, Romans, Napoleon, famous generals, history, famous battles etc. A friend’s daughters like Pride and Prejudice and she use it as an opportunity to have them research that time period and learn about history, peoples, etiquette, honor, etc. Great to have elderly friends and neighbors come to visit and share what it was like growing up, their background, adventures etc. Studying family history, family tree, countries we originated from, etc. Lots of conversations about relatives, traditions, cultural influences etc. Going through old photo albums with your children. Interviewing relatives about their past. Travelling, going to re-enactments etc.
Geography: have a globe or map handy around the house. show where your colleagues have come from and where friends have traveled to. Have them research possible family trips using library books, tourist information, internet resources etc. When taking long distance trips, get information on local history you are driving through so children can see and hear about places. Watch good videos, access books with lots of great pictures from the library. Invite friends over who are immigrants and have them share their story, their foods, their culture.

Manual Skills:
typing on an old typewriter on a computer keyboard; learning how to clean shoes, mend a hem, sew a button, how to set a table, answer the phone, clean a room, organize a drawer, garden, mow the lawn, trim bushes/trees, wash and vacuum a car, how to power wash your driveway or deck, stain outdoor furniture, seal your driveway, iron, cook various meals, how to use a cheque book, cutting hair, personal grooming, doing laundry, basic home repair and construction etc. etc.

Social Activities:
board games, card games, ping pong, games using dice, string games, having friends over, having families over, visiting friends, taking time to visit relatives, the elderly, those in hospital, getting involved in church youth groups, chess clubs, euchre tournaments, book clubs (you can always start your own with the friends of your children), learning about etiquette

Hobbies:
reading (comics, novels, joke books, poetry, science magazines, recipe books …), crosswords, word finds, Sudoku, collecting things (cards, shells, stamps, stones, insects etc.), needlepoint, sewing, knitting, crocheting, model cars, model planes, model army figures, building dioramas, wood carving, woodworking, quilting, photography, videotaping family events, dismantling broken appliances and learning how they work, painting, remote controlled cars/planes, hair-styling, fashion, writing short stories, letters, novels, poetry, bird watching, hunting, cooking, interior design, floral arrangements, etc., etc.

Moral and Spiritual Activities:
Time for reflection and prayer, individually and as a family; walks, talks, discussions on deep issues; reading of spiritual books and books about biographies of heroes who mirror your principles, attending public worship at church, temple, mosque or synagogue, meeting and befriending youth and families who share your values, faith and vision of life, religious youth groups, retreats, catechism programs, and time for being mentored or receiving spiritual direction when they are older.

As you can see, the sky is the limit. There are hundreds of activities you and your children can pursue during free time. Kids don’t have time to get into trouble or look for trouble. They are active doing what they enjoy. All round everyone feels healthier, happier and much more secure in themselves and in their relationships. Free time can truly become a great time. All this from being active on the home front of your child’s life! Tap into better use of free time and you will see your family grow stronger for it. Good luck and have a ton of fun!

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