The Value of Free Time

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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 family members 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 screen 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. To get kids to change their screen habits, you also need to offer free time activities that will naturally pull your kids in healthier directions that engage them in real living, real people and real growth.

We all need free time. All work and no play does not make for healthy living.  As kids grow, all play and no work is equally not healthy, productive or realistic.   We all need to find balance between work, family, hobbies, exercise,  growth in faith, culture, friendships etc. We also have to stay in our budget. Regardless, none of this happens automatically. We need to be intentional for ourselves and our children.  Outside of work/school, family needs to be central in the lives of family members from birth through the teen years and still to some degree after the kids have left home and begin their own lives.  Husband-wife, parent-child, sibling and family bonds need to be deliberately forged and this happens primarily during free time, both structured and carefree, in quality and definitely in quantity time.  Parents need to be the protagonists in forging good use of free time for all family members.  Downtime and family time is desperately needed to give balance, bonding and rest to many children’s lives. Rushing around to numerous programs and having to finance your kids’ personal pursuits is not ideal. Consider reading Kevin Leman’s excellent book, “It’s Your Kid Not a Gerbil”.   Very insightful.

How much more enjoyable family life would be if we took the time to rest well with things that really re-fuel our lives. Many adults suffer from burnout. Even kids who are over-programmed can experience this. We need to re-discover simple, enjoyable ways of relaxing.  They are occasions where we hang out, enjoy each other, have fun, listen, share, laugh and pass on our deepest values.  Our family is our most important business and we need to take advantage of free time to really be-friend and love each other up. When we do so, we all benefit by feeling more secure, more confident, more understood, more sure of who we are. We help our children grow into their best selves with more intention and more focus as we pour our best selves into them, naturally and lovingly, without rushing.   Actually, our kids need to see we choose them,  happily hanging out, treasuring them. Our time is more valuable than anything we could buy them. Our time with them speaks volumes about how valuable they are to us. We really do need to have more free time together and it will require sacrifice on our part. Doing so will invest big time in the hearts and minds of those we care most about. This will pay big dividends in the years ahead because we have poured our values into them, filled them with unconditional love and formed their character. A big mission we need to sprinkle into moments here, there and everywhere.   Fathers especially make a difference in giving their free time to family members. Their words of encouragement, desire to befriend and willingness to spend time with each person daily transforms family members into more secure individuals. Moms too need to slow down, have fun and enjoy family members. Family life needs to be where people experience love, give love and know they are lovable from those who mean most–parents, siblings, relatives.  Free time allots space for that to happen. Tap into it and reap the rewards. Never too late to start. Just get started. Rev it up.

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. 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, surfing the net or getting into mischief. 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 more importantly 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. When you are a family with only pre-schoolers, take some time when you are in good form to sit down and write a list of all the indoor and outdoor activities your kids would love. For example, wooden blocks, megablocks, puzzles, toy animals, dinky cars, bath, bubble bath, bath playing with paint brushes to paint the walls  bath with washable markers, ping pong balls, games, etc. etc. Outdoor would include backyard ideas, various parks, various walks, going to fire station, ambulance station, library, McDonalds Playland, etc. etc.  Keep this list handy as a printout on the inside of a kitchen cupboard, and on your phone. Then when you are having a hairy-scary day with children disgruntled and easily cranky, refer to your list and choose a new activity. Young kids have short attention spans. They get cranky and want your attention. You are not always in good form when they are like this. They need you and your free time and it doesn’t need to be for long, just long enough for them to switch gears and use their time more happily. When you see they are getting too crazy, time to take them outside to burn energy, run, vent and change scenery. Check your list. Pick what works. Switch gears. You will find this approach will help you run your day better and you will be driving your family in great directions, without letting them learn to manipulate you through temper tantrums. You do not want little kids to realize that when you are tired and overwhelmed, they can manipulate more screen time, junk food or whatever from you. Be in the driver’s seat for your children’s good use of free time. You are forming habits. Develop ones you will enjoy as the years go by. Not ones that will turn your child into a self-gratifying little monster.

The same holds true  for older kids.  Parents can earmark certain days of the week for various family activities, ie. games night, computer night, movie night, cleaning time, Sunday outings etc.  To make it even better, it’s great to ask your children what they would enjoy doing, especially when you have kids coming into news stages (tweens, teens).  Asking them for input helps them feel engaged, valued and connected to you. It also makes it easier and quicker to plan enjoyable and formative school year, vacations, PA days, etc.    Ask each family member their wishes for the season they are approaching. For example, what would you like to do this winter with dad? with mom? with your siblings? with any of our relatives?Is there a hobby you would like to learn, somewhere you’d like to go? etc.  Interview each family member, making suggestions to stimulate ideas. Write them down.  Now go for a date with your spouse. Share what you have found. This easily puts you both on the same page for mission, purpose and planning. Pull out your calendars and see what fits your time and budget over the next few months. Have a family meeting and share these dreams that you’ve concretized. Watch enthusiasm and anticipation grow.  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 from various cultures, time periods, styles (classic, big band, swing, jazz, early rock, and roll etc.) Expose your family through music provided as an audio, a video, or live concert. The library is an excellent resource.  The internet can provide quick play lists. Search out the best in music, the great composers, amazing musicians.You want to expose your children to the very best, so they will be able to recognize trash when they hear it.  Listen to all sorts of genres and seek out quality. Music can be tapped into as well by 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, sketching, etching, carving  …  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. Board games like Pictionary make drawing fun.
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 used it as an opportunity to have them research that time period and learn about history, peoples, etiquette, clothing,  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, checking out museums, reading historical fiction etc.  Tap into the History Channel on TV as well for older kids. Watch great shows with your teens about history. One of our favorites with teens is Foyle’s War.
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.

Science:   get your kids experimenting, develop curiosity, open new avenues of information for them, whether about astronomy, plants, animals, gardening, etc using your talents, books, ideas from the internet, backyard and household items, and your imagination.

Manual Skills:
Typing on an old typewriter or 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, paint a room, chop wood, change the oil on a car, 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, sharing hobbies with others.

Hobbies:
reading (comics, novels, joke books, poetry, science magazines, home fix-it, 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. Help them find hobbies they are passionate about and they will become lifelong sources of rejuvenation when work becomes stressful.

Moral and Spiritual Activities:
Time for silence, being able to be still and be with yourself.  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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