I have a confession to make. This post is for me personally. I am very driven and do not normally lean toward creating, joining in or choosing unstructured leisure time. Yet, while I was a child my life was filled with leisure time and I loved it.
Now that I have confessed my aversion to leisure time let me also admit that unstructured leisure time for children can be some serious work for parents. For one, you have to teach children how to talk to and treat one other. OK, there is a job! Give kids a few minutes of down time and they instantly pull up the data sheet on “101 ways to annoy a sibling”. Don’t think for a moment children need anything substantial to fight about. I have listened to an argument on whose side a small leaf on the car floor is on and subsequently who then has to reach down and pick it up. Yes, the same children who moments before were expending boundless energy doing nothing, now cannot muster up enough of that energy to pick up a leaf on the car floor! It is enough to give a parent a nervous breakdown.
Right now you might be thinking that this is an article on why we should never allow our children unstructured leisure time. But quite the contrary! You see, those moments where we are together, teaching our children how to speak to and treat their sibling, those are the moments true discipleship occurs. The distractions are torn away, the body and mind are no longer occupied with diversions. At just such a moment the heart’s true character is revealed for mom, dad and anyone else who is in ear shot to hear and see. For some of us coming face to face with our child’s true nature is scary. For others it is priceless moment, a chance to teach and lead through discipleship.
Yet, unstructured leisure time is more than just a platform for discipling. Creativity, use of imagination, time to unwind, preparation for quality sleep and more are byproducts of unstructured leisure time. Children are programmed to need “down time” and will thrive with regular unstructured, non-media saturated time which will contribute to a balanced life.
I highly recommend being aggressive about scheduling in unstructured leisure time. Then teach and train your children how to handle it. Don’t be discouraged if they dislike it at first. Like an exotic delicacy it may take some time to learn to appreciate.
May God’s grace and peace be with you,
Mark Strohm, Jr.