A Full Schedule is not a Full Childhood

Children need to play.

Everyone agrees with this statement, yet the truth for some is that this means that their young children should be busy with play dates and sporting activities, music lessons and art classes, trips to the swimming pool, the playground, the Children’s museum, the zoo, the library, and whatever other enrichment activities they can think of.

My truth is different. My child stays and plays at home most days.

His schedule is open.

His play is open.

Today he spent forty minutes entertaining himself with a four-tiered 13″w x 30″h x 6″d brushed nickel rolling shelf from the bathroom. He discovered that it moved for him more easily when he pushed from the narrower sides. When he pushed with the wide sides facing him, he often pushed faster than the casters could move and then toppled the cart over. He eventually learned that when he knocked it over, he didn’t need to cry. The crash on the hard wood floor made a loud sound, but it didn’t hurt anyone, and he was strong enough to pick it up and set it to rights again. He learned he needed to steer around the dog, the dog’s bed, and Mom’s feet, and when he came to the carpet, he needed to move the wheels a certain way so that they would roll smoothly onto the new surface. He learned that once the shelf was lying on its side, either by his design or when it accidentally tipped over, he could play with it a different way. He stepped in the spaces between each shelf like a football player might run a speed course through tires (though certainly, more slowly). Once he stopped for a rest in the middle, and he learned he could sit on the side of a shelf with his feet in the spaces between.

That shelf has been in the bathroom since he was born, but today it became more than just a shelf.

The book Simplicity Parenting and the Waldorf education philosophy advocate for a less structured, less scheduled environment to give children time for play.

So, left to his own devices, my child makes fun out of the familiar. He spent time in our back yard today climbing up and down the ladder I had left out after cleaning the gutters. He moved some bricks, chased the dog. We went for our usual walk around the block, picking up rocks and searching for pine cones, hoping for a truck to be up to something in the neighborhood. Earlier this week, we stood in the rain and silently watched a cement truck expel the contents of its churning belly. Often the activity that most excites my son is to stand on his step stool at our front window and look out, calling to the “car car”s that pass, and saying “bye bye” to the bicyclists.

Most days we unload the dishwasher together, but a few days this week we added the activity of washing the breakfast dishes by hand in a little tub. An article sent home from our Waldorf Parent/Child Education class emphasizes the value of having our children do real work at home. Even if I did most of the actual washing, in another meaningful way, he got to have a hand (literally) in the care and keeping of our home.

And there was still plenty of time for him to drive his wooden cars under the couch and back out again.

Even with the great fortune I have, to stay at home with my child, sometimes I fear I am depriving him. But it isn’t that we never go to the zoo nor have play dates. We do, just not every week, every day. I want Liam to learn about and participate in the big wide world,  and he will. I just have to remind myself that there will be plenty of time for all of these activities later, that he is only little once, and for such a short while. I want to protect and preserve his childhood as best I can; so a world that includes his home and his yard, his family and a few friends is big enough for now. In the simplicity of this schedule, and in the routine or rhythm of our days at home together, we are giving him the gift of security. And from that there is a wealth of opportunity.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Doubters Alert.”

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6 thoughts on “A Full Schedule is not a Full Childhood

  1. It’s hard for me to judge if our parenting technique is helping our son or if he’s just a bright kid on his own. Part of the problem is that we are surrounded by like-minded people, so their children are often reflections of our own. Or, perhaps, parents in general are more typical of us and the fringe are those that inundate their children with media and screens.

    In the end, though, the important thing is that we are trying to be the best parents we can be. Our philosophy on television did not rise suddenly along with Liam’s birth. You and I have been without a TV for many years. The book you cite helped solidify our own ideas into a more cohesive framework for raising Liam. But, I don’t think we were far from it to begin with.

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    1. Thanks! So far, it is working for us, I think. But now I’m starting to stress out about schools, and finding one where he will still get to play, where he will get to run around and climb and shout, and build and grow.

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      1. Eeek. Not having children myself, that sounds like a challenge, but you guys are so smart, you’ll figure something out I’m sure. Any Waldorfs in your area? Or maybe they can recommend something?

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