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Raising Children, part 5: Open Spaces

The most radical thing we can do with our kids is to simply stop and do nothing from time to time — Betsy Taylor, What Kids Really Want That Money Can’t Buy

The soul has no room it which to present itself if we continually fill all the gaps with bogus activities — Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

I was homeschooled, and my mother was constantly bombarded with recommendations: I would learn more, socialize better, develop our talents more fully, if I attended this class, took that field trip, participated in that workshop. More than enough activities were suggested to more than fill our days. However, my mother couldn’t drive because of a vision handicap, and my father was often away at work. So we had to choose a few of the things that were recommended to us, and I had a lot of open time at home. Sometimes my mother worried that I was being shortchanged.

Over time we came to see this limitation as a gift. I was more able to write creatively, and to pray, and to cope with stresses and difficulties, when I had chunks of quiet time in which to do nothing. And in the quiet space when nobody was trying to make me do anything I began to understand what I myself really wanted to do and to learn.

Now young people come to work and learn at our subsistence farm. They are interested in the work and the discussions we get into, but often they comment on how strange it feels to have chunks of unstructured time. Many of them have spent almost all their time being educated or amused by someone else. This has given them some valuable experiences, but it has left them profoundly unaware of who they are, what they enjoy, what they value, what they choose. Empty time is hard for them at first, because it makes them face that unawareness. Over time some of them come to clarity.

I would guess that many of you who spend time on this site have already decided not to fill your homes with all the gadgets which are advertised for children. I encourage you also to think about not filling their time with all the activities which are promoted to you. Leave them some time to get bored and develop inner resources, to be quiet and to listen for the still small voice.

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