May 09, 2017

"We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream."

                                                                                  - Robert Coles

It seems so simple, right? We need empty hours in our day to make space for the things that fill us up. And what fills us up, either as children or adults, more than play? And yet hours are slippery things, sliding right past us until we look up and the day is over. If we want find time for play, we must claim those empty hours for ourselves and our kids. But how do we do that in a world that seems to put more demands upon us than there are hours in the day? The answer is to fiercely protect play time and give it the same priority as our work and responsibilities. 

I've had seasons in my life where the balance between work and play has been very good, and seasons where play might as well be a foreign word. Through those seasons I've learned some helpful DOs and DON'Ts that help make time for play (for kids and grownups) in this busy world.

Don't overschedule ... but do schedule in time for nothing.

It's incredibly difficult not to overschedule ourselves or our kids when there are so many fun and interesting opportunities available to us. Beyond work and school commitments, we have a dizzying amount of extracurricular and social activities to choose from. If we're not careful, we'll soon find ourselves with plans every afternoon, evening and weekend. 

Before saying yes to something, take a few minutes to pencil it in on your calendar. How does it fit in with your other commitments? Will you be giving up every Saturday to the soccer fields, or will it gobble up the one free evening you had this week? Here's the real key to making this work: once you've said no, protect that time even further by scheduling time in your calendar to do nothing. My a-ha moment came when I read one of Gretchen Rubin's Secrets of Adulthood: "Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time." We always think there will be time to play when x, y, or z is done. There won't, so schedule in time for play.

Don't depend on technology ... but do recharge while the devices charge.

We have plenty of time to "play" on our phones and computers during the day. Often we think we're giving ourselves and our kids time to escape from the daily demands of school and work by playing games online or scrolling through our social media feeds. Instead we've filled valuable downtime with an activity that doesn't do anything to for us.

Set aside a time and place where devices go to charge and be intentional about recharging your own batteries during this time. It may take some time to figure out exactly what that looks like, but once you do you'll come to crave the time when the batteries need charged.

Don't confuse doing nothing with wasting time ... but do make the most of free time.

This is harder for adults than kids. I recently made it a goal of mine to set aside 20 minutes each afternoon before the kids get home to read for pleasure. When it happens, it's wonderful. That little break to spend time in one of my favorite activities gives me an energy boost that gets me through the afternoon and evening ( or what I like to call the second shift of parenting). Even though I know how good it is for me, I still glance at the clock at 2:45 and think that those extra 20 minutes could be put to use towards something more productive.

Your time will fill up with stuff no matter what. Work hard when it's time for working, then give yourself permission to play for at least a few minutes every day.

Don't dive right into homework ... but do communicate with teachers about your homework policy.

(This can also apply to adults who bring home work from the office. Just substitute "work" for "homework" and "boss" for "teacher.")

This one will be controversial, I know, but it's also one of the best ways to protect play time for school-age kids. It's common practice in many families I know for the kids to come home from school and jump right into homework. Sometimes it's because they have so much, other times it's because they have evening activities that eat into homework time. While I'm not advocating ignoring homework completely, I am here to tell you there can be another way.

Often the work that comes home is for practice, not for a grade. At the beginning of the school year, I'll communicate with our teachers and tell them that our family policy is that play time is a priority. I stress that play time means my kids are doing things that engage them physically and mentally, fueling their creativity and imagination. A certain amount of time to do homework each week is expected, but we don't allow it to exceed that time. I've yet to encounter a teacher who didn't agree with me 100%. In fact, my son's 3rd grade teacher includes this on their weekly homework sheets: "Play outside. Be a kid!"

The other wonderful thing about setting this precedent when kids are young is watching how it plays out as they age. My high-schooler has the work-play balance so ingrained, she's able to complete her work in a reasonable time nearly every day and make time to relax as well. Her GPA in advanced high school classes? A 4.3. Balance is a very good thing for the brain and soul.

Do you have any more DOs and DON'Ts you can add to our list? We'd love to hear them!

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