Quiet time, you say? What's that? Wouldn't we all love some more of it in our daily lives?! It may seem impossible, but the thing is, it is also super important, both for us and for our kids. "Overscheduled" is a term we hear a lot nowadays, and not just in reference to adults. The trend lately is to fill up the time for kids around activities, play dates, sports and more. But often we are leaving out a crucial aspect of childhood, creativity. Our society has whittled down the activities that allow kids to create games on their own, using their own imaginations, and kids are used to being surrounded by constant stimulation from television, computers, iPads, even things like LeapPad tablets and the more "educational" type of toys that instruct them how to learn and play. The thing is though, kids don't necessarily need direction when it comes to play, what they need is the freedom to create on their own, without instruction. Of course play dates and toys aren't bad things, as well as parent-child playtime and more organized sports and activities. Those certainly are beneficial as well and have a place in a child's life, but if a child is always being entertained by others it can actually inhibit other aspects of the child's development and eliminate the opportunity for children to use only their imaginations to entertain themselves. Children need to learn how to be alone, and how to actually enjoy it, not treat it as a punishment. If children are always provided constant stimulation from toys, parents, or playdates, it can hinder the development of their ability to think and create for themselves and their games, and play, will be merely mimicked behaviors and ideas.
The other benefit is that they get the opportunity to create without an audience, without a parent or a teacher giving their input, which in turn will stimulate their independent thinking, and a child who develops independence thinking skills will always feel more confident about themselves and their ability to solve life problems, especially when you are not there. Kids who use independent thinking will also show a heightened enthusiasm to work more to achieve minor goals and objectives.
A lot of the time, "quiet time" just sort of happens by accident, but there are some ways you can create a habit of some relaxed, quiet time in your house, even on a daily basis. So, now for a few how-tos on creating quiet time and independent play with your children:
- First, start early. This is perfect for those parents dreading the time their toddlers will finally stop napping (THE WORST). Use the no nap as an opportunity to introduce quiet time. They don't have to sleep anymore (but still totally cool if they do, gotta love it when that happens!), but they do have to have some quiet, alone time where they can play, look at some picture books, or choose an activity or craft they can do on their own. That being said, it is never too late to start. Try introducing just 15-20 minutes a day as a start and gradually increase it.
- Set some boundaries by choosing a space that they can have their quiet time in and have a few ground rules. If they are going to be in their rooms for the quiet time, let them choose their activity or plan out their time, and make it clear that the goal of the time is to have some quiet, alone time. If they need a lot of your help with a particular craft or activity, choose that one for a future family activity and pick one they can accomplish on their own. However, making them stay confined to a space might be too much like a punishment, so while keeping the ground rules it might make it easier to have a little flexibility if they need just a little help getting a craft going or finishing one up.
- Don't make homework the quiet time activity. Kids should be able to figure out what they feel like doing during the time, not have it be a school activity or something they are required to do. In that vein, if kids can't figure out what they want to do and instead head to their quiet time with nothing to "occupy" them, that's great too. We all know how infrequently we all have time to just "hear ourselves think", and I know I for one don't want my kids to have that same feeling. Besides, being "bored" is actually good for kids. Unstructured time gives them the opportunity to explore their inner and outer worlds, which is the beginning of creativity. This is how they learn to engage with themselves and the world, to imagine and invent and create.
- If you can, use the time yourself as well. Pick up that book you've been wanting to read, call a friend, or just sit outside with a cup of coffee. Even for just fifteen minutes, creating that space of time can make a big difference in your day. Making it a family activity can also make it seem more appealing and less like a punishment, explain that everyone needs to have some down time and share what you will all be doing during the quiet minutes.
- Be consistent, but don't force it. Again, don't make the quiet time a punishment. It should be something the kids will look forward to, and if it just isn't happening, let it go for the day. Keep trying to make it a priority, and talk with your kids to find out ways that might make it more appealing for them. With my 7 year old he wants to constantly be running about and climbing trees and playing basketball with our neighbor, so it takes him a few minutes to settle into just hanging out and being quiet, but he always winds up liking it. It can refresh them, especially after school or preschool when kids can sometimes feel overstimulated.
Here are a few fun ideas for a quiet time craft (both for older kids and younger kids). Again, kids don't need to have an activity or craft picked out to do, but it can help get them into the idea of liking their quiet time better and help make it more appealing especially if you are starting out:
- These simple and pretty Wrapped Washer Necklaces from Design Mom are enough of a structured activity to give kids something to do, but they get to create the colors and style of the necklace all on their own. Give them the materials and show them the basic how tos (let them know they can ask you to help with scissors or cutting) and let them create!
- Easy to make and easy for little hands to create with (and clean up on their own), simple velcro craft sticks are a great way for kids to create games and crafts on their own.
- Sponge blocks! How have I never thought of these before?! They could not possibly be quieter, and SO easy to make, these are great for an inexpensive indoor or outdoor activity when paired with a water table.
- Think inside the box. Have a cardboard box you are going to recycle? Have crayons? Give it to your child and let them go nuts. The same goes for older kids and recyclables, give them the raw materials to use and let them create with no boundaries. Maybe they'll make a vehicle, maybe they'll just make some abstract art, but let them come up with their own idea and execute it all by themselves.