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When my oldest was just a toddler my husband, and I began to seriously discuss the homeschooling option. We even dared mention it out loud to a few close friends and family members.  The first reactions were full of shock, which was not surprising as I had been a public school teacher.  Why would I choose such a radically different kind of education for my own children?

After the shock had worn off everyone jumped onto the socialization bandwagon. Apparently, I was thinking of raising my kids as social recluses, and they would definitely suffer from it.  I knew it my heart that this wouldn’t be our reality but that pressure to PROVE that to the world always weighed in the back of my mind… it still does.

It isn’t just the homeschooling and socialization that plays into this whole demand that my children be active and involved in LOTS of opportunities.  It is really the way of our world right now.  Public schooled, private schooled, homeschooled it doesn’t matter.  If your children aren’t in 4 sports, play 3 instruments, take part in 3 clubs, and serve the underprivileged in some way… you are a bad parent! Add in the need to “socialize” my homeschoolers and sometimes the pressure to get involved in 100 different things can be too much!

To be very truthful though it is easy to start feeling a bit prideful when someone asks the socialization questions and I can rattle off 20 different activities my family does.  Take THAT you silly, uninformed person! My children ARE socialized.  I have to check myself…are we doing all we do to make Mommy look good and bow to society’s pressure or are we doing what we do because it is best for our family.

And to make matters worse… there is always another family doing more than we are!  The comparison trap rears its ugly head even in this case.

But there are FOUR of them and only one of me.  I can’t keep every kid as busy as society dictates.  It only runs me down and THEM down.  In the last year or two, I’m learning to set priorities for each child and our family as a whole and stick with them.

My kids now have a lot more unstructured time in their days. Plus, we allow VERY LIMITED screen time.  They now have plenty of opportunity for boredom, and amazingly this is paying in spades.

Some benefits of a less structured schedule:

  • They don’t fight with each other as much.
  • They have more time to help Mom with chores around the house – they are learning amazing life skills.
  • They have time to read… a lot! And these books really spark their imaginations.
  • They get involved in dramatic play that lasts for days or weeks! We’ve had cowboys, knights, basketball stars you name it. (see point above… all of that reading)
  • They create! The arts and crafts they dream up and add too can go on for weeks. (again, inspired by their reading)
  • They problem solve! They have the time to invent solutions to real problems (in play, with their creations, or with each other).

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This just might be my favorite example… though it is one that raised the hair on Mommy’s neck!  We have a huge Maple Tree in our backyard.  The lowest branches are far too high for any sort of easy climbing.  A few years back my boys started schemeing.  I had known that they’ve WANTED to climb that tree badly for years.  I also knew it was just a matter of time before they figured out how because they’d been brainstorming and experimenting with it for months. I just hoped it’d take them a lot longer (as in a couple more YEARS! Lesson learned, never underestimate your children).

They drew up pages of plans for creating natural ladders. They read books about how to build things to get more ideas.  They worked with hammers and boards and nails to see what they could create.  They consulted with Daddy (who was purposefully not much help as we weren’t thrilled with the idea of them climbing this thing) and their grandpa.  They’ve tried and failed and redesigned and worked together and tried again more times than I can count.

Well, just as I predicted, they finally succeeded.  It involved a chain rope, toys stacked up, a 50-pound bag of sand they managed to lift as high as their shoulders, helmets, and who knows what else.  But they did it!  They scaled that tree!  I’ve never seen two prouder boys.  Mommy nearly died of heart failure!

Then they had to get down! Yep, no one really thought that far ahead I guess.  What a lesson that was all on its own!  Thankfully Daddy helped them down, and everyone agreed to stay out of the tree for a few more years.  And though I had visions of broken necks and crazy ambulance visits, I couldn’t be more proud of them.  They set out on a mission, and they worked together until they solved it.  Believe it not, they were even pretty safe about it.

Would any of this have gone on if we didn’t spend most afternoons, at home, without much else to do?  No… I really don’t think so.  The learning that went on over those months as they tried to solve this problem is immeasurable.  The pride, and belief in themselves that they CAN accomplish hard things are priceless.

CHILDREN NEED DOWNTIME!  They need to be bored.  It is in the margins of life, the space between activities when they actually learn.  I have to recommend a book to you…

This is just one of those books that have seriously made me reevaluate what I’m trying to accomplish with my children.  Click on the image to check it out yourself.

How about you!  How do you make sure there is enough margin in your family life so that your children aren’t overscheduled and have room to REALLY grow and learn?