Free time is an enormous benefit if homeschooling. Play and creative endeavor help make children well rounded and are an important part of the “whole child” approach to education. By providing ample free time I am giving my children the chance to use their knowledge, to experiment with activities and with their reactions to things working or not working and to grow. Most of the time free time is a wonderful gift and a treasure.
Sometimes though, free time can become a source of conflict, boredom, and discontent. It can really be counter-productive to character formation as the children come to see free time as their right and all other uses of time (lessons or chores) as annoying intrusions. Bad attitudes develop and mom is left wondering what is going on.
Often the children are also feeling frustrated with their available time as they try to decide what they should do, or drift aimlessly about the house and yard without settling to some play or creative endeavor.
One of the things I desire to teach my children is the wise use of time, and I find that a relatively easy thing to do during school hours or at chore-time. Then lessons and chores are complete and I turn them loose expecting them to make good use of their free time but without offering the guidance necessary to help them use their time wisely and feel within themselves that they have used it wisely. When I see the evidence of a poor use of time in bad attitudes I correctly identify free time as being part of the problem, but instead of offering training I often just cut back on free time or give other consequences.
How do I guide the children into using time well, while still keeping free time an open ended block of time to learn, explore and play?
First of all, I have to model it. When I sit in front of the computer or spend my afternoon on Facebook , or even reading an actual book, I am not showing the children how I discipline myself to enjoy the things I enjoy but not let them become a huge focus of my life. When I grumble about having to clean the house or cook supper when I would rather please myself I should not be surprised when they also grumble when asked to put their pleasures aside and serve and love the family.
Secondly, I need to instruct the children on the dangers of too much of a good thing. Around here we talk about “brain candy” a good bit; the books and games that we enjoy but which don’t engage us in ways that help us grow. These activities are like candy for our minds and spirits. A moderate amount is good, but too much gives a mental and/or spiritual stomachache (which generally shows itself as a bad attitude or a diminished ability to do good work)
Thirdly I find that having more frequent but shorter periods of free time is better than a whole afternoon to do whatever they want. Following times of sitting and doing things alone with times of being active and together also helps considerably. So “nap time” only lasts an hour and a half, and the half hour afterwards is spent running and playing outside. Those two hours of free time are followed by a time of working on some household project together, then another little block of free time, followed by evening chores. If evening chores are finished before supper, there may be more free time, but that time is clearly the natural reward of hard work and so tends to be appreciated and used well.
I do give some guidelines for the use of free time- giving options that include creativity or nonfiction reading most days for “nap time” as that helps keep the children from focusing only on their own pleasures.
Finally I try hard to notice and comment on the good uses of time that I see and the good transitions from free time to lessons or chores. This is difficult for me as I am very much focused on accomplishing the goals for the day and have to make myself stop and admire the creations or say something to the child bustling at jobs.
Slowly I am seeing an improvement in the use of time and the attitudes that go along with our various activities. My hope is that as habits are built of creativity and productivity and holding time precious that the children will grow to neither squander or hoard it but instead spend it freely doing the things they have been created and called to do.