“Kids need time to be bored; that is how creativity is born.” – Melanie Jean Juneau
A little over a year ago I was in my kitchen sobbing to a friend that I wished I could get out and do more with my children. It had been a particularly difficult year, a very stressful one, and on top of that I was on the learning curve of being a new mother to three children. I would attempt to go out with all three of them on my own but it would end badly every time, and I decided that it just was not worth even trying anymore. I resigned myself to the fact that for the first year of my third child’s life I would either be on the couch breastfeeding him or his 2yo sister, changing nappies, or making food for my eldest, and that that was all I could manage. It meant that if I wanted adult contact (other than my husband when he came home from work) that people had to come to me, and living in a fairly isolated area meant that I only had 2 friends willing to do that on any regular basis.
I felt inadequate next to my unschooling friends who had finished their childbearing after two children. With their youngests both 4yo, they were able to start getting out and doing exciting things with them. And there I was still stuck in babyland, dreaming of all the things we could do as a family if only I could get a handle on being this mother-of-three thing. When I had only one child nothing stopped me from still doing all the things I wanted to do. When I had two children it scarcely slowed me down, I even spent two weeks with them on my own traveling Tasmania. But the third was the tipping point and suddenly I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even take them down to the local shops, let alone drive for an hour to get to homeschool activities. I underestimated just how busy three children would be, especially when I had scarcely any community around me.
So when my friend, with a well-meaning heart, attempted to comfort me that day in my kitchen by saying “So you can’t go out, it doesn’t mean you can’t set up cool and exciting activities here at home” I felt nothing but dismay. It was more work that I didn’t need. I realise now that what I needed to hear was “It’s okay to be in this place right now. Your children are not going to suffer by taking the time you need to adjust as a family.” But at that time, and even now, there seemed to be this culture in unschooling circles that you have to actively create a learning-rich environment for your children or else you’re not fit for unschooling. Over this year I have come to disagree with that.
When I lived in a big city with our first child, I was so busy that I had to roster days at home. We were out of the house nearly every single day going to homebirth and homeschool groups, friend’s houses, family events, festivals, and more. Our weekends would get slurped up sometimes a month in advance and we never felt that our time was our own. After we moved to country Victoria in January 2011, it was a big adjustment to have no where to go and nobody to see. Eight months later, after a phone call with my mother where she had described how busy she was and that she didn’t have a free weekend for the next 6 weeks I got off the phone and breathed a sigh of relief. We didn’t have to do that any more. We didn’t have to be human busydoings. I took my two children and a picnic blanket outside and lazed about in the sunshine, picking flowers, and listening to music. I had found new bliss and I became a human Being once again.
However, I somehow lost sight of that in the envy I felt as my friend’s lives took off into new adventures last year, and the building anxiety I felt as the new unschooling buzz words of “learning rich environment”, “engaged lives”, and “cheery neglect” began swirling around me. Was I failing as an unschooler because I wasn’t taking my kids out nor creating activities at home? To ease my mind I began keeping a log of all the things we did and the resources I gathered for my children. After six months of this I realised that while we lived a slower paced life than others we lead a naturally rich life. One that savours the slowness of living naturally, one that allows time for rest, recuperation, and reflection. And we can live slowly and still take a walk in nature once a week, and go on a trip away in the caravan once a month, and attend activities once a week (or every other week if we need some down time). Our children don’t need to be engaged every moment of their lives. Sometimes the quiet moments are the most rich of all. To be still with our thoughts is a lesson and skill in itself, and even boredom can be the birthplace of creativity.
“I think children need slowness even more than adults do. It’s in those moments of quiet, of unstructured time, of boredom even, that kids learn how to look into themselves, how to think and be creative, how to socialise.” – Carl Honoré
We chose a life of free learning for a multitude of reasons, one of which is that we don’t want to teach our children that they have to fill the empty spaces in their lives just for the sake of being busy. We want quality lives not quantity lives; human Beings not human Busies. I like that we live slowly punctuated by busy times and not the other way around. I like that we can sleep in, or have an afternoon nap, and that we don’t have to rush around to get to classes or appointments. Goodness knows, I am busy enough with three children without having to add other commitments to my life, or losing essential blocks of sleep! I want my children to know that it’s okay to take their time. It’s okay to be still. It’s okay to do nothing. It’s especially okay if you’re in babyland with no support to only do the bare minimum to get through the day. Role modelling self-care is a gift to our children.What I have learned is that we don’t need to run ourselves into the ground in order to create learning rich environments because life naturally IS a learning rich environment. A person won’t go through life and not learn a thing, it’s impossible. Sometimes the simplest childhoods are the best. It’s not neglectful – cheery or otherwise – to allow children the space to find their own activities to do – children have been capable of that throughout all of human history. They will build forts, pick flowers, climb trees, study bugs, perform plays, practice gymnastics, teach each other tricks, and learn to read the sky to know when it’s time to head home. Childhood happens once, and life is for the living. The learning part will follow naturally, and will be found in the most unexpected of places.
And you know what? My children came through the relative inactivity of last year unscathed, and probably learned a great deal about their mother’s limits – a valuable life lesson right there.