Most children in the 21st century live by the clock: school, after-school activities, homework, bed, repeat. The goal is often getting into college, where hypothetically they will discover what they want to do for the rest of their lives.
Many people now suspect this rigid scheduling causes stress and anxiety among children, and also dampens their creative skills, which may be the secret to a fruitful, rewarding career. Also troubling: children often use their downtime plugged into technology for gaming, social media and binge watching.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families discovered the joy of unscheduled time. They played games, went on hikes, rode bicycles – and slowed down. The “pause” highlighted an ancient Greek concept of time: chronos time – the one measured with clocks, watches and calendars, and kairos time, when people are untethered, free to pursue what they want to do or simply relax.
According to legend, a young Orville Wright skipped school to take apart a broken sewing machine and figure out how to put it back together, and when his absence was discovered, his father allowed him to continue with the machine, rather than scold him. Some modern teaching methods encourage curiosity; for instance, students in Montessori schools make their own creative choices in classrooms designed for experiential learning, guided by specially trained teachers.
Similarly, many summer sleepaway camps immerse children in an unplugged, nature-based setting. Campers learn to work independently and as part of a group of peers. Children swim, hike, paddle kayaks and canoes, make friendship bracelets. They might catch a fish, sleep under the stars, or master a rock-climbing wall.
To encourage children to discover their creative strengths, here are some activities that require communication and collaboration – without technology:
• Give everyone a blank sketchbook and take a hike or a road trip, encouraging sketches of things that capture their interest. Museum visits also work well for sketching.
• Present a family puppet show: Work together on a skit, build a simple box theater, and craft the puppets.
• Take a cooking class together, or work together on a recipe in your own kitchen.
• Make a photo collage or scrapbook for someone’s birthday.
• Build an elaborate sandcastle at the beach.
• Plan an ice cream social for the neighborhood – create and deliver invitations, shop for supplies, and decorate. Or organize a potluck supper among family and friends.
• Find a broken machine such as a typewriter, toaster (or sewing machine, like Orville!), cut off the cord to ensure it won’t be plugged in, and take it apart to see how it works.
• Listen to live music – many communities have local bands or orchestras that perform for free or for a nominal admission.
• Plant a garden together, and nurture it through the growing season.
• Organize a messy closet, garage or shed.
• Watch people do their jobs from a safe distance, such as crews handling sanitation, road repair, snow or leaf removal, utility maintenance, painting, etc.
• Learn how to play chess, card games, dominoes and/or checkers, or assemble jigsaw puzzles.
• Visit ethnic neighborhoods to try new foods at a restaurant, and buy specialties to enjoy at home.
• Build or assemble something together: a wood table, patio furniture, holiday decorations or toys.