Alone Time Is Important

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 10, 2013.

Recently I read “Why Alone Time Is So Important for Boys and Girls” by Dr. Peggy Drexler on Huff Post Parents, and I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement. My early life and my life with children have affirmed that alone time is crucial for kids.

My mother was not a parent who overscheduled her children. I went to school, but I participated in few after-school events.  I joined Brownies, and since my mom loved dance, she tried to enroll me in a few dance/gymnastics classes (I wasn’t very good since I’m not coordinated), but other than that, she didn’t think it was good for kids to be pressured into doing too much.

My sister and brother are 8 and 11 years older than me, so you might as well call me an only child. I remember spending a lot of time alone, but I was creative. I played make-believe with my stuffed animals and a small collection of Smurfs, and I liked going outside by myself, even in the Colorado snow.

I’m glad that I had those moments alone to grow comfortable with myself. I have met a few people in my life who didn’t seem comfortable being by themselves, and I pitied them. If you can’t enjoy the quiet moments in your life, how can you truly relax, or get creative, or solve problems with confidence?

As a homeschooling mom, I realized early on that if I didn’t encourage some kind of quiet time/alone time for my children, I would lose my sanity. As my eldest boy outgrew naptime at age three, I started “quiet time,” and I gave him the whole upstairs to roam and play. (Putting him in his room felt like I was punishing him, and that’s not what I wanted.)

I don’t know if it was forming this habit or if it just suited his personality, but at almost seven years old, my son is very capable of playing by himself.  My three-year-old has also started playing by himself a lot, and I’m delighted. The boys play together very well most of the time, but they also drift apart into their own make-believe worlds too. It’s a good balance.

I can’t take all the credit for their good behavior – they are good boys – but giving them space and time has helped foster their natural tendencies to play creatively, alone and together.

Dr. Drexler wrote in the article, “Modern parents are almost obsessed with filling up their children’s time. There are after-school classes, team sports, camps and lessons. What’s often missing from the schedule is time spent alone.”

She gives an example of a little boy named Sam whose mother reports “that it has become virtually impossible to ask Sam to go play by himself…or even color at the kitchen table while she’s making dinner.” Dr. Drexler comments, “Sam doesn’t know how to play by himself because he’s never had to.”

After reading these examples of kids who can’t play by themselves, I sighed with relief knowing that when I say, “Go play!” it usually works.  As a parent, I worry constantly and second-guess my decisions occasionally, but if there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s that we have a good balance of spending time together, going out to activities, and having unstructured play time – sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, sometimes together and sometimes alone.  And if I get some alone time too, that’s an added bonus.

Do your kids play by themselves sometimes?

How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children

In my last post I reviewed the book Tell Me a Story: Creating Bedtime Tales Your Children Will Dream On by Chase Collins, and I spoke a little about her reasons and strategy for making up your own tales.  In this post, I want to share my experience in telling stories to my son.

Telling stories has always been a passion of mine.  I used to write fiction, though I wasn’t very good at it or at least not good enough to get published.  Oral storytelling is also a passion, especially since I met the late J.J. Reneaux.  I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN.  I have been once, and it’s a wonderful experience.

But it took reading Tell Me a Story to get me started on making up tales for my own children.  Since I am a busy mama and often exhausted, I had felt like most of my creative juices were used up, but Chase’s book is inspiring.  When I read it, I began wishing I had someone like her to tell me stories!  She knows how to bolster confidence.  If you want to do anything creative and think you can’t do it, you might want to read the first part of this book.

It also frees my creative side to know that I’m telling stories to a five-year-old who will be happy with anything I come up with.  I don’t have to tell publishable stories or stories that adults or even other kids might like. I just have to tell something!  My child is thrilled that I’m taking time to tell him a story that is just for him.

As Collins suggests, I think about what happened to my son that day or what he’s interested in at the time, and I incorporate those things in the stories.  Even though it’s only been a few weeks since I finished the book, I have told dozens of stories to my son.  Many of them had different characters and were in different settings, but then I came up with Jack and Piper.  Jack is a little boy who lives in the forest in a log house with a large garden full of vegetables and flowers.  Piper is a troll with big feet and shaggy hair that lives down the path in a tree, and he’s Jack’s good friend.  Piper doesn’t talk, but Jack and Piper have no trouble communicating.

My son seems to love Jack and Piper because he’s been requesting a story about them every night.  He’s starting to tell me who they meet in the woods too.  I adore my son’s input because I know his creative juices are flowing, and he’s starting to see all the possibilities….

Best of all, he told me his first story the other night!  His story was very similar to some of my stories, but he put in his own character and changed the setting. I was so proud.

A few observations about my storytelling since I read Tell Me a Story:

  • When necessary, I have tried to come up with stories that might give my son a message I want him to hear.  This is something Collins talks about in her book, and I love the opportunity to teach my son in a fun way instead of hitting him over the head with a lecture.  Once I told a story about a little girl who babysat a very naughty puppy.  The puppy chewed up her favorite toy and wouldn’t do anything she needed him to do.  I hoped that on some subconscious level, my son might start to understand why there are times I need him to obey, be calm and not so difficult.
  • In my last post I shared Chase Collin’s “nitty-gritty story structure,” which she claimed, if followed, was an easy and full-proof way of coming up with a good tale on the spur of the moment.  Well, it’s not as easy as she makes it sound, but it definitely helps.  I have created some decent stories using this structure.  But then other times it’s so hard.  I can come up with a journey and a threat, but figuring out a hero-inspired way out can be tricky!  Luckily my son doesn’t mind my lame endings.  However, I have found that I enjoy telling stories more if I just let go of the structure and tell, which brings me to my next point…
  • Sometimes my stories are more like a “slice of life.”  Just a simple moment, a walk in the woods, what the hero encountered, what the hero liked and didn’t like, and then he went home.  After telling a few of these, I realized they relaxed me tremendously, my son enjoyed them, and I think they impart a great wisdom: to notice life, our surroundings, feelings and to appreciate nature.  And sometimes after telling these stories, I would think back and realize that it did indeed follow the nitty-gritty story structure after all!  Just in a very subtle way.
  • Finally, I have observed how happy storytelling makes me.  Take away the pressure to create a good story and simply speak about what you love, where you would like to be, what you’d like to be doing and with the kind of people you love, and you create a beautiful fantasy that both you and your child can dream on and keep with you throughout your day.  And then, of course, you might start to notice how your life parallels the lives of your characters…

Please come back again because in my next post, I might get brave and share one of my stories!

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Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.