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?

The Little Projects: Project-based Homeschooling

{A.K.A. I don’t plan any crafts in this house.} {In between projects} {Exploring mediums}

I’ve written about what I’ve considered our “project-based homeschooling” in terms of long projects in which my son learned about a specific topic and also spent some considerable time constructing something, such as in Building the Titanic and Rockets and the Benefits of Failure. But to tell the truth, he spends most of his time doing what I think of as “little projects.” That is, they are projects he has come up with on his own, but they aren’t tied to what I consider a long-term study project. Not that they couldn’t become that, and in a way, you could consider some of what he’s doing long-term study in that he’s learning some skills such as sewing.

For me, this is what homeschooling is all about. I want my children’s imaginations to be unfettered. I want them to have fun. I don’t want them to be told what they can or can’t do. I want them to have the time and the resources (to the best of my ability) to develop their imaginations and real, quality skills along the way!

I’ve already written about how my boys love to build. You can read about many of the building and art supplies we keep on hand and ideas my son “found” last year in Boys Like to Build. You can read about the benefits of building with Legos or blocks in Little Builders.

Here, I want to show you examples of other projects. For lack of a better term, they’re kind of “artsy.” How did he come up with these ideas? Many different ways:

  • He “finds” ideas in television shows, such as Blues Clues, or he happens to find an idea in a book or on a pamphlet at Hobby Lobby, and he tells me he wants to make it.
  • Some ideas are from pure imagination.
  • Some ideas I lead him to. Occasionally I’ll see something online that I think he might like or could easily do, and I show it to him. If he likes it, he wants to make it.
  • For holiday craft ideas, I don’t plan anything. I let my son google “Easter crafts,” and then we look at the zillion of images and he picks what he likes!
  • Most artwork comes from just playing with different mediums. I keep all art supplies out where the kids can reach them at any time. Here’s a short list of what we’ve got:
    • paints, brushes
    • construction paper
    • markers, crayons, pens, pencils
    • glue, tape
    • lots of fun stuff such as sequins, pom poms, little wooden cubes, etc.
    • modeling clay
    • recently added: watercolor pencils and watercolor paper!
    • sewing stuff: fabric, felt, fabric scissors, craft thread, needles (but the needles are kept in a safer place)

We have one section of the wall in our kitchen that is our “art gallery.”

I am the “YES” Mom.

Part of “project-based homeschooling” is creating an environment where supplies are on hand and easily accessible to my children. From the time my son was three- or four-years-old, I’ve been doing simple art with him – nothing stressful for me and nothing that needed a lot of pre-planning. For example, when he was two and three, he just liked to cut paper, so I turned his paper bits into animals. We did that for the longest time, and sometimes my boys will still ask me to make them a paper animal!

We have a routine, and there are things that I require of my children, but I try very hard to always say “Yes! Go ahead!” whenever they want to paint, draw or create something. It doesn’t have to be a certain time of day – I just let them do it. The only time that I may say no is when it’s, say, fifteen minutes before our evening routine begins, and someone wants to pull all the paints out. Then I’ll say, “Well, you’re going to need to get your bath in a few minutes, so why don’t we plan to paint tomorrow?” But if it’s crayons or markers, I’d probably be inclined to say “Go ahead!” even at that time.

My kids don’t “create” everyday or every week, but looking at all the pieces of artwork in the house, I know that they’ve had a lot of fun and freedom. It does make for a messy house, and even though I always make the boys clean up after themselves, there’s still a lot of mess left over waiting for me to pick it up. (And it can just keep waiting.) I’ll be writing about this “chaos” and our messy but productive environment in upcoming posts.

Art Lessons

It’s always in the back of my mind to get a little more formal with the art. Show them different mediums, artists, and styles. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Amy Hood’s amy hood arts blog for ideas on teaching art to my children. But right now I can hardly keep up with my son’s ideas, so for awhile, we’ll just go with his ideas.

Here’s a few of his self-made projects:

Making a bed for one of his stuffed animals. He used a box, fabric & a glue gun. He’s never felt the need to paint the boxes or add embellishes.

Making an alien puppet. This idea came to him after we made the dinosaur puppets below.

Here it is!

I saw the dinosaur & rocket puppets online & thought they’d be easy to make. The six-year-old made the one in the middle. We both worked on the green one. I made the one on the right.

The rocket puppet. I cut out the pattern & the six-year-old sewed it.

I started this lizard for a Christmas gift, but I don’t have the patience my son has, so he had to finish it for me. ;o

Our Thanksgiving wreath. Idea given to us by a friend. (Once my six-year-old hears good ideas, there’s no stopping him.)

My six-year-old found this pamphlet with instructions on how to make a lion puppet at Hobby Lobby. He bugged me for months to make it, and we finally did. The instructions were not good, by the way, so I had to improvise on some of it. I helped with the sewing/cutting on this, but the six-year-old did a lot of it!

Nature art. My six-year-old did this all by himself. He got the idea after seeing some similar artwork at the Botanical Garden.

Clay is a huge hit with my boys! My six-year-old watched this tutorial on how to make this car.

This tree was his idea.

I’m really impressed with how my son has taken up sewing. (I don’t sew.) He saw this snake fabric at the store, and he said he’d make a snake with it. And he did! I helped, but it was all his idea, and he was very fussy about how it needed to be done.

Every day my son carries some little toy around the house all day, and at night, he puts it to “sleep” on his nightstand. One day he had the idea to make a bed for his toys! I didn’t even know what he was doing until he was almost done. 

I can’t forget the three-year-old! He LOVES to paint, cut paper, glue, build with blocks, make pretend food, paste things into his “notebook,” and create different things too. At Christmas, I got him these little wooden cubes and sticks. I let him make all the messes he wants to. (This picture was taken the day after Christmas, which is why there’s a lot of odd stuff in the room.)

The three-year-old doesn’t have the motor skills to make things like my six-year-old, but he’s often creating interesting things with blocks or cards or anything he can stack.

The three-year-old made this flower face with some wooden shapes. I think the six-year-old had showed him how to do this once.

The Benefits

I know there are more benefits to living this lifestyle than I’m even aware of, but I do feel confident to say that my boys are developing their imaginations, self-esteem, fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, and a general awareness of how things work. By experimenting, they are learning how things work together, and learning how to deal with the frustrations that come with trial and error. I try my best not to interfere with how they plan out their work unless they ask for my help or get very stuck. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next!

Note: I have noticed that in most of my photographs, especially these, my boys are in pajamas. Ahem. Just so you know, I do dress my boys! But with that thought, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.  ~Lewis Carroll

Please share your children’s artwork with me!