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Find time to pause this season

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2002

Time flies, we say, like a winged chariot. It courses like a stream, and runs like sands in an hourglass.

Occasionally, time stands still -- but not very often. We want 25 hours in a day, but if we got it, we'd want 26. The more we do, we often find, the less time we have to do it. Minutes, hours, days and weeks slip past us in a blur, especially if we have children. The time they need and want is taken from our own allotment.

For public and private school families, time is consumed by travel to and from school, to sports practices and events, to music, art and drama classes and endless varieties of clubs. For homeschoolers and other alternative educators, there are more opportunities than ever for extracurricular programs in the community -- for field trips, theater and museum visits -- and other outings and special classes.

With so much to do and so little time to do it, perhaps a good gift this holiday season might be the novel gift of time: time for ourselves and for our children, time together and time apart, time to read, time to create, time to think or time to do nothing at all.

To give the gift of time, of course, we have to take some things away -- a sport, an extra class, a meeting, a shopping trip -- because there are only so many hours in a day. To gain time, we eliminate something which uses it up. To some people, the thought of staying home and "doing nothing" can be scary. We have filled our days with so many things that we've lost the vital skill of doing nothing.

And it is a vital skill.

Isaac Newton came to conclusions about gravity while sitting still. Albert Einstein realized relativity during quiet moments of imaginative figuring. When Henry David Thoreau forced himself into solitude and inactivity, he made the enduring observation that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

With every moment of every day fully structured for us, both we and our children lose the ability to create order and structure of our own making. It's not natural that children become "bored" as soon as school lets out, or think "there's nothing to do" (and consequently may turn to inappropriate activities with other equally unimaginative and bored peers).

Children and adults with time on their hands and who have to make do with it -- within supervised and safe environments well stocked with books, creative resources, outdoor spaces and peace and quiet -- are generally more self-reliant, creative and self-satisfied than those whose time is always structured for them.

Studies bear out that observation. In an interesting article for Jewish Family and Life, ("Kids -- Like Adults -- Need Summer Downtime," by Ann Moline), education consultant Ruth Heitin points out, "The search for something interesting to do will help kids exercise a part of their brains that may not be getting enough activity in today's overspecialized, over programmed world."

"I'm so afraid," Heitin said, "that we will become a society of followers, who can't find jobs on their own that please them, because things have always been programmed or directed for them."

In short, without unstructured, unhurried time to reflect, create and recharge our inner batteries, neither we nor our children can achieve our full potential.

So during the annual holiday rush, consider taking a break from it all. Respectfully decline a party invitation, sit out a gift exchange. Stay home. Play cards or a board game. Read a book. Draw. Listen to the music. Sit outside and enjoy the nice weather and think. If your small children come to you and complain that there's nothing to do, tell them you're sure they'll think of something. They will! (Just keep sharp things out of reach, hide the car keys and lose the remote.)

Wishing you a New Year full of unhurried time! -- Freelance writer Theresa Willingham homeschools her three children in Odessa.

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