Make Space for Unscheduled Activities


Everything seems activities based. It feels as though everything exists as a class or a workshop. Free time has become a precious commodity. Physical activity is now scheduled through organized sports or gym memberships. Music classes begin for toddlers as Mommy-and-me style events. Art class workshops fill the void for those less athletically inclined. I’ve taken them myself and loved them.

We’ve gone from a generational or neighborhood way of learning these things to something wholly organized, packaged up, purchased, paid for and delivered. The home arts are now a consumer item for consumption. We attend paint nights because painting socially is fun; we’re pleased with what we produce; and we could not otherwise have produced it.

Or perhaps because we otherwise would not have tried.

These continuing education opportunities may also give us a chance to try something we never would have otherwise encountered.

The growth in organized and paid activities for children has many causes, but I suspect one cause probably comes from the realization that this model works for us adults to get them there. More and more we must schedule it and pay for it to make sure it happens. Otherwise, we may neglect it. Something more important or more profitable will come up to fill in the free time that belongs to the adult. We spend our leisure time shopping and enjoying the goods we purchased. These days, we have more time than ever, just like advertisers said we would if we bought this or that gadget. So we filled in the void with more running around. We rarely know how to just be, even after two years of semi-lockdown.

So then, since the culture measures worth by how much money it brings me or how much money I put into it, if I require myself to learn this skill or attend this paint session because I paid for it, I’m more likely to do it.

Ballet for children, a common activity
Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

Children are so different.

They would do it on their own without us. They would kick the can, run the relay, shoot hoops without adults telling them the proper technique. They would do it for the sake of the thing if they could be left long enough to be bored.

It is a matter of intrinsic value verses extrinsic value.

When we find something intrinsically valuable, we do it for the sake of the thing. When it is extrinsically valuable, we do it for the sake of some external reward. A child naturally draws because it delights him. We push the time card for the paycheck.

We live in a society that undervalues things that are intrinsically valuable. This is because the external reward, money, becomes the center of how we decide what is worth doing. If it cost this much, I will apply myself. If I earn this much, I will apply myself. We seem to need the structure to help us do it, the commitment of some financial resources. And it helps us ensure it for our kids, too.

I know these are blanket statements and not always the case, but allow me to explore this thought a little more.

Time commitments are taxing, running from one thing to another, having to be on time, prepped with a full water bottle and the correct shoes.

I have to think there is a tax we pay to do it like this.

How strange and different for us adults to stop and simply, draw a picture because you feel like it, and, only after, go wash the dishes. Or to play a sport in the wrong kind of attire.

It’s easy for it all to become so rigid and compartmentalized that we lose some of the beauty of spontaneity.

Isn’t that what makes vacations and holidays so delicious? I read about these sudden games of basketball, going out to fish, or play cards, or pick a random restaurant to eat at. It sounds so free and creative, curious and willing to explore and try new things. How wonderful.

The people are coming back from vacation. They are coming back and returning to their potentially overscheduled days.

Is there a way to bring the good of both lives together just a little bit more?

Do we even need to?

Of course it’s case by case, family by family, season by season. But as we enter into the new season, the change of schedule is an opportunity to assess. Will we protect the down time, leisure time, unstructured time to allow for the possibility of spontaneous creativity or conversation? Will we make space in our lives and our children’s lives for the intrinsically rewarding things?

Do we think it matters?

child painting
Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

Leave a Reply