Guided Free Time

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By Rosanna Ward

TV is a big trap for free time, but kids can still be less than productive without guidance.

When I was homeschooled, I remember having a lot of free time. After our school work was done, Dad would pretty much leave us on our own. We didn’t have cable TV, the Internet, cell phones, or other forms of electronic entertainment to distract us, and I spent much of my free time reading, but I wouldn’t say that we used all of our free time very well, either.

For the most part, we were creative. For example, my brother Kenny and I would use strings to rig up pretty much everything in the house. Once, we had a string that we could pull to open the refrigerator, then another to open the produce drawer, and another to pull out the grapes. Back then, you could dial your phone number and add two numbers, then hang up and it would call your own house back. So we rigged it up in such a way that we could dial that number, then hang up it without being seen when someone walked in the room, and then it would ring, but nobody would be there. We really thought this was cool.

However boredom led to less productive activities. For example, I wasn’t adverse to picking on my little sister when I was bored. Kenny and I were experts at hide and seek, only we wouldn’t come out when Elizabeth was “it” until she started crying. And one of the more dangerous things we did was create “concoctions” in empty bottles. We would add a bit of everything and anything we could find in the house — ketchup, Pinesol, vinegar, lotion, etc. — and somehow we manged to never blow anything up or create poisonous fumes. So even though most of what we did was creative and harmless, I think that looking back, we had way too much unguided free time.

So when I first started homeschooling my girls, I knew that I didn’t want my girls fooling around a lot of time like I did when I was a kid. And I quickly realized that because our “school” days didn’t take nearly as long as a conventional school day, there would be a lot of free time.

There are great benefits to this freedom, like no early morning school buses to catch and the fact that on busy days — when we had swim lessons, library time or errands to run — there was plenty of time for it. But the downside, I knew I wanted to address the “free time” question. Thankfully, my girls didn’t watch TV, but they were masters at spending a long time doing absolutely nothing. Virginia liked to sleep (she got that from me), and Hannah would just disappear into her room.

Free time with a purpose starts with identifying “worthwhile endeavors”

I quickly came up with a list of approved activities the girls could do in their free time during official school hours (from 9am to 3pm). The list included: reading, writing, educational movies, artwork, crafts, cleaning, cooking, playing in the backyard, K’Nex, scrapbooking, and playing with their baby brother (Joel at the time). I added things to this list as time went along, but you get the point. I called it their list of “worthwhile endeavors.” After we moved into our current home and the girls reached their teen years, we sort of slacked off from the list — especially when the girls got their cell phones and now laptops. However, I wish I would have stuck with it.

So now I am in the process of starting this for my son Joel. He is in the first grade, and his official school work takes only about one hour a day. That leaves a lot of time to fool around. As you probably know, making a list of productive activities isn’t the hard part — enforcing it is. Thankfully, my house is full of great things for little boys to do. We have Legos, K’Nex, play dough, paint, drawing supplies, lots of books, educational movies (plus Netflix), train sets, and so much more.

I really want to instill the value of creative play during free time for my boys (Joel is six, and Leif just turned one). I am planning to add science toys, things they can take apart, construction sets, etc., to the options for free time. I am very hopeful that with a little effort on my part, I can get Joel to spend his free time playing without even realizing that he is learning.

— Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are currently homeschooled. Her oldest daughter is a homeschool graduate, and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for six years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy, and currently resides in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

4 thoughts on “Guided Free Time

  1. The list of “worthwhile endeavors” is a great idea, Rosanna! Although the girls don’t tend to get as adventurous with their unsupervised free time as you and Kenny did (maybe because they don’t have a boy to influence them? ha ha!), I do have an unwritten rule that certain things are OK during school free time while others aren’t (like their favorite online games from American Girl or Webkinz, those are privileges that need to be earned).

    I think writing it down is an important step to making the guidelines clear and getting everyone on the same page. So that’s my next step. Audrey read your article too (she follows our blog now!) and she said “Great post!”

    1. aaww. Tell Audrey thanks! You will have to ask Kenny if he remembers our pranks. Haha. Rosanna

      1. I will ask him which ones he remembers — he has said that you all were “creatively” adventurous and that he also remembers watching some soap operas… do you remember that?

        1. o yea, I remember. When we thought dad wouldn’t be home for awhile we would watch TV and soaps were all that was on. Man, all dad had to do was touch the TV when he got home and we would have been busted – the TV was hot. LOL, fun times!

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