The balance between having a school day, after school period and holiday time being fully planned for learners and our own children can at times interfere with their own development in building agency, creativity and taking risks. I came across this article that described the importance of kids having time of their own to get lost in their own space and maybe boredom.
Reflecting on my own childhood though I too had many activities planned after school including hebrew school twice a week, gymnastics once a week, piano on Saturdays we still had time to play on the street, climb trees and engage with other kids. Each of the activities I did was because I chose to do them (well Hebrew school was an unsaid expectation). Before age 10 I have little recollection of any planned after school activities and know that much of the summer was taken up with summer school, by choice prior to Proposition 13. After that my mom was sure to plan at least 2/3rds of summer with school, camps and holidays since it was a very long one of about 12 weeks and both she and my dad worked full time.
Times are different now and kids actually have a lot of different options to occupy their time when not taken up with schooling. In some cases there are economic implications and in others if a student shows a particular interest usually there is some kind of support available to nurture this interest. The trick is cultivating interests and curiosities with kids. Perhaps some of the mental health issues arise because curiosity is dampened significantly in our traditional education practice and the passivity of consuming lots of social media and media.
As a parent of a 12 year old there are times I observe my child sitting quietly and just flicking through different shorts or YouTube videos about gamers and how they designed their ‘house’ in SimCity or Roblox or Minecraft. When I asked her how these videos impact what she does in the different games she responded that she really didn’t want to have to pay for additional packs that would allow her to replicate some of their work and overall felt that the videos played little influence on her own gaming practices. She recognized the difference between ‘doing’ on the gaming platform and ‘watching’ on YouTube. At one point she looked at her total time on the different passive platforms and decided to delete her YouTube app to make it less tempting.
The same device and access to the internet has allowed her to investigate TedEd videos, making slime videos, and further research her new interest mycelium after attending a MakerSpace Faire talk on the material. Here is where curiosity breeds and she sometimes acts on. During our stay in Los Angeles for a couple of months she set up quite a slime manufacturing centre in our AirBnB.
I believe that we as adults need to nurture the curiosity and provide space and time for kids to tinker. When a kid is researching their wonderment questions and experimenting with creating new textures in slime for example their mental health is being nourished. Both school and home can help combat mental health issues when we allow our kids to have down time, ask reflective questions and perhaps model this life as well.
There will always be a situation of a mental health crisis that is out of our controls but many of these reported cases are unfortunately as a result of us adults controlling too much, perhaps? What do you think?