Christmas is only 39 days away. I don’t know why it always seems to sneak up on me so fast, but it does. There’s always a hundred different things I want to do each year; I always have grand plans, but most of them never take place.
The one thing I always find time for is buying presents for my family. For me, it really is more blessed to give than to receive. We don’t buy our children extra toys or gifts throughout the year except for their birthday and Christmas, so I get excited just as much as they do about giving them things they’ll appreciate and enjoy.
Buying the presents is fun, but finding the time to do that is another story. As a homeschooling mom, I’m always with my kids. It’s something I really enjoy, but it is more challenging to do things like Christmas shopping. It’s hard not to think some days about how much more time I would have to do things if my kids went to school every day.
It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? It’s totally free, it doesn’t cost anything and we all have the same amount of it. Yet, it really is the most precious, most expensive thing we own.
As I think about the perfect gifts to buy my children this holiday season, I realized that I’m already giving them one of the most precious, rare gifts I can: time.
People can argue forever about the benefits of homeschooling verses attending a super-expensive, highly rated private school, or a public school that tests top in the nation. They can argue whether kids are better “socialized” in or out of school. They can even argue whether children who are homeschooled are more creative or better problem-solvers than kids who attend traditional classrooms.
But the one fact that is impossible to argue is that kids who don’t attend school own a much larger percentage of their time than kids who go to school.
How many hours a child’s day does school consume?
Let’s take a child who is ten years old. The school day alone usually lasts at least six and a half hours. (I know a 5 year old who has a 7 hour day). Then there’s an average of an hour getting to and from school. Finally, there’s usually at least an hour of homework added on to this. (I’m being conservative here. I’ve heard stories on children this age who sometimes have two to three hours of homework to do).
That’s at least eight and a half hours a day that’s completely scheduled and planned out for the child. That’s a minimum of at least 1,530 hours a year.
As a former public school teacher, I know that of that eight and a half hours, only three hours, at the very most, are taken up with real instruction. So that’s 990 hours wasted on collecting papers, walking in straight lines, waiting for others finishing to go the bathroom, sitting quietly while shoving food in your mouth as fast as you can during lunch, and other time-wasters. Of the 540 hours of “on task” time, if the child does not find the learning personally meaningful, they still will not be learning anything of real value.
After adding in dinner every evening, a child might have three hours to be with their family or to do their own projects. But they often have to do extra-curricular activities that are deemed important – whether it’s important to the child or not. So there often is no time in the day where they can decide how to spend their time, what they’d like to learn about, or who they spend their time with.
So, what could kids be doing with all that time?
1. Spending time with their family. I will literally have spent entire years more with my kids than if they had attended school. No, we’re not constantly engaging and doing things together that entire time, but they know that I’m always here if they need me and I have the joy of learning new things with them, building lots of wonderful memories and sharing many exciting adventures.
2. Becoming an expert at something. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares the 10,000 Hours Rule. He discusses how becoming great at something requires spending an enormous amount of time and practice. He credits the success of many well-known people with spending at least 20 hours a week for ten years practicing and getting good at something. Just think if all children were given this opportunity to perfect their natural talents and interests.
3. Experimenting with different professions and interests. So many college-age kids graduate still not sure of what they want to do for a living. Just think if, instead of practicing for standardized tests during their high school years, they could have spent time shadowing or apprenticing with dozens of different occupations, trying on each one and seeing first-hand if it’s right for them?
4. Playing, imagining, and creating. There have been so many scientific studies about the benefits and necessity of play for children, yet each year more and more of that time for play is being taken away from them. The children who are given the gift of time to play, for hours at a time instead of a half hour here and there squeezed in between other activities, those are the kids who will grow up to be innovators, problem-solvers, creators and entrepreneurs – traits that will be highly valued in the coming years.
5. Just being alone. When you grow up according to someone else’s schedule, it’s scary to think about being alone. If you are alone, you need to have some type of stimulation – T.V., texting, Facebook or surfing the internet. Kids who find themselves with an hour or two of unscheduled time away from screens, especially if they are older and have not had a lot of experience with choosing their own activities, will complain of being bored. They don’t want to be alone with their thoughts and have a hard time just sitting still or taking a quiet walk by themselves. There’s a growth and maturity that takes place only during times of quiet introspection.
So, while I’m excited about buying my children some new games and toys for Christmas, I’m much more thankful that I can give them almost twenty thousand extra hours during their childhood and teen years to grow closer as a family, develop their own unique gifts and talents, enjoy life and experience its richness and fullness, learn deeply according to their own timetables and to have time to just sit still and be.