Slow Family Living in a Fast Family Society

That figure on the right is my oldest son Marco’s (6) appointment calendar for this week and next week, when he’s not in school and not sleeping.

As you can see, he has an awful lot of green – i.e. unscheduled time. In fact, on a typical day, he has nothing on his agenda.

What’s more, he never, ever sits in front of a screen. No television. No video games. No computers. Ever.

Does this mean he has very little going on in his life? Hardly. That green time almost always ends up being fun play time. Sometimes, he’s outside in our super-fun yard (see articles on our front, back, and trampoline) with friends and/or his little brother, Nico. Other times, he might be at a friend’s house or in our creek playing. Or, he might be inside our house working on an art project or playing with Nico.We’re quite happy with how his life outside of school is going, but we’re far from completely satisfied. Our fundamental gripe is that, while Marco does play with other kids a fair amount, we’d like to see more of this, and we’d like it to come easier for him. Part of the problem is Marco, who’s still working on his social skills. He is fairly shy, and he rarely takes any initiative with kids he doesn’t know very well. He does have a very small circle of friends with whom he is happy to play with anytime.

The bigger part of the problem, though, is that my wife and I often end up arranging for other kids to play with Marco. Other parents of kids Marco’s age in our area would probably say something like, “Of course, we parents are supposed to be deeply involved in planning our kids’ social lives.” On the other hand, my wife and I would rather do our work up-front (e.g. finding a house in a potential Playborhood, building a super-fun yard), and then let kids self-organize their play lives.

Most parents we know heavily control their children’s free time by scheduling in various activities (sports, arts classes, music classes, etc.) and play dates every day. When we tell Marco to just go to a kid’s house and knock on his or her door, he often gets turned away empty-handed. So, my wife and I sometimes go along with the way kids’ play is done around here, tracking down other parents to schedule play dates. Usually, we arrange these play dates on the same day, so they never appear on Marco’s “schedule.”

In addition, one neighbor mom doesn’t like it when our boys initiate play together on their own, which has happened a few times. She’s asked me to not let Marco go to her house on his own to play with her son, and I guess she’s asked her son not to come over to our house. That’s really unfortunate, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong – we’ve definitely made quite a difference for Marco. Living in this neighborhood and having a super-fun yard does result in more play opportunities for him than the average kid in our area. My wife and I just wish it didn’t take so much effort on our part. Besides the fact that it takes up our time, we don’t think it’s best for Marco to have his parents scheduling and planning his life.

[Note: There’s a burgeoning “slow family” movement. Check out Slow Family Living and Slow Family Online, as well a the most famous book on the “slow movement,” In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.]

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5 Responses to Slow Family Living in a Fast Family Society

  1. madcampersuz says:

    Hi Mike,
    I had a shy son, too, so I was always arranging playdates. People rarely reciprocated. Everybody’s busy and it seems people don’t want other kids in their houses. Too much pressure or something. I actually had a mom tell me that she appreciated my efforts with her son, but I was never to expect her to reciprocate because she just wouldn’t.

    Now that mine is 13, I actually appreciate the organized soccer and tennis he goes to. It seems to meet his socialization needs well. He also has come out of his shyness a great deal, thank heavens. I guess I’m giving up and going with the majority rule: structured activities. Maybe different (from how we grew up) isn’t necessarily bad at this point.

  2. Kacey_Bollrud_FB says:

    I am really hoping the slow family movement and the free range kid movement catches on even more before my daughter, now 1, gets much older. I have always been a proponent of unstructured play for children, much because my mother, who is a professional educator, has always been a vocal proponent. I am trying to visualize in my mind how we will create the super fun yard etc… since we are a military family and will be moving a lot– at least until our daughter is 12 or 13. I’ll keep up with your blog and see how to adapt ideas to our weird lifestyle.

  3. suz@slowfamily says:

    Hi Mike,

    You present wonderful thoughts and solutions about the issue of free play and the lack of support it can get in society. Many parents do over-schedule their kids and they lack resources regarding any play that is unstructured or spontaneous. Good for you for providing the tools and the space so your son and his playmates might enjoy something different. I do believe that “if you build it, they will come” and that your fun yard will be the site of neighborhood gatherings and play. I also think Marco will likely grow into making his own arrangements. It takes some kids a long time to do that.

    Thanks also for mentioning my blog, Slow Family Online, in your piece. I’ve had Playborhood on the blog’s list of resources for a while. Keep up the good work!

  4. lr_khaimovich says:

    Here is another lighthearted and at the same time serious article “Idle parenting means happy children” by Tom Hodgkinson published on Telegraph.co.uk at 12:01AM GMT 16 Feb 2008 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/familyadvice/3355719/Idle-parenting-means-happy-children.html)

    Our comrades in arms from British Isles can be very funny and eloquent indeed!

  5. lr_khaimovich says:

    Here is another good one from the same source–“Parenting: The Idle Parent’s art of doing nothing” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/4950635/Parenting-The-Idle-Parents-art-of-doing-nothing.html).