School is 25% of a Kid’s Life

Of a school-aged kid’s waking hours, 25% are spent at school.*

You’d think the percentage would be close to 100%, with the way parents and society at large obsess over it.

Ask a parent how his or her child is doing, and you’re very likely to hear about school grades. Ask a Congressman how kids are doing, and you’re likely to hear about test scores. Ask a college professor who studies children how kids in America are doing, and you’re likely to hear how they’re suffering because of all that over-testing at school.

Ask many play experts the state of kids’ play, and you’re likely to hear a lament about how school recess isn’t what it used to be.

C’mon, folks, what about the other 75% of kids’ lives? Is that just wasted time? Is it time to rejuvenate so kids can be more productive at school? Or, is it time to do extra school work – i.e. homework – that enhances the school experience?

On the contrary, I believe that that other 75% of time is very important for children. However, it suffers from a lack of respect by parents, teachers, and other adults.

That’s why kids aged 8-18 consume electronic media for about eight hours a day, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Study. That’s why, when parents do spend time with their kids away from screens, they’re likely to try to push educational “enrichment” activities, against the will of their kids.

That 75% of time outside of school can be so wonderful for our kids in so many ways. It can contribute 75% or more to their social, emotional, and physical development. It can even contribute a great deal to their cognitive development.

And, that time can be an awful lot of fun for kids, way more fun than school is. Those who obsess about school often see childhood as nothing more than a preparatory period for real life – i.e. adult life. I believe that kids who have great childhoods can, and usually do, have great adult lives.

Can a child have a great childhood without spending lots and lots of quality time in that 75% of time outside school? Given how little fun school can be, I don’t think so.

So, I think parents should shift some of their attention away from school and toward that 75%. What proportion of the time do you let your kids sit like zombies in front of the TV, computer, or video game console? How often do you force or persuade your kids to participate in activities because you think it will get them into a better college?

Think about all those hours that make up the 75% of their lives outside of school. Make some efforts to help your kids utilize those hours better. How can you not waste those hours, as countless parents do by allowing gobs of screen time each day?

Regarding those forced “educational enrichment” activities, can you conceive of alternatives for your kids to happily spend time that enhance their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development? I certainly can. The key, from my point of view, is play in the neighborhood.

Without neighborhood play, your kids will have little choice but to either plant themselves in front of screens or let you control a menu of outside activities for them.

This summer, my only school-aged child, Marco (7), is creating lots of lego projects, building boats for his new play river (I’ll publish an article on this shortly), rollerblading the ‘hood, exploring our neighborhood creek bed, playing street hockey, and whacking whiffle balls with his bat.

He’s doing this alone sometimes, but often he’s doing it with his brothers and/or friends. He doesn’t need me as much as he did a few months ago. In the last month since school ended, I’ve noticed a big improvement in his treatment of his brothers, and I’ve seen instances in which he’s become a better friend. He’s also had a very good time and become noticeably better emotionally adjusted. Really, my wife and I see a big positive difference in him.

In other words, it’s been a very good summer for Marco to have fun and become more capable in many ways – not a waste of time as he prepares for the next school year.

How about your kids – do you see that they’re having fun, fulfilling experiences without your constantly managing them this summer?

* School hours constitute half of the waking hours during school days (14, assuming 10 hours of sleep), and school days are a tad less than half of a year (180 days out of 365).

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