No Grown-Up’s Allowed
Quiet Time And Space For The Imagination
There is an old Eastern saying: to learn to truly do, one must first learn to be.
Right from the start children are surrounded with almost constant attention. But it seems too easy to forget that children really want and benefit from some time alone too. How can we find a moment for some quiet time in this busy over-scheduled highly connected life? That quiet time alone is a lot more important than we realise. It’s about making space for the imagination- a key to creative thinking, time to let experience and learning settle in and just getting to know one’s self.
I can often observe a clear change in behaviour when my kids are craving their daily dose of space from adults, friends, siblings, noise and busyness. Time to be on their own, in their own space, comfortable with themselves and allowing their imagination to wander without interruption. They want it and they need it: unstructured free time where daydreaming is something to look forward to.
Inherently Good At Doing Nothing
Children are already very good at doing nothing and being by themselves. They have few worries and can relax into their own space and company much better than we do. But maybe for some children it’s becoming more unfamiliar - forgetting how to be bored and ‘do nothing’ especially if adults discourage by misjudging it as wasting time in our rushed lives. We hardly ever get to find a single moment to unplug and disconnect ourselves and it seems sometimes children are often as overstretched as their parents are. Finding balance is harder than it ever was. What will children do with themselves when one day they really have nothing to do? It’s a worrying thought.
It seems only natural to encourage this inherent skill, rather than keeping them occupied every minute so they forget how to switch off and just be by themselves. When considering how connected we are with technology these days, I can just imagine our kids burning out with sensory overload before they are even teenagers.
Einstein once said, “Creativity is the residue of wasted time.” But, it seems, these days we really need to find the time to waste in the first place.
Embrace Boredom And Let Creativity Flourish
Children are bombarded with sensory input. Having time to zoom out and ‘process’ all the new experiences lets kids ‘learn’ where they are at, letting experiences settle through a calming break.
I’ve observed my own children winding down to quiet time, from mellow state to boredom and then shift happily into creative mode. It’s like the switch is flicked at a certain point and boredom actually transforms into “hey what if…. “ thoughts followed by actions. From the inner depth, comes understanding and insight. A moment when your mind becomes still enough for creative thoughts to rise to the surface. Think about it - when your children are bored, they eventually find something to do on their own. It takes creativity to imagine and invent your own project, activity or game.
Author Peter Toohey states “Boredom is, in the Darwinian sense, an adaptive emotion. Its purpose, that is, may be designed to help one flourish.”
The Creative Pause
Solitary contemplation. Edward de Bono, the legendary creative thinker, identifies it as the “creative pause.” Space for your mind to to shift gear and freely drift - to imagine - opening up new ways of thinking and seeing.
Think back to your favorite quiet spot as a kid. It hasn’t changed much - the tree hut, the fort, the cubby house, the top bunk, the far corner of the garden… many places to escape to and hide from the big real world. A closed bedroom door maybe enough of a sign. There is a lot going on out there and it’s not hard to understand why a child needs to take shelter somewhere quiet, to escape and make sense of the overwhelming chaos they are exposed to every day.
Solitude And Collaboration, Introverts And Extraverts
Some children are already naturally at ease with themselves and are able to watch and listen, not just be constantly involved. For others it takes practice. Creativity also requires both collaboration and solitude. We’re seeing many more collaborative workplaces and classrooms but maybe we’re just forgetting to balance this with solo time too.
When it comes to personality types it’s not hard to miss the quiet introvert personality and the outgoing extravert. Both are as good as each other, but for some reason we think introverts need to speak up and extraverts need to calm down. Susan Cain talks about the power of introverts in her TED talk. She believe’s “solitude matters, and for some people it is the air that they breathe” … “solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity.”
I’ve observed my six-year-old son happily step up and speak and share when he has something exciting he’s discovered or created or an interest or topic he know’s very well. His motivation from the excitement of discovery or his own knowledge gained by a memorable experience, drives him to share and collaborate. But he is so very shy and introverted at many other times, he’s almost another child.
Unconscious Creativity Leads To Great Thinking
Children don’t always have to be ‘doing’. Catching a ‘breather’ let’s the days experiences and learning sink in, while recognising focus versus unconscious creativity when the imagination is set free. It’s at this point the mind start’s working in a more creative way. It’s this very sort of unconscious creativity that leads to great thinking. In order to be effectively focused, regular breaks are powerful. By spending time alone a child also gets to know himself, his thoughts, feelings, experiences, interests.
There are some wonderful children’s books that take kids on a familiar journey from boredom to creativity through imaginative storytelling. Just reading one of these spurs the imagination and brings back vivid memories of what creative things we used to get up to when we were apparently ‘bored’ a few minutes ago.
As much as unplugged time and daydreaming is fast becoming an endangered activity for all of us, I do love claiming those quiet moments of my own time and space for some creative relaxation. That pause is like zooming out and snapping a big picture of where you’re at ‘right now’ - before zooming back into the detail of busy life.
If we can encourage our children to continue to practice this innate skill, we’ll feel better knowing their future ‘highly-connected’ world will not wipe out all moments for daydreaming if we can help it.
Here are a few potential mindsets and solutions for consideration for the children or yourself:
- Stop what your doing, spend some time transitioning for a while, (creative pause) before doing what’s needed next.
- Leave the children alone, to do nothing, in their own space without interruption to daydream.
- Unplug, disconnect, even quiet screen time is not time alone to think or let the mind wander.
- Find a corner, a den, cubby, fort, treehouse, anywhere alone, or go and create your private space.
- Schedule in some quiet time every day and expect boredom until it’s easy to just be.
- Don’t forget to mix the ingredients solitude with collaboration to find some creative balance.
- Set an example, a ritual of finding and achieving quiet time alone is normal and will only become extinct if you let it.
“A daydream, is just a means of eavesdropping on those novel thoughts generated by the unconscious. We think we’re wasting time, but, actually, an intellectual fountain really is spurting”. ~Jonah Lehrer, Author.