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Just (NOT) Do It

July 28, 2011

Most of us who work with children know that we need to vary the structure of the day to include high activity, whole group, small group, individual work and downtime.  At different ages and stages, kids need different concoctions of  activities and pacing.  Finding that pacing can be one of the challenges of parenting or teaching, but it also provides some variety that keeps things fresh!


Children of all ages benefit from time outdoors and time for free exploration.  Most of us are pretty good at planning and/or facilitating activities. We can even plan less-structured time for kids. What strikes me, in my own teaching and in my observations of others, is how hard it is to be a role model for doing nothing for short periods of time.

During the course of the school day, quiet time is a part of our routine, from the earliest grades right up through upper elementary.  Often it takes the form of  reading, listening to quiet music or sketching. The children I know look forward to this part of our day.  Some even catch a catnap – a clear sign that their bodies need the rest! Personally, I have to work pretty hard to make sure I honor the intention of this part of our day.  It’s a challenge not  to check email, confer with a student or review plans or papers. Kids watch and learn by example, and what example do I show by multi-tasking during quiet time?  (Probably a similar example as they see in other adults!)

My brain, like others, really needs that downtime to consolidate and prepare for the next stages of the day, but more often than not, I cave to the pressure (and often, desire) to do more. It’s a deliberate effort to focus on doing nothing, even briefly.  But it’s the “nothing” that restores us and enables us to forge ahead with the best that we’ve got.  In college, a friend slipped a note in my study carrel that said:

…it’s time to relax. Put down those lists, slow down your heartbeat, light a fire. Let the quiet soothe the productive beast within you… You are much more than the sum of what you produce.”

Twenty-something years later, that wrinkled, gray paper still hangs over my desk. Some days, I actually get it.

Folks who can incorporate some form of downtime at the end of the work day (whether it’s a quiet drive home, a walk, or a few minutes alone) find they are often more refreshed and ready to tackle the next chapter of the day.  We know that our brains need quiet periods for consolidation and rest. Want to know more? Read   The Power of Rest for eight tips that give you permission to rest.  Or read why The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends more unstructured play time for kids and less pressure to do so much, so well.

But how to stop all the noise and chatter going on in our lives?  It’s really not a  trick. As the Nike ad says, “just do it.”  Or rather, not do it.  Some ways to not do so much  for a short period of time include:

  • Turn off the phone. Or even silence it.
  • Work without an email or internet browser open.
  • Don’t open the mail right away.
  • Breathe. Really expand your belly and fill up on some 02.
  • Ask for a few minutes of quiet or a half hour to walk.

Then come back to the real priorities in your life, like say, your nine-year-old who really wants to tell you about his day at camp. Or your three-year old who can pump herself on a swing. Or go whole-hog at that to-do list for a set period of time, and be done with it for the day.

A bit of quiet often lets you be fully present, more engaged, and ready to tackle any challenge.  It often means you need to just (N-O-T) do it.


NOTE:  I’m taking my own advice and will be NOT doing the work-thing next week so I can enjoy a bit of downtime with my family. Watch for a re-posting of a well-read blog thanks to the wonder of WordPress’s Scheduler.

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