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The importance of taking time out


Providing children with all of the opportunities we may not have had as children is a priority for many parents in 2017.

Weekly swimming lessons, art classes, piano lessons, and playdates have become the norm.

Weekends, too, are filled with extracurricular activities such as sports, birthday parties and homework.

But among all this good intention, we sometimes forget that the best possible activity we can provide our children, is time and space to relax, recharge and explore their world - at their pace.

Research shows time off-task is important for proper brain function and health. It also shows that when humans switch to a state of mental rest, such as daydreaming, we can consolidate memories, reinforce learning, regulate our attention and emotions, and be more proactive. [1]

In his book Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime, Ferris Jabr writes that downtime is essential for the mental processes that affirm our identities and develop our understanding of human behaviour. It is the time we need for our brain to make sense of what we are learning.

Goodstart Early Learning capability and early learning strategy general manager Heather Finlayson said these days, children are constantly thinking and moving, and that we need to allow time for downtime.

“Play is where children learn and understand themselves, others and the world around them,” Ms Finlayson said.

“Intentional learning and routine activities form part of children’s learning, however children are very capable of learning from others through listening and watching everyday situations. We must make sure they have ‘downtime’ to make sense and interpret new ideas and information both at home and in early childhood settings.”

Alison Gopnick supports this in her new book The Gardner and the Carpenter where she states “parents and caregivers don’t have to teach young children so much as they just have to let them learn.”

She said websites often touted the benefits of scheduling events for children but that creating space for unscheduled play was essential. On the Parenting [2]website, paediatrician Dr Claire McCarthy writes that many parents feel intense pressure to prepare our children to perform and achieve at an increasingly younger age.

But she said children needed time to relax, to unwind after school or childcare, to use their imagination to invent their own games.

“Not having that time can cause stress, and that kind of stress shouldn’t be part of childhood,” Dr McCarthy writes.
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