We live in a fast-paced city and everyday is packed with non-stop activities–even for children. Across NYC, children are constantly rushing to soccer practice, piano lessons, exam tutoring, swim lessons, birthday parties, school performances, family visits, play dates, and more. While these myriad activities are aimed at enhancing children’s growth and making them well-rounded individuals, we must ensure that our children have time and space for self-reflection. Without it, the importance and meaning of all their activities can get lost in a whirlwind of “doing.”
Consider this: When was the last time you and your kids had a clear schedule to spend time together? For many of us, the week after Hurricane Sandy forced us to slow down and engage in the moment–and we did it by playing games together, going out for walks, figuring out the best way to support and help those affected by the storm. For me, the suspension of my children’s daily routine really showed me how crazy our schedules usually are and it reinforced how necessary it is not only to “do,” but to reflect on what we do and find meaning in it.
I watch parents struggle every day with their desire to make sure their children experience all the opportunities available to them, while also worrying about whether their children are over-scheduled and excessively stimulated. As a mother, I face the very same struggles. At the Mandell School where I am the head of school, while we seize every opportunity available to us to enhance our students’ educations, we also incorporate space for reflection and time for personal thought.
Beyond the small natural break we take during the holiday season, I encourage all parents to make time for this type of downtime and reflection on a regular basis. Let’s make the space to engage with one another more deeply and think about what we’re doing everyday so that we can explore the deeper meaning.
Here are some suggestions:
Meaningful meals: Make a rule that during family dinners, no electronics are allowed. This will force every member of the family to really be present.
Sunday strolls: Designate passive family time every Sunday for a walk in the park or around your neighborhood. This will help you all open your eyes to the world around you and spend time to explore together.
Team cooking: Pick a day once a week where the family cooks a meal together. It’s a good chance to catch up, discuss anything that’s on your mind, and do something that yields a functional and tangible result.
Board games: Pick a weekend night to play a board game. I always love to play Monopoly and Pictionary with my husband and boys.
Puzzle time: Take a table in the house and make it the Puzzle Table. Five months is the record in my family for how long we kept a puzzle going.
It’s during these moments when the mind and body are allowed to relax and think inward that our children have an opportunity to question and reflect on their day, their week, their neighborhood, their surroundings, and what’s happening in the world. It’s these moments that will allow both parent and child to determine what’s working, what isn’t, what has meaning, and what doesn’t. In hindsight, is there something you regret, or wish you did differently today? Were there mistakes you made and did you learn anything from them? Ask yourselves, and your children, these types of questions to foster a deeper conversation.
As technology and transportation make it easier to schedule and seize every opportunity that presents itself, what good are we doing our children if we don’t provide time to consider the opportunities they do seize? Everything we do has meaning, but we need to do a better job of carving out the space to explore and ruminate on what that meaning is. And if we do that, we’ll help better develop our children into well-rounded adults, whose “doing” has purpose.
Gabriella Rowe is the third generation Head of School of the family owned and operated Mandell School. Gabriella also serves on Community Board 7 which plays an important advisory role in New York City Municipal Government affairs. She has two sons and is an avid sports fan. Follow her on Twitter @Gabriella_Rowe