The world is full of advice about how to become a morning person, because in the work world most high achievers are morning people. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why this is. In the morning, of course.

In college I lived with the crew team. I didn’t row, but I got up when they got up and I loved the quiet time in the dorm when they were all away.

After college I played professional beach volleyball. I got to the sand courts before everyone else and did two hours of drills. People wondered how someone who didn’t play at a Division 1 school got to the top of the heap. I knew it was the drills, which always felt like a meditation to me.

When I started homeschooling I realized the only way to have time for myself was to stay up really late or wake up really early. I stayed up late and got fat. (No surprise there—staying up late makes most people fat.) I got up early and started getting a lot done.  Now I’m thinking I want to get up at 3:30 AM. Because I love having time to do just whatever I want. I feel so much less pressure early in the morning. I read. I write. I go outside in the dark and look at the stars – even after four years of living on the farm, the number of stars still blows me away.

My star-gazing will not surprise the early-risers among you: The truth about high achievers who are early risers is that they don’t use the early morning for work-related activities. Waking up early gives you time to express yourself with no repercussions because who can fault you with doing what you love at 4am?  For adults, waking up early is play time.

So often people tell me that I need to force my kids to learn stuff they hate and I need to force my kids to sit still for long periods because this is what adult life requires. But I think it’s the opposite. You need to make sure your kids have enough play time so they grow up and are early risers because they know the importance of having time for self-expression.

Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College, states this so clearly in his recent manifesto in Aeon Magazine: “Play deprivation is bad for children. Among other things, it promotes anxiety, depression, suicide, narcissism, and loss of creativity. It’s time to end the experiment.”

Watch how carefully parents guard their free time. Watch how parents feel they are losing themselves and not being fully human when they have no time for themselves. And then ask yourself why we don’t worry more about how much time kids get to play when we send them to school for eight hours a day.

Next time I tell someone I homeschool and they say, “How do your kids learn math?” I am going to say to them, “You send your kids to school? How do they learn to play?”