Unstructured time rather than structured time teaches self-discipline

I am constantly shocked by how much research there is to show that kids should not be in school. This is the reason I was able to so confidently unschool my kids through elementary school. Now, with kids who are teenagers, the research is not so clear. Too many variables.

Here’s some of that research.

This paper shows that when six- and seven-year olds spend their time in less-structured activities they get more chances to practice having good executive function. Scientists found that kids who chose to spend lots of time on structured activities had worse ability to exercise good executive function.

As an autistic adult I have noticed that there is not very much structure in the real world, so there’s no point in learning to thrive in the super-structure of school. Instead we should teach kids how to create their own structure — which is what we have to do in adult life.

In adult life people are constantly trying to create structure for themselves in order to excel. Sometimes I visit with a woman in my building who paints. Sometimes we walk our dogs together and then she paints pictures of her dog taking over her life. I loved seeing that she has a list of rules for herself to guide her painting.

The way each of us creates our own structure — or doesn’t — shows so much about who we are. Structure reveals what’s important to us.

As kids get older homeschooling seems impossibly difficult and inefficient compared to school. But I love watching kids set up structure for themselves because as an adult that’s been a huge struggle for me.

When I started homeschooling I was excited to get to know them better. And fifteen years later I’m still happy about homeschooling because I’ll get to know my kids better.

2 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    When I was about 10, my dad got angry that my allowance seemed to always be all gone by the end of the week. It was probably $2 a week then. He wanted me to save most of it. I wanted to use it to buy small things for myself.

    Finally he said, “Where the heck is all of this money going? You cant tell me you need to spend all of this every week.”

    So I kept a log. Every penny. For something like six weeks. And then I showed him where the money was going. Turns out he was out of touch with how much things cost. I’d save a couple weeks and buy a plastic car model kit (my main hobby then) and boom, money gone. Or I’d buy a comic book and a Coke at the five and dime, and then maybe a candy bar from one of the kids at school always selling them to fund some school activity or other. Boom, money gone.

    When I showed that to Dad, he quit carping at me about it. He also increased my allowance.

    That turned on a light bulb for me. I’d never put any deliberate structure around anything. I recognized some areas of my life where I couldn’t keep things together. So I tried putting a dab of structure onto some of them, and whoa, they got easier to manage.

    My favorite one: I had a devil of a time with misplacing my house key. When I made the rule that it was in one of three places: my front left pocket, on top of my dresser, or in my hand, I never lost it again.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like the key rule. I have that too. But it took me 50 years. It seems so straightforward and simple but nothing is that way for me. I always think I have a better idea I have to try.

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