‘Your kids have so much energy!’ she said. ‘My kids need breaks all the time, but yours just keep going.’
My beautiful friend this past weekend was watching as my kids played and played. Endless energy and enthusiasm for anything and everything.
It made me smile. She was right. They were having so much fun and they hadn’t stopped since the sun peeked through the clouds and probably wouldn’t stop until it dipped below the horizon. But I know my children and they also need that balance. Her comment saw me lost in thought for a while. Why did it look different? There was no grasping for moments of rest. And there often isn’t. Until there is.
It’s the natural rhythm. The equilibrium of high and low energy that every child can find when given space. The words have never been said out loud, but our children know that the option for rest is always there. They live in the moment. When their friends are there, they play for hours and hours and hours which my friend was observing. It is true of learning, too. When their mind is consumed by a new interest, there isn’t room for anything else. They are obsessive. They focus. They take it all in. They question. They read. They discover. The burst of energy could last minutes or hours or days. And when that opportunity or desire passes they take the time they need to recover. They stop. They rest. Just like the upper, this downer, the recovery, could last minutes or hours or days.
After two days of intense and energetic play, today we rest. The kids move quietly from inside to out and back in. Nothing is too intense, each finding their own quiet corner. My kids have shown me that we don’t need to be busy all the time. But when they are engaged, there isn’t the burden of forced activity hanging over their heads. There is no fear of missing out on a moment for rest. They know that they can give their whole selves, right in this moment. Because their time to recover is whenever they choose. What a beautiful thing.
As a parent, I feel like I have an incredibly important role in honouring this rhythm. I have to be in tune with the mood of the family. There are five of us and often we have competing needs, so we are in constant dialogue to understand where we are all at and what each of us requires. It means compromise when our energy is misaligned and making allowances so that we can all get what we need. Sometimes this looks like some members of the family staying home while others go out exploring on the weekend. Sometimes it means a book or an ipad accompany us on outings so one person can curl into a quiet corner while the rest of us play. Sometimes I find myself under a tree reading while high energy antics unfold around me. As much as we can, we try to honour the rhythms of each other.
While I respect the need for rest, quiet and contemplation, I am also incredibly mindful of my role in encouraging momentum when the energy is in full swing. When my children are with their friends or in nature, I try hard to be flexible with timing. When I had planned two hours at the stream and four hours later everyone is still deeply into their play, how crucial is it that we leave at that moment? Living in a big city, it can be quite the expedition to get to beautiful places and beautiful friends, and I often get anxiety about heavy traffic on the way home. When I feel this rising, I do my best to communicate how I am feeling and we decide together on whether we are happy to have extra time in the car to get extra time with our people.
With life and learning, I have found that the rhythm exposes itself as you watch and listen. When I feel the enthusiasm rising, what questions are my children asking? What areas do they keep coming back to? Are there other aspects of a similar theme they might enjoy? It isn’t about ‘strewing’ or trying to shift them in one direction or another, it is about enriching their experience and honouring their burst of curiosity. Once I understand what gets their mind racing, I show them books and documentaries. I suggest outings and experiences that might nurture their interests. I make sure our weekends and holidays incorporate things that appeal to their current obsessions. Sometimes it misses the mark and we all move on, and sometimes you watch them descend down a rabbit hole of excitement that goes on and on.
As an onlooker, an unexpected but incredibly rewarding part of our unschooling experience, has been watching my children unknowingly honour the seasons through their energy and mood, follow their bodies and their need to move and follow their minds and their desire to learn. I didn’t grow with the freedom to find this balance. My days were dictated by bells and deadlines, that flowed seamlessly into organised activities and endless assignments. I realise that as an adult, I fill the void of discomfort with busy nothingness and it has taken me time, and it will take more time still, to give myself permission to slow down when I need to. Children are such great teachers in that respect, when we give them space to show us the way.