By Ana Veciana-Suarez

notimetolearnLast fall was a first-of-its-kind season. For better or worse—I did not register my children in after-school activities.

No swimming. No music lessons. No play dates. Nada.

Once they finished their homework, they were free to do what they pleased, with a simple caveat: only one hour of TV.

In the beginning, my sons, Ben, 11, and Nick, 9, were anxious about this sudden, unplanned freedom. I had to push them out the door with a ball, a bike, a scooter.

“Play!” I ordered.

I learned that deprogramming takes time, patience and a lot of faith in the theory that having a stellar resume by the end of elementary school isn’t necessary.

Truth is, we stopped the activities because I was stressed out. Too frantic to smile. Too exhausted to floss.

The children weren’t much better.

When my older kids, now in college and high school, were young, I bought into the rules of modern parenting.

They’re unspoken, but followed zealously.

First, you must expose your child to a variety of activities.

After all, you never know where you’ll find a prodigy.

Second, if the child shows the slightest talent, the activity must be pursued with lessons, private coaching and several days a week of practice.

Every minute has purpose.

Heaven forbid you have blank spaces in the calendar.

The kids might be missing out on the one class, the one talent that will get them into Harvard.

Providing opportunities sounds wonderful, but when taken to an extreme, the concept snares the family into a frantic pace where time for hanging out, the essence of childhood, is completely squeezed out.

Not last fall. Double-shift dinners were gone. We told stories.

We relaxed.

Once we watched some crows dive-bomb our cat.

The kids played with bikes, balls, scooters.

Nobody kept score.

In fact, the boys played outside so much that the lawn is worn down to the soil in places.

They’ve made friends with kids who come from all over the neighborhood to play in pickup kickball games. And I’ve caught up on my reading, my sewing. Why, I’ve even organized my recipes.

We like those peaceful evenings so much that we’re not rushing back to the way things were.

We haven’t signed Ben and Nick up for anything this fall, and they’re not complaining.

Maybe that’s because the time off has allowed us to enjoy each other’s company.

Ana Veciana-Suarez of The Miami Herald

[Excerpts reprinted by permission of the author in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning]