A perfect bookend to last week’s post on parent and student responsibility in education, today’s topic comes from a recent USC study that shows daydreaming leads to improved outcomes, even academic ones, among children. The aptly named paper, “Rest Is Not Idleness,” shows through brain scans that rest time for children is not wasted; rest provides time for inward reflection, which is key to learning and retention, understanding, and even unrelated academic priorities, like moral judgement and deflecting stress.
A recent article about the study in USC News says, “Children need the time and skills for internal reflection, and excessive focus on the outside environment due to activities or living conditions may hinder the development of emotional learning and well-being, as well as abstract, moral and social-emotional thinking, biasing youths toward morally “shallow” values, the researcher explained.” As a lifelong daydreamer, I have long felt that time shut off from the world, away from everything, gave me a chance to make connections to things that happened in the outside world, and allowed me to assess situations according to my own thoughts and standards. Even as a daydreaming child, the time spent in my head I considered a non-judgemental activity, away from expectations and competition. One of the most fabulous – and important – things about daydreaming is there is no right or wrong way to do it. Everyone does it in his or her own particular way.
This is not to say that daydreaming time must come during the school day, although children do benefit, according to the study, from breaks from task-oriented work. But I think as parents we should look to daydreaming – or lack thereof – as a cultural question. Are parents and families giving children enough downtime to reflect, be alone, stare out the window? What about your kids?
Brain-rest time for school children has been obsessing me lately, partly because I’ve also been on a bender about the length of public school lunches, which, from a very informal poll I have taken from parents across the country, averages about 15 minutes – that’s from the time they enter the cafeteria to the time they walk out the door. A fifteen minute school lunch, already proven in many schools to be deprived of most any nutritional value, is most likely devoid of any social value, either, since time at the table to eat the food (especially if standing in line to purchase the school’s food) and enjoy social company is limited to about seven to ten minutes at the most.
When we educate kids, whether in school or at home, we are showing them not only the information they will need to be responsible and employable citizens, we are also showing them what we value as a culture and a society. With little time to socialize at lunch (recess time is half what it was when I was a child, too), and a day packed full of activities, lessons, school, expectations and achievements, are we showing our kids how to be happy and healthy human beings? Do we as parents model downtime as an example for them?
Achievement and success are two vital parts of a great education – but we must be careful not to confuse outward gains with the inward gains that will produce not only successful children, but kids with strong imaginations, minds, and souls. These inward gifts can be taken to any college, and can hammer out the good and bad times of any life. While outward success is wonderful, we parents would be remiss to overstep the importance of helping our child achieve an inner life, too. Should we worry about the “drone” affect, the taking away of all life’s simple, gentle pleasures and replacing them with assignments and assessments – to shovel in food and rush off to the next task?
Life is to be savored, right? Do your kids have the time to daydream?