How Under-Scheduling Children Might Just Help Make Great Art

Anna Quindlen recently wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Agony of Writing.” In it she admits a number of things including that she hates to write, her effective writing times are between 9 and 3, and she always stops writing mid-sentence. She surmises that the easiest way to begin writing the following day is to simply finish that sentence. Hmmm.

Those things were all interesting, but here’s the part of the column that really caught my eye:

…One of the reasons I so fear the over-scheduling of today’s children is that most creative thought happens when you are staring into the middle distance, doing nothing at all.

“Inspiration comes during work, not before it,” Madeleine L’Engle once wrote, and for that to happen you must sit down in a chair. I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s not that sometimes you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write well. Experience has told me that writing poorly sometimes leads to something better. Not writing at all leads only to reruns of “Law and Order.” Which I love, but still.

Now there’s a concept that may not be too popular in today’s culture of hyped up competition: under-schedule your children. It just might lead to higher creativity, greater art, and brilliant artists.

And this concept isn’t just for children. I can testify to the fact that when my schedule was over-busy, overcommitted, and with few cracks of time between dedicated events, my creativity was stifled. My weekly sermon-making suffered. It was like taking a pliers to a wisdom tooth in order to come up with anything even slightly creative and memorable.

Recently our singer-songwriter son, Ben, has taken to dedicating some “dead time” to writing music. He takes out his guitar, paces the floor, puts post-it notes on the wall, and delivers better songs than the ones he struggles to write in the middle of a busy week.

More than one wise person has told me that in order for regularly expected creativity to take off, I need to actually schedule “free time,” “down time,” or whatever you want to call it. That time is needed in order to process, make connections, brain storm, brain rest, or simply brain freeze, so that something new and exciting is conceived and born.

It works.

That is not to say that this scheduled down time is free and easy. It’s work time. It’s time to take your brain from point A, to point B, to point Q, and see where there might be a connection, an aha! moment, or a newly discovered “way.”

“The middle distance” (the place where you are doing nothing at all) isn’t just for children. It’s for pastors, teachers, architects, businessmen and women…anyone who needs a spark of creativity for her or his work (and don’t we all, really).

I challenge you to find “the middle distance” in your life today.

Do you believe that under-scheduling children or, for that matter, adults, will help create great art?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “How Under-Scheduling Children Might Just Help Make Great Art

  1. My wife and I have somewhat intentionally made the decision not to get our children involved with sports in their preschool years (of course, they haven't asked either), and one of the pleasant side effects I've seen, at least from our 5 1/2 year old girl and 3 1/2 year old boy is that they are very creative. Our daughter will design cards, decorate boxes, create toys, and formulate crafts that end up glitterbombing our house, and I've seen this begin to permeate my son's life too. Just last night, while he was in his room before bed, he designed and made five "telescopes" (rolls of paper) for the whole family to use! Our toddler may or may not follow in these footsteps: right now she seems to enjoy diving off chairs…thrillseeker. We've at least found that our children still have the space to be kids, and we're blessed with that!

    • Love, love, love it! Our son, as a four-year-old, used to spend hours creating sets for "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" and stuff like that. Amazing. It's so cool to see kids be so creative. Love that you're encouraging it!

  2. Brilliant. We've made the decision as parents to not have our kids in more than one extracurricular activity at a time. This will get more difficult as they get older but for many of the reasons you've talked about here we really do think it's in our family's best interest to do this.