Beverly Cleary and the Need for Free Time

Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary will turn 100 on April 12. The award winning author is best remembered for her books about “Ramona Quimby,” “Ralph the Mouse,” and “Henry and Beezus.” But at age 100, Beverly Cleary also has a bit to share about life, simplicity and free time.

In a recent interview with the Washington Post Cleary said,

“I think children today have a tough time, because they don’t have the freedom to run around as I did — and they have so many scheduled activities.”

I can relate to her observation. My generation experienced a type of childhood in the 1970’s that was very different than the one my children had after 2000. My friends and I had fewer scheduled activities, fewer lessons, less sports, less technology, and less stuff. But we had more down time, more freedom and more opportunities just to be creative.

Don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t a nostalgic rant about how the “good old days” were so much better than today. But it is a reflection on what we lose when we don’t have enough down time. People need simplicity and unstructured time — no matter how old they are.

We were created with a need for free time, and now there is even science to prove it.

The Science of Simplicity

Researcher and educator Kim John Payne conducted a study in which he simplified the lives of children with attention deficit disorder. Within a short period of time, these children became more clinically functional and exhibited increases in academic aptitude — more so than with commonly prescribed drugs like Ritalin.

He says that “too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time” create anxiety and behavioral issues in children. The solution? He argues for a simpler childhood.

Children need unstructured play time to help them become more creative and self-directed. They need to have freedom to make decisions in how they play. They need space and time just to daydream and imagine. They even need time to experience boredom.

And guess what? You do, too.

Free Time (aka Sabbath Rest)

All of creation was designed with a need for Sabbath rest. From the beginning of time, God modeled it for himself and ordained it for all creation. But the concept of Sabbath rest is something that modern society seems to have forgotten.

The feeling of being rushed all the time, anxious about getting things done, and managing to pay for all that stuff we think we need is not healthy for our bodies, our minds or our souls. Instead of more stuff or an expensive vacation, what most of us really need is Sabbath rest. We need to set aside our “to do list” for a while and learn how to just be. We need to let go of what is not necessary and allow life to become more simple.

Imagine a time in your childhood when you were carefree. Some of my fondest childhood memories include a sunny day, sidewalk chalk and a game of hopscotch or a bottle of bubbles.

Pretty simple stuff.

Now imagine what that type of simplicity might look like for you today. For me it probably wouldn’t look too different. Probably just a sunny day, a good book, conversation with family and a bottle of wine instead of the bubbles.

After all these years, who knew that Beverly Cleary would still be teaching me things? Simplicity is a spiritual discipline. But it’s a discipline that leads to the gift of freedom.