‘Goof-Off’ Time Key to Learning Process, Researcher Finds

Published September 5, 2017

“When parents seek my advice about what activities their child should be doing, they’re often surprised when I pare down their proposed list and prescribe free time during the week for good goofing off,” Lea Waters, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, Australia and author of The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish, published in July, wrote in The Atlantic.

“Research now shows that in this so-called resting state, the brain is still highly active,” Waters wrote in the July article. “Functional magnetic resonance imaging depicting the brain in a resting state reveals multiple brain regions lighting up, indicating activity. That’s why I prefer to think of free-form attention not as a resting state, but as ‘deliberate rest.’ Although it might seem counterintuitive, deliberate rest refreshes and restores, playing an important role in building the powers of attention.”

Putting Parents in Charge

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, says parents know their children’s needs best and should be in charge of regulating goof-off time and allowed to choose the education option that best represents their insights.  

“No two children goof off in the same way,” Stoops said. “Parents and guardians are in the best position to determine the length of time and the appropriate activities that schools should’ve incorporated into their daily activities to begin with. And parents and guardians should be able to choose the educational setting that comes the closest to providing an appropriate level of structured downtime for their children.”

‘Not One-Size-Fits-All’

Sam Sorbo, a homeschooling advocate and author of They’re Your Kids: An Inspirational Journey from Self-Doubter to Home School Advocate, says such research provides more evidence showing educational choice is important.

“Children are individuals; they’re not one-size-fits-all,” Sorbo said. “The biggest problem with institutionalized education is that the assumption is that children are like cars: We can put them on an assembly line and assemble their knowledge base, and it will work the same every time. Unfortunately for humans, it’s the opposite.

“So, the right amount of goof-off time?” he said. “I don’t believe there is a set answer for that, but I love this idea that we are looking at children as human beings who need to recharge, who need some downtime, and in fact, their downtime isn’t downtime. It’s actually effective time.”

Parental Guidance Suggested

Danny Huerta, executive director of the parenting and youth department at Focus on the Family, says it’s important for parents to guide their children during downtime.  

“One of things I talk to parents about is the part of intentionality, regardless of where their child goes to school,” Huerta said. “Intentionality is a trait that a parent has to work on to help teach a child balance, a balance between routine, play, and how to handle boredom. Boredom is a wonderful tool for creativity, and there could be some very helpful playtime for the brain.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.