This Summer, I'm Instituting a Tech-Free Quiet Hour

When I spent one glorious Summer as a nanny, our days were long and relaxed and full of small adventures, but the one important constant was "quiet time." After lunch, every kid under 12 — there were 10 kids, ages 2 to 17 (I was mostly in charge of the smallest three) — spent about an hour in their rooms or hidden behind a couch or under a table, etc., with books.

Quiet time was quiet. Those who needed sleep got sleep. It was a breather. It shortened the second half of the day. It saved us all. And in a constantly busy household, it was quiet. This is probably the smartest thing a mother or caregiver can do, especially during the Summer. We made sure lunch was cleaned up before starting. We all checked out for a bit, listening to nothing, humming to ourselves, or reading softly aloud, in the heat of the day. And yet today, in the age of tablets and Netflix, quiet time seems like a relic, almost quaint, unless they still do FOB at camp — do they do that? I remember Flat on Back. The one time you couldn't swim and were supposed to write letters home or something. They always did it during the hottest part of the day, when the cabins were stuffy. I can't even remember if I liked it or not, but I certainly don't remember reading books at camp.

Since I have a child at "home" for the Summer, we are preparing for a big routine shift. Last Summer, I felt an extreme need for a schedule, given that my other child was not yet 1. We were constrained by naps and (my own) general fatigue. We also had plans to travel, which requires all sorts of extra time and tasks.

This Summer, I'm excited to stay put. We'll be able to have less routine and a few more local adventures. Perhaps I'm excited because I know my city better, and I know what's available to families in Summer. There's a lot to explore. I know more people who will be around, and we are sharing a sitter part-time. My kids will definitely have fun.

But this Summer brings a new stage, because my child is just a bit older — old enough to sit and read. She can spend real time looking at books or drawing, without interruption. (I mean, without interrupting me.) She's old enough to lose herself in play, either with a friend or with her younger sister. And therefore I've decided she's old enough for quiet time. Her sister still takes solid midday naps, and so we always find ourselves at home after lunch. Quiet time is not video time or game time, but full-on talk-to-yourself, doze-off-quiet, mental-space time. We've typically used videos to hold her attention, to keep her in one (quiet) place while we do chores or take a weekend break ourselves to read. But something sort of magical happened this year, as she learned to read fluently. Books draw her in. She's aware that she can read them and that they are interesting on their own, without an adult beside her. She's gotten hungry for what's inside.

To me, this is the beginning of the inner life that kids gain from the skill of reading. Instead of externalizing almost everything, they start to see thoughts on the page and have an awareness of thought. On the inside of books, and also in themselves, they adopt thoughts, they generate ideas differently, and they begin to think differently. I think this is also when children realize they can entertain themselves with thought. It's dreaming, it's the beginning of the use of boredom. We'll see what happens, if quiet time is actually quiet. But I plan to insist, with hope. As a parent, my job is no longer general entertainer. With 11 weeks of minimal obligation, we need a slower pace. I'm hoping it will make the next months feel like a proper Summer. Wish me luck.