Feed on

I distinctly remember the point in my life at which I became aware of the concept of “free time.” It was in the first grade.

I’d taken to school with a typical childish exuberance. You got to be amongst other kids, eat as much paste as you could snaffle unnoticed, and learn stuff. Somehow, the teacher was going to show me how to read, and that was the main event as far as I was concerned.

I went to a one-room rural school from kindergarten through 8th grade:

Generally, there was one teacher and maybe 12 kids, which sounds like an amazing student-teacher ratio, but you have to bear in mind that this teacher might be handling children in every available grade.

This meant that the teacher juggled subjects and age groups sequentially, and would often start one group on desk work while taking another group through a lecture. If she had a student who was a fast worker, she’d have to give them extra work to do, or allow them to amuse themselves quietly until she could start them on something new.

In the first grade, before I’d learned to read properly, I was at a bit of a loss when I’d completed my worksheets, so I was allowed to mess around quietly with art supplies or go play with the toy supply that was kept on the stage at the end of the classroom.

My first school play performance. (December 1982)
Stage in use, Dec. 1982.

These were mostly intended for use at recess time on those bitterly cold winter days when it wasn’t even worth it to throw the kids outside for 20 minutes. Within the treasure trove was a 5-gallon bucket 2/3 full of Tinker Toys.

When I was 6, Tinker Toys were among my favorite things in the world. I’d blast my way through a phonics worksheet or rows of practice letters in order to get to the bucket of Tinker Toy joy.

One day, our teacher commented on how much I seemed to enjoy playing with Tinker Toys during my free time. The phrase “free time” was a new one on me, so I asked her what it meant, and she explained that “free time” was time in which you weren’t otherwise occupied with required tasks (though obviously in language that a first-grader would actually understand).

From then, I’d have to say that one of my top goals was getting and enjoying my free time. This meant that I was often a sloppy, slipshod student, and nowadays it means that I’m pretty unwilling to take on overtime if it’s not required.

I may have graduated from Tinker Toys to sewing patterns, but I’ve still got to say that being able to stick stuff together in my off time is a great source of satisfaction for me.

Leave a Reply