The immeasurable gift of uninterrupted time

The college I attended had a secret darkroom.

It was housed in the sub-cellar of one of the dorms, and to get to it required climbing down a ladder into what from above looked more like a dungeon than any sort of place into which one might voluntarily go.  You had to take a flashlight, because the only electric bulb hung in the interior of the three small rooms.

To this day I don’t know how it got there or who supplied it.  The college?  Unlikely, since they had an official darkroom that was used in classes.  This one could comfortably hold no more than two people – three if you weren’t picky about personal space.    Only a very few kids ever used it.

One day, one of those kids was me.

A girl who lived on my hall was a photographer – she introduced me to the dungeon darkroom and spent some time one afternoon showing me how to develop film and manipulate the exposure on prints, etc.   Then she left and I was on my own with several rolls of black and white film filled with shots I’d taken around campus.

There are very few times in my life when I can remember actually losing track of time.  This was one of them.

No one interrupted me because most people didn’t even know that the darkroom existed, and only my hall mate knew where I was.  No windows betrayed the passing of time – no changing of the light.   I emerged untold hours later – seriously, I think it was almost 10 hours –  with prints of which I was ridiculously proud (and one of which my hall mate later stole and used to win $150 in a photo contest – but that’s another story).

That day is of the single best memories of my 4 years at college, and it had nothing to do with anything I was officially there to do.

I tell this story because – especially in today’s hyper-scheduled world – uninterrupted time is a rare gift, but when given, incredible things can happen.    I recognized that first day in the darkroom that something unusual had occurred, but didn’t know how to grab on to it or replicate it; there were too many classes to attend, too many things I “had” to do and since photography wasn’t on the official list, it got pushed aside.

As unschoolers one of the great things we can offer our kids is uninterrupted time to do…whatever.   If we see our kid become completely absorbed in something, we can let them run with it – “unschedule” the day, as it were, and free them from interruptions.    Maybe tomorrow they’ll have had enough of the activity that kept them entranced the day before, or maybe a spark will have been lit that will carry them through days/weeks/months…years?

Of course, we have to be willing to let go of the idea that fewer planned activities is a bad thing .   I’ve noticed when talking to families considering unschooling that they are nervous around uninterrupted time.   They worry that their kids will be bored or won’t have “enough to do”.   And if the kids are used to having every minute of their time scheduled in increments of an hour or two, there will definitely be an adjustment period, but sometimes the greatest ideas spring from a few hours of boredom.  (See this article by Peter Gray on the value of free play.)

“We have no plans today,”  is not something you hear very often.   Both kids and parents could benefit from days with no plans; days to ponder, to putter, to pick up that unfinished project or try something new; to climb down into the unknown and lose track of time.

To take full advantage of the gift of uninterrupted time.

2 comments on “The immeasurable gift of uninterrupted time

  1. David Gargiulo says:

    I don’t have children enrolled in your school. But a friend of mine, Al Hemberger does. I didn’t read your whole writing here, because I have the attention span of a gold fish. But I do know what you are doing is just plain wonderful.
    I know Al enough to know that not only is he very smart and generous with his time, he’s very encouraging to fellow musicians and artists. I would have even less of my catalogue of songs recorded if it was not for Al giving of his time gratis so I could get some of it done at least. And if Al is as impressed with your methods as he is, than I am sure you are up to something grand and needed. That would be setting kids free and encouraging their natural sense of wonder and curiosity. The world needs this so badly and I’m glad it’s being done somewhere some how.

  2. Shawna says:

    Love your blog! You always remind me of the reasons I homeschool but can’t quite articulate. I too remember hours spent in the darkroom at my college. It was just an elective class I took and now I’m a professional photographer (after having finished a degree in something completely unrelated and working in corporate America for a few years and then quitting when having kids). I love the uninterrupted time reminder. My daughter sat and read a whole novel cover to cover the other day and it was SO hard for me not to interrupt her and ask her to do a math worksheet. Wait, actually I might have interrupted her 1, or 2…or 20 times and asked her that very thing. I think next time it happens I will think back to this post and let her enjoy a day of uninterrupted reading…after all, there could be worse ways for her to spend her time!

Leave a Comment