Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift of White Space


In the midst of this holiday season full of special programs, parties, concerts, “must do” holiday events, crafts and other activities, a concept I read about and discussed back in 2009 comes to mind.

Particularly during this hectic time of year, I often wonder as a working parent if I am doing the right things for my children. I have come to realize that it is a dilemma of all of us, whether we work or not. My children are lucky to have many opportunities, both in school and outside of school, to take part in a variety of activities - and of course, we want our children to have the advantages of a multitude of experiences. However, in “Great Expectations” by Johann Christoph Arnold (part of the book Endangered: Your Child in a Hostile World), we are reminded that there is an important part of childhood that involves just in being a child without any time restraints and structure. He applies this idea to the beautiful concept of "white space."

Visual artists are familiar with the concept of white space, the unmarked portion of a page. To an artist, white space isn't considered blank space. Instead, it's an important element of design which enables the very existence of the objects - the key to aesthetic composition. 

This popular optical illusion demonstrates the integral role
of white space in a design.
Arnold compares this artistic idea to the white space we all need in our lives,

            “As an author I became aware, after completing my first book, of something I had never noticed previously: the importance of white space. White space is the room between the lines of type, the margins, the extra space at the beginning of a chapter, a page left blank at the beginning of the book. It allows the type to “breathe” and gives the eye a place to rest. White space is not something you’re conscious of when you read a book. It is what isn't there.

            Just as books require white space, so do children. That is, they need room to grow. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu reminds us that “it is not the clay the potter throws that gives the jar its usefulness, but the space within.” Our tendency to overbook children, emotionally and time-wise, robs them of the space and flexibility they need to develop at their own pace. They need stimulation and guidance, but they also need time to themselves. Hours spent alone in daydreams or quiet, unstructured activities instill a sense of security and independence and provide a necessary lull in the rhythm of the day.”

We all, adults and children alike, need that time that keeps us replenished for our busy lives and the space to enrich our lives in ways we haven't even imagined. As I wrote in my original blog about this concept, I did not understand the true importance of this gift as a child when my mother told me to choose only one after-school activity, but it is a lesson I'm now grateful for.

No matter what your plans are this holiday season, I hope each of you takes the time to enjoy following your child, perhaps just sitting together for a few minutes, playing with their toys, or sharing stories about your childhood traditions. Give your child (and yourself) the gift of white space this holiday season. 

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