Finding Balance with a Little Downtime and Playtime

Published : Wednesday, November 29, 2017 | 1:16 PM

“A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men.” At first glance, Roald Dahl’s quote seems contradictory, but upon reflection maybe we all really do need a little nonsense in our lives to be happy and healthy.

Denise Pope is a senior lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate Department of Education. She also co-founded the Challenge Success program as well as the idea of playtime, downtime and family time, or PDF. Playtime is described as an unstructured time where students can explore and interact with the world around them. The American Academy of Pediatrics states play helps children learn how to work in groups, negotiate, and resolve conflicts. Pope also asserts that PDF leads to increased confidence and self-advocacy skills. Downtime is referred to as a sort of productive inactivity, allowing the brain to shift to an idle position. Sleep or taking regular breaks, like a bike ride or watching a favorite television show, are examples of downtime, which contribute to a refresh and refocus component, improving concentration and connections in the brain. Lastly, family time just that: time together. It can be a week-long vacation or simply conversation at dinnertime without devices.

Living in such a hectic world, balance and some PDF can benefit us all. As school leaders with different experiences, we have arrived at the same conclusion: the incorporation of playtime, downtime and family time into our daily lives makes us more effective administrators able to serve our students and families. Allow us to elaborate.

Principal Karen Hurley

I have been the Principal of Palm Crest Elementary for over seven years and am a mother of two school-aged children. I am guessing many of you reading this article struggle, as I do, to get enough rest at night, refrain from checking my work email on my smartphone, and manage the household duties. It takes a concerted effort to incorporate enough PDF into my own life. In recent years, I have begun to notice the situation for my children is very similar to that of adults. My third and fifth graders seem to experience less downtime and playtime as academics and extracurricular activities compete for time in their daily schedule.

Upon reflection, I concluded I was running my home like my office. Everything was scheduled, but dedicated blocks for downtime or play time were generally missing. My children and I decided that our goal would be to have homework assignments completed by dinner so that we could enjoy more PDF after our evening meal rather than focusing on tasks. An LCUSD workshop entitled “Bringing Efficiency Home” provided me with strategies to help us reach our goal. The presenters, Marc Montgomery and Debbie Ourfalian, discussed how to prioritize tasks, such as strategies to break-down homework assignments into manageable parts, which would help my family finish homework more quickly and efficiently. Montgomery and Ourfalian also reiterated that the practice of multi-tasking is actually counterproductive. Following simple planning and focusing on one task at a time is the best way to complete the work. The strategy is effective for my family, and I am now able to fit PDF time into the day. The homework strategies from the workshop coupled with a focus on downtime have allowed my children and me more time together to take a walk around the neighborhood, go to our local library, kick the soccer ball around the front yard or ride bikes. It has made me less anxious, and my children happier knowing that finishing their homework before dinner will make for a fun, relaxing evening.

Assistant Principal Amy Marcoullier

Although I have served as an Assistant Principal before, this is my first year as part of the La Canada Unified School District. I am also a mother of a toddler and currently pursuing my doctorate. As a teacher and now administrator, I struggle with the desire to continually check items off a to-do list, without scheduling time for rest and relaxation. When I do sit down to rest, I often feel I could be doing something more productive. I realize now, however, downtime and family time are necessary to avoid feeling drained and at times frustrated.

It has taken me a long time to understand being busy doesn’t equal happiness and productivity. When I began my studies, university faculty and admission staff advised my cohort that as doctoral students we would have little to no time for PDF for the next three years. Initially, I was nervous about how I would manage my professional, academic and family responsibilities to the highest level without becoming overwhelmed. I still felt dedicating time to PDF each weekend with my family was still important. While it took some adjustment at first, I feel refreshed and ready for Monday mornings to serve the Palm Crest community as well as prepared as a student and fulfilled as a mom and wife.

While we are both dedicated professionals, we have come to understand that continual work doesn’t always yield the best results. Sometimes a little nonsense here and there, like Roald Dahl said, really does help to create balance and refocus and refresh our brains.

Interested in learning more about PDF? Check out these links:
Scientific American,
APA News and Journals


Palm Crest Elementary School, 5025 Palm Drive, La Cañada, (818) 952-8360 or visit

La Cañada Unified School District (LCUSD), 4490 Cornishon Ave., La Cañada, (818) 952-8300 or visit






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