White space

Published by Lori Pickert on January 13, 2009 at 03:08 PM

When you look at a page, white space is the empty space that surrounds the text.

White space is very important. The amount of white space can make the text more legible. It can highlight a poem. It can set things off, emphasize them.

When there isn’t enough white space, the text can be hard to read, hard to understand. The page is cluttered; the brain has a hard time sorting out what’s there.

When we talk about overscheduled kids, I think about white space.

When we talk about project learning, I think about white space.

When we cram too many experiences into a child’s day/week/life, we don’t leave time for them to think about what they’ve experienced — they just move on to the next thing, letting the previous thing drop away.

(This is true for ourselves, too, of course.)

When children are learning through projects, their interest and engagement and production of work will naturally ebb and flow. It’s not factory work — it doesn’t happen at a single, steady pace. It’s creative work — it requires thinking, and having ideas, and mulling things over, and a change of pace now and then.

What is white space in a project? Doing something else for awhile … turning your attention to a different problem … relaxing … reading … being bored … maybe simply slowing the pace for awhile.

Refilling the well, being inspired, making connections, reflecting … these aren’t things that are easily acknowledged and checked off a list. They need time — empty, unfilled, unscheduled time. White space.

Without the white space, there’s no balance.

Rather than thinking about quantity — of ideas, of experiences, of work produced — we need to think about quality. Spending more time doing less, so we can do better and appreciate more. A single experience, really and truly had and understood, is more valuable than weeks and weeks of rushed, unconnected, random experiences.

See also: White Space as a Learning Tool

34 comments

Comment by patricia on January 13, 2009 at 07:58 PM

What a lovely post, with such an apt metaphor. I did a poetry workshop with a small group of homeschooled girls a year or so ago, and they loved the idea of white space, and the opportunity to play with it in their poetry.

I think the analogy will help me remember to leave more white space in our days!

Comment by Meredith on January 13, 2009 at 08:02 PM

Excellent!! I needed to read this today, thank you! Wishing you much white space in your days of learning :))

Comment by Sarah Jackson on January 13, 2009 at 08:05 PM

Dang. Seriously. I'm just going to go ponder and send this to everyone we know. I'd love to say something profound in return, but that will have to come later. Right now Annika is playing with a sharp knife. Knife skills are vital in a 6 year old.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 13, 2009 at 08:09 PM

thank you, patricia!

thank you, meredith — i do enjoy my white space. :^)

sarah .. lol .. annika really knows how to take advantage of homeschooling. her resume is going to *rock*. ;^)

Comment by annie on January 13, 2009 at 09:35 PM

you are absolutely right - I hadn't thought about it like this before. I seem to be someone who needs a lot of whitespace but unfortunately gets very little. Something needs to shift. Love this concept. It fits right with where I am personally and with my children at the moment. Thanks.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 13, 2009 at 10:01 PM

thank you, annie. :^)

Comment by Deirdre on January 13, 2009 at 10:02 PM

Time was going to be my mantra for 2009 (as in Take your time) but maybe White Space will have to replace it:-) Love this post.

And Death of a Hired Hand is one of my favorite poems too.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 13, 2009 at 10:05 PM

deirdre, it would make a lovely mantra. :^) always love to work in a little frost when possible. ;^) xo

Comment by Aimee on January 14, 2009 at 12:47 AM

When I forget this, this need to slow down and do a few things well, Annabelle is great to remind me that she wants to stay home making forts from the couch cushions!

Comment by Grace on January 14, 2009 at 01:16 AM

mmm, well said.

Comment by Lisa on January 14, 2009 at 01:17 AM

"When we cram too many experiences into a child’s day/week/life,..." I am reminded of Britain's late Princess Margaret who too her kids to an art museum to see only one or two pictures at a time. Better that they ask for "one more" than to be dragged thru it all--hating it. Today we seem to fear our kids being bored even for a second. We build "resumes" from birth--even when most kids got to less or non-competitive state universities. People thought I was nuts to take my kids out of sports, etc. Guess what? They got to have LIVES instead of schedules!! Now, as they find their REAL interests they are pursuing them. I can't get my daughter to take hold of project learning yet, but probably I'm the road block by encouraging it! I am loving your blog!

Comment by Theresa on January 14, 2009 at 01:36 AM

Time and space are two of our most vital ingredients of our home school.The other being love.

Comment by Dawn on January 14, 2009 at 01:43 AM

Thanks! Once again... this is right where we are! Today we spent a good part of our day making a crane out of card board and tape... completely unrelated to any project we have going... she just really wanted to see if we could do it!
I was a little anxious and started to push for some project related things she told me she wants to do but finally backed off and let the day flow... it flowed in a great direction!

Comment by Alison on January 14, 2009 at 01:58 AM

Love white space. So many possibilities!

Comment by jen on January 14, 2009 at 02:05 AM

I have a friend who used to call this margins. She'd say, "My margins are getting cluttered; I need to rework the schedule," or "Oh, I've filled the whole page again and forgotten to leave margins." I think about that often.

But I like "white space" better. It's more pliable. White space isn't just what is left after you write all you needed to say, but it is very often a part of what is being communicated. Mmmm - great post!

If you keep posting all these really great posts, my brain is going to explode with thinking about it all! (Thanks though!)

Comment by renee @ FIMBY on January 14, 2009 at 03:13 AM

wow, this really speaks to me, for my children's learning and my own. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2009 at 03:17 AM

aimee, lol ;^)

mmm, thank you, grace.

lisa, thank you! i love the story about princess margaret.

theresa - :^)

dawn, that is awesome. :^)

thank you, alison and renee. :^)

jen, *yes*! it is a part of what is being communicated -- exactly! thank you! :^) lol re: your head exploding .. i’ll try to stop *just* before that happens. ;^)

Comment by jen on January 14, 2009 at 03:53 AM

I'll appreciate that...but then I suppose I really will owe you that favor. ;)

Comment by Lynn on January 14, 2009 at 10:51 AM

Hello Lori, this is a lovely post, thank you. I shall be copying this quote into my journal:
"Rather than thinking about quantity — of ideas, of experiences, of work produced — we need to think about quality. Spending more time doing less, so we can do better and appreciate more. A single experience, really and truly had and understood, is more valuable than weeks and weeks of rushed, unconnected, random experiences."

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 14, 2009 at 03:48 PM

jen, lol ;^)

lynn, thank you. :^)

Comment by Annika on January 14, 2009 at 04:42 PM

I first heard the term in retail, where it is called it negative space (as in, displays need negative space to highlight the items). I like white space too. Of course I never thought to apply the term to life, though I apply the theory all the time. Wait, does sitting around watching videos all day count as negative/white space? Let's just say it does.

Comment by Jennifer on January 14, 2009 at 04:46 PM

I love this Lori. It is my focus this year. Time to piddle, time to play. Unscheduled time that seemingly slips away without being acknowledged, but it's the time where most of the important things happen.

Comment by Denise on January 14, 2009 at 04:49 PM

Exactly. I think that is a whole life philosophy for both kids AND their grown ups.

Comment by jessica on January 14, 2009 at 08:12 PM

This was lovely. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2009 at 12:38 AM

it’s all in the terminology, annika. ;^)

jennifer, thank you, and so true. your comment makes me think of a quote; i think i’ll post it. :^)

denise, me, too!

thank you, jessica. :^)

Comment by nancy on January 15, 2009 at 03:39 AM

yes, i like to see some white space in my calendar. then i know our time will be well spent. today something funny happened; we had plans this morning, but they fell through, which left us with some space that was white and it was good.

Comment by Lucia on January 15, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Lori, another great post and one that can apply to so many aspects of life....white space and balance, so good. It is also a little synchroncity because I watched a documentary film last night all about text and white space..."helvetica". Have you seen it? Interesting to examine something that we see/use all the time.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 15, 2009 at 04:46 PM

nancy, i love when that happens. :^)

lucia, thank you. and yes .. i have worked with type for years in publishing-related work, that is where i stole this term from! :^) i haven’t seen the helvetica movie but i have heard a lot about it. i will have to watch it some day. :^)

Comment by steph on January 20, 2009 at 11:04 PM

white space is definitely something I subconsciously work around--so I'm glad to hear you reiterate this faith here; that's ONE thing I'm getting right! :P

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 21, 2009 at 12:12 AM

i’m pretty sure you’re getting more than one thing right. ;^)

Comment by annie on June 15, 2009 at 06:41 PM

as usual when I pop in here I see something that speaks to me so strongly it nearly knocks me over - thanks Lori - I like being nearly knocked over! I came up with the notion of "white space" (even called it the same thing) myself a while ago when thinking about my own schedule and it's craziness - it's my mission at the moment to build more WS into it. It is reassuring (yet again) to find I am not alone. Had never thought about the poetry connnection - that's nice.

Comment by Lori Pickert on June 15, 2009 at 11:53 PM

you’re welcome! now, here, let me help you back up! ;^)

seriously, your comment made my day — and i needed it! — so thank you! :^)

you are not alone. :^)

Comment by Jennifer Minnelli on September 17, 2010 at 03:31 PM

I am new to your blog. I really love what you are doing. As a working mother (3 jobs), and community activist, and someone who tends toward an ADD learning-style, the concept of having white space in my days, weeks, years, is something I need to work on. However, seeing your beautiful blog and photos makes me want to take on more, and do more......
Warmly, Jennifer Minnelli

Comment by Lori Pickert on September 18, 2010 at 01:31 PM

hi jennifer, and thank you so much!

you sound busy. ;^) but you can do it! let me know how it goes. :^)

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