School is almost out and parents are scrambling to fill their child’s summer vacation with classes and camps, hopefully finding just the right combination to avoid hearing that awful refrain, “I’m bored.” If you’re like me, my childhood summers were full of downtime, where things like biking to the library, playing sardines with friends in the neighborhood until dark, and lying on my bed listening to music were the norm. Sure, you could go to summer camp or take a tennis class, but the offerings for kids were nowhere near what they are today. So more must mean better then, right?
In today’s world, it’s easy to think so. In a child-centered culture such as ours, many parents have jumped on the fast train, believing that they have to make every moment of their child’s life “count.” They must take every opportunity to enrich their child from babyhood on up because if they don’t, their child will lose their edge…and their chance at Harvard. The peer pressure that parents experience is tremendous. It makes it exceedingly difficult to let your child just “be.”
However, there is ample research to suggest that creativity emerges, and we actually do our best thinking when we “do nothing.” Free time gives kids time to recharge their batteries, explore their world, and nurture their inner life. The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses that “free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact, essential – for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones, as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.”
How to downshift
Leading a frenzied, harried life is not a must-do for parents….or children. If you want to slow down, take stock of the summer months. Look at your calendar, allow yourself to fantasize about the perfect summer, and leave some blanks…for free time. Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different (ex. some working parents rely on summer camps for child-care, some children have a high activity level and need more stimulation), so plan accordingly.
Involving your child in the decision-making will likely help your children to feel more invested in the camps/classes they participate in. At a quiet moment, talk to your child about their interests. What might they like to try? Suggest some classes they may not be familiar with. Do they want to be inside working with legos or outside on the soccer field? Your child’s input will help them get the most out of the time they spend away from home.
Lastly, just say “yes”….to free time. Here are some suggestions for promoting downtime:
- Talk to your kids about downtime. Explain the benefits of free time to your kids and let them know that it’s a very important part of having a healthy life.
- Turn off (and hide if you have to) the remotes/DS’s/cell phones/etc. Accept that there will be push back. Will there be complaining? Yes. Will it last forever? No. Soon your child will get involved with something….or may just sit in their room and do nothing.
- Have craft materials on hand…. Have things like Model Magic, paint and paper, Dot Art Markers, materials for decoupage, and Wikki Stix in your home. Perler Beads are a favorite in our house. Lakeshore Learning Store is a great place to stock up on ‘open-ended’ toys and craft materials.
- Bring out the board games. For some family downtime, have a marathon “game day” in your pj’s.
- Open your back door and encourage your kids to play outside.
Creating a balanced summer for your children requires planning with intent. Give yourself permission to buck the over-scheduling trend, and watch your kids thrive.
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