The Joy of Unstructured Summertime Play

Play is the joy of summer time when all those structured, sometimes overscheduled activities during the school year are over. Now is the time to give your kids free rein to explore and discover what interests them. It’s a time for imagination to bloom as kids find new outlets for their infinite creativity.

Parents often send kids to camps with scheduled activities which can be lots of fun for some kids. But other kids, maybe most of them, really yearn for time to plan on their own. Parents fear their kids will get bored or complain and whine that there’s nothing to do. But give them some days of idle hanging out and you’ll be surprised what they come up with on their own. Tell them you trust in their imagination and they can have whatever materials they need to make things and have a lot of fun with any friends they want to invite over.

Soon you’ll find them climbing trees, riding bikes, collecting shells on the beach and making lego vehicles and buildings that don’t come from instruction kits. They’ll put on plays, take videos to entertain you with and listen to music and dance away.

Kids need time to themselves as well. Learning to enjoy one’s own company for hours is a skill that can serve them for a life time. Reading for fun whatever they find at the local library is a treat after being told what to read in school all day. This is so much better than being pushed to read 20 minutes a day so their skills don’t regress when they’re out of school. Math skills, too, get reinforced with free play as they make real or pretend food to serve to local companions.

The art of daydreaming can be cultivated while swinging on a swing or jumping on a trampoline. Daydreaming is a time to think about solving problems, imagining what the future may bring, and rehearsing in one’s mind how to make a new friend.

Teenagers need time to roam around chatting with friends and telling secrets. It’s even a time to get all that extra sleep that they needed during the year but created a sleep debt because they were so busy. Teens need lots of sleep to feel refreshed and invigorated. They’ll be plenty of time to get them back into a schedule at the end of August in preparation for school.

Relaxing isn’t a bad thing! Hanging out gives you and your children and teens time to talk. Conversation has become a lost art taken over by techy communications. Let the cell phone sit idle, while you get to know your child’s thoughts, opinions, feelings, beliefs, and intentions. Here are some conversations starters:

  1. How could I be a better mother/father to you?
  2. What do you dream about doing that you never have time for?
  3. If you could go anywhere, where would that be?
  4. Do you want to travel to another planet someday?
  5. What do you imagine life will be like 20 years from now?

If you work full time, then you want to know your kids have scheduled plans so you know they’re busy and safe. But when you come home, leave your work at your office and engage with your sons and daughters more often than you have time for during the school year when homework fills up half the night.

In other words, encourage free play without instructions or schedules or warnings about dangers. There’s enough of that all the time in school. Summer should be a real break from planned activities and your child will be grateful that you understand this need. By the way, play is remarkably productive for learning new skills, creating new ideas, and being with buddies. Even for teens heading for college, it’s not always necessary to fill the summer with resume building tasks and work. Rediscover sheer enjoyment for its own sake!