Unschedule Your Child

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Summer break is coming up and parents are busily trying to make arrangements for their children to be safe and occupied during the next few months. Ask yourself - does your child's schedule have more on it than yours? Do you feel more like your child's secretary and driver than their parent? Is your child irritable and constantly tired? Piano lessons, scout meetings, baseball practice, play dates, dance class, youth group, and on and on. Maybe your child is overscheduled and needs more "free" time or time for unstructured activity. I think back to when I was a child, when there were fewer activities available for children, and the ones that were available (including sports) never happened on Wednesday nights and Sundays. The pendulum seems to have completely shifted to children having several events- any given day of the week- and no time to do…. nothing.

Why should our children have more free time? According to the Illinois Early Learning Project, children need some relief from demands and expectations placed on them. They are still growing and developing and they require rest to help them stay healthy and ready to learn. Allowing children more unstructured time helps them to make choices and their own decisions and allows them to learn to occupy and entertain themselves. Children also need time to reflect on what they learn so they connect new information with what they already know. Daydreaming may help them figure out the solution to a problem. Also, if they choose to be active during free play, this will help them have a healthy body and will help them learn to pace themselves.

If you are not sure if your child is overscheduled, just check in with him and ask if he feels overwhelmed, or does he want more time to relax? Review his schedule and honestly answer the question of whether he really needs all those activities – or can some of them wait until he is older? Also ask yourself if you are overscheduled – if you are, your family might be!

Unstructured activity does not have to follow certain guidelines or look a certain way – it is unstructured! But, if you find your child needs a little guidance or encouragement on what to do during free time, you can:

  • Encourage creativity
  • Provide outdoor experiences
  • Show how to play games
  • Visit interesting places
  • Make time to just be together

I would like to add limiting screen time to this list, to help give children a break and allow them to be mindful of the moment and time to think on their own. Let kids have time to be kids!