For modern parents, it’s easy to worry about giving our children the best chance at success. We’re surrounded with information about opportunities for kids, the risks of too much screen time, and the competitive world that they’ll face when they grow up.
But in the effort to help our kids grow and develop, there’s another risk – overscheduling. Research shows that children actually need unstructured time. When they have to occupy themselves, kids learn problem-solving skills and strengthen their creative muscles. A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasized the extreme importance of play and encouraged pediatricians to help families include more unstructured play in their daily life. The report notes that “play is fundamentally important for learning 21st-century skills, such as problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity, which require the executive functioning skills that are critical for adult success”.
This summer, find some enriching activities for your kids without going overboard. If you start to feel like every minute of their time is scheduled, or you’re having trouble getting them from one activity to the next in time, take a step back and see where you can cut activities in favor of free time.
How to Cut Back
Talk to your children about what activities they care about and which ones feel like an obligation. Think about which times of day are hardest for your kids and avoid scheduling activities during those times. If your child has a tough time waking up in the morning, an early morning swim class might be stressful for everyone. But an afternoon class might align perfectly with her highest energy levels.
Finding a good summer camp can be a great way to balance activities with free play: a day or overnight camp can give kids the chance to socialize and get outdoors without rushing around to multiple different activities. Most camps have a good mix of activities and free time built into their daily schedule. Some great camps in the St. Croix Valley include:
Saint Croix Sailing School – For kids age 7 and up who love the water, this camp offers week-long sessions where campers learn to sail and race safely.
YMCA – With day and overnight options, the YMCA offers a wonderful summer camp experience to kids ages 4 through 17.
Summer Art Camp – Budding artists can choose from a range of specialties like pottery, photography, mosaic, and more.
River Falls, WI Camps – The city of River Falls has a variety of day camp options including sports, art, and music.
Baldwin, WI Camps – Families in the Baldwin-Woodville school district can find activities including pickleball, jewelry making, and martial arts, among many others.
Help your kids make good use of their unstructured time by encouraging them to go outside, and giving them some age-appropriate freedom to explore. Create spaces inside and outside of your home that encourage independent play. This could be an arts & crafts or dress up station indoors, or a forest play area in your yard with tree trunk stepping stones, log balance beams, or a mud kitchen. Invite their friends over for playdates so that they have peers to explore with. And finally, set firm limits on screen time so that their unstructured time doesn’t get taken over by TV or social media. In fact, Hudson Physicians provider Dr. Kelly Delahunty recommends limiting screen time and waiting until 8th grade to give children smartphones.
With some perspective and balance, you and your kids can enjoy a summer full of engaging activities and unstructured time for creativity and free play. You’ll be surprised by how much they can learn in the time between activities, and how much more relaxed your family’s schedule will be.