Unscheduled Free Time – A Great Gift to Give a Child!

As the holidays roll into town in the next few days, I’ve seen the need for the scheduled to be unscheduled in my own family.  My two college age children are home catching up with friends, going to movies, sleeping late and taking advantage of their short lived unscheduled lives.  My guess is that you as parents are seeing the same thing in your school aged children as they get a break from their routines.  This time of year chances are you are feeling the effects of the frantic pace we live in.  My own mom says how things are different and we’re (my family) all so busy and involved in so much.

According to a national study released by the University of Michigan, kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago.  Does the overscheduled child gain from this?  According to the study from a brain development standpoint, some feel it is quite the opposite.  When kids engage in unstructured play, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking.  It is the empty hours that children learn to become self-reliant and responsible, which are critical life skills.  By over-scheduling our children, we are depriving them of something very special: just being a kid or as we call it at camp; “the simple joys of childhood”.

IMG_2875[1] Monday Afternoon Activites 097

Here at camp we think kids need time to recharge after a couple of hours of activities (that they choose on their own).  Before lunch there’s 45 minutes to wind down before eating.  After lunch there’s rest hour which can be spent daydreaming, reading, writing home (we do our best mom and dad), or playing quiet games in the cabin.  Not too many children sleep during this time.  It’s hard enough to keep them in their cabins.  Then there’s two more hours of activity and thirty minutes of free time before dinner.  After dinner is our most unstructured time at camp where you can choose any number of activities and those being more in the spirit of unstructured free play.  You may choose to burn some calories in a soccer game that may turn into kickball or a short hike may stop at a creek and its shoes off and feet in.  Listening to stories at lakeside might turn into cloud gazing and the child’s mind drifts in and out of the day’s events and life at camp.  Sitting with your friends on the Green Wall next to the Mill is wind down time.  Time to chat and listen to the sounds of the mountain song evening.

This holiday break we’re in is a great opportunity to retool our schedules and our priorities, slow down and set aside time for our children to just be kids.  Here are six ways to inspire us.

Get off the Frenzy Train – This is a great time of year to reflect on what our family priorities are and give thanks for time together.

Be the Role Model – Carve out time to turn off your cell phone, don’t check your email while waiting for the movie to start and just be with the fam.

Un-plan – Start to think about ways to unscheduled and reschedule with unstructured activities

Schedule Unstructured Family Time – And keep it sacred on that one day a week where you all watch a movie together or play a game of monopoly.

Tune Out “I’m Bored” – With children and teens this will happen.  Let them figure it out on their own and try not to cave to screen time.

Screen Free – Hold out as long as you can because he’s the only one in his class without a cell phone.  Be intentional about screens in your child’s life.  Whatever requires a cord or charger probably doesn’t inspire creativity or problem solving.

And Last But Not Least “Get Outside” –  I loved it this year when the major outdoor retailer REI didn’t open for Black Friday.  Their message was to get outdoors.  Get your family outside and do something together fun in a new outdoor place.  Take a picnic with some treats and just going to a local creek or stream and throwing rocks is part of the simple joys.  Outdoor play stimulates the brain and senses even more and you’ll have quality time with your crew.

As our Holiday card said.  Let there be Peace!  Here’s hoping you have the best Holly Days ahead and Happy New Year to one and all!