Let your kids get bored
Taking a break from over-scheduled activities is good for everyone
“Bring back the ‘70s summer!”
If I had a Slurpee for every time I’ve seen blogs and social media posts screaming this subject line, my tongue would stay blue forever.
Indeed, riding my bike to the 7Eleven to get blue Slurpees on a hot day in the 1970s was a big part of my summer. Did my mom know where I was? Only if I asked for the money first.
The ‘70s summer movement is a reflection of the fact that we, as parents, have become too organized, too complicated and too helicoptery versus the seemingly lackadaisical parenting days that our parents (or for many millennial parents, their grandparents) apparently enjoyed.
So how can you enjoy unstructured summer days with your child in a world where structure, planning, organization and constant monitoring are the norm? And is there any benefit to doing this?
Alyson Schaefer, author and parenting expert, certainly thinks so.
“There are numerous benefits to unstructured play that parents may not be aware of,” she explains. “Structured play is about learning the rules of an existing game and then developing mastery.” In contrast, she says, “compare that to the experience of leaving children to play on their own in the backyard.” New games and ideas develop when you leave the kids alone.
“[They are] incapable of doing nothing and hard-wired for learning through play,” Schaefer explains. “The situation will demand them to get their creative juices flowing.” As a parent it can be hard to hear
the words “I’m bored!” over and over again, but, as the saying goes, creativity often follows a significant amount of boredom.
Remember that unstructured play doesn’t have to mean having no agenda for the day. If scheduling is more your thing, you can put some “free time” and “backyard games” on your itinerary to keep you from getting too specific but still allow you to direct general activities.
“They will invent games and rules from nothing but acorns, sticks and bottle caps,” says Schaefer. “They must verbalize the rules, get buy in or get criticism from fellow players.”
Furthermore, social skills are developed during unstructured play.
“Once in play, children must decide what is allowable and when someone is breaking a rule of play and what to do about it,” she says.
But should Mom and Dad intervene when the rules go off the rails? Not necessarily.
Schaefer points out unstructured play “combines creativity with social laws and co-operation that doesn’t take place in structured play that is supervised by a coach or adult.”
So maybe for a day or two this summer, shut down the screens, put away the play date spreadsheet, and just see what happens, even if it’s just a Slurpee run.
A new bicycle and the open sidewalk, the stuff of summer adventures