It is summer! There has been an article circulating around the Internet from over at The Atlantic regarding summer and having free time to just be: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/for-better-school-results-clear-the-schedule-and-let-kids-play/373144/
Part of this article deals with how “personal” executive function (ie, the ability to set goals, to be self-motivated and do the practical things to achieve a self-selected goal) is much better in children who spend less time in activities supervised by adults:
The authors studied the schedules and play habits of 70 six-year-old children, measuring how much time each of them spent in “less structured,” spontaneous activities such as imaginative play and self-selected reading and “structured” activities organized and supervised by adults, such as lessons, sports practice, community service and homework. They found that children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control. It’s worth noting that when classifying activities as “less structured” or “structured,” the authors deemed all child-initiated activities as “less-structured,” while all adult-led activities were “structured.”
The summer can be a difficult time for working parents in particular, and some children end up trading school (an adult-directed activity), for different adult-directed activities in the summer – camps, lessons, and the like.
I am hearing from parents who both have to work this summer, or single parents who have to work. They are wondering how to give their children a summer of time in nature and unstructured play. I would love to hear suggestions from you all and how you have handled unstructured play for summer in your family. My own thoughts would be to enlist family members or friends who are able to be home and are taking their own children to the lake, beach, forest or out for a picnic. I have many family friends where both parents work, and those parents I know are taking a good deal of vacation time this summer to make the work week shorter –ie, taking each Friday off so they have a long weekend with their children, for example. I also have friends who work who have talked to their boss about changing their work hours so they go to work very early and get home early so they can have some daylight hours with their children to be together. If a parent works from home, of course the children can have unstructured play there, but many parents have told me if they have only children it can be hard to get things done or multiple children while they are working sometimes play great and come up with wonderful ideas and sometimes not!
I also have friends who have taken a more radical option, a more “your money or your life” approach and have decided to live in a very small house or condo, downsize to one car, and live on very small means so one person can be home and they can live on one salary, even if it means things are on a tight budget. When gas and such has to be very controlled for budgetary purposes, there may not be the opportunity to really “go” to wild places that might associate with summer traveling and excursions, but the family will be together and unstructured play and time in nature can be set up at home. Container gardening and bird feeders are great ways to bring nature to you, even if you have no gas to go visit a state park.
Unstructured play and adventure in nature is highly valued in my own family, and I think summer is an important time for expansion into play. I would love to hear what has worked for you and your family’s summer situation to encourage this.