UNSTRUCTURED FAMILY TIME A GOOD PLAN FOR SUMMER
While the summer months often conjure up thoughts of lazy days spent at the playground and under the sprinkler, this isn't the reality for many children. With today's mentality of "the more activities, the better," the temptation to pack summer — when the children are free of regular school obligations and homework — with play dates, sports and other extracurriculars is high. It may seem like your child is going to be missing out if he or she's not in T-ball, karate and the LEGO playgroup, but it may actually be doing more harm than good. Here are three common pitfalls of over-scheduling your child during the summer months, and some tips on how you can avoid them.
One of the biggest problems with over-scheduling is that it can dramatically increase both your child's and the entire family's stress levels, according to Psychology Today. When you're constantly running to activity after activity, it can lead to a frenzied lifestyle of always rushing to keep from being late for the next lesson, practice or game. While everyone has to deal with stress to a degree, the human body is not equipped to deal with constant stress for very long. Chronic increased stress levels can cause both physical and emotional problems, from making it harder for your child to fall or stay asleep at night to causing more family conflicts due to an all around lack of patience.
Lack of family time
Over-scheduling sports activities and play dates also cuts into important family time. One of the great things about the summer is that there's more time for your family to spend time together — outdoors or in — without the stress of bedtimes and missed buses hanging over your heads. Numerous studies have shown that children from families who spend more quality time together are more likely to do well in school and are less likely to act out or exhibit behavior problems.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, over-scheduling means children are left with little to no downtime, which can inhibit creativity and make it harder for children to learn to problem solve. It's important for your child to have enough free time to allow for spontaneity during the day. Giving them some breathing room makes it easier for your children to develop individual interests and learn to entertain themselves.
So what should you do?
First, don't panic. If you've already scheduled a summer of activities, it's okay. Go through your plans and see if there's anything that's not necessary or was just added to fill time. Pare down what you can, and then reassess. It may be helpful to put all of the activities into a calendar where you can see the whole month at a glance. Now, figure out how much unstructured time your child has in an average week. Ideally, you want at least one or two days with no scheduled obligations.
Making some time in the schedule is only half the battle, though. It's very easy in today's digital culture for children to automatically fill their free time with video games, computer time or texting their friends. Set some specific times of the day or week when the whole family will unplug. Try to have some non-electronic activities, such as board games, art supplies, puzzles or scavenger hunts at the ready to hold off the "I'm bored!" whines, but also accept that they're okay. No one ever said that we have to be occupied or entertained every second of the day, and letting your children experience boredom and downtime teaches them important problem-solving skills.
At the end of the summer, take a moment to reflect on the pros, cons and unexpected lessons of a less scheduled life. You may find it's gone so well, you're ready to pare down extra activities during the school year as well.