When you think of summer, what comes to mind? Ice Cream.. Beaches.. Reading.. Sunburns?
Summer is an important time for students to recharge and reconnect with family, friends and hobbies that have been sidelined during the school year. It can also be an opportunity for enrichment through volunteering and enrolling in camps or classes such as coding or theatre to further their own personal interests.
It’s very important, however, to not overwhelm your children. Striking a balance between structured and unstructured time is essential for their development and well-being. Structured time can be defined as activities that are organized and managed by adults, whereas unstructured time is activities that are child-led.
There are numerous benefits to unstructured time for children and adolescents. Unstructured time is essential to their development because it contributes to their cognitive, physical, and social-emotional well-being. It gives them time to explore and play at their own pace, helping them to develop useful skills. For younger children it may be playing with Lego, dressing up or riding a scooter. For adolescents it may be casual reading, swimming with friends, playing the guitar or doodling in their notebook.
Some research has shown that the more time children spend in less structured activities the better their executive functioning skills are. Unstructured time gives children and adolescents the freedom to choose their own activities and focus on their own goals, instead of it being determined by someone else. This builds their capacity for independent thinking and problem-solving.
Unstructured time also allows children and adolescents to recharge and de-stress. If they are not able to recharge they may become burned out, leaving them with little energy to enjoy their interests or be ready for their new school year. MindHK, a Hong Kong mental health charity, reported that 51.5% of secondary school pupils show symptoms of depression and 25% demonstrate clinically high levels of anxiety (as cited in Baptist of Kwan Social Service, 2018). Children and teens who are not given time to recharge tend to turn to more screen-based forms of entertainment like watching television, playing video games or being on social media.
How can parents encourage more balance in their children’s lives? First, take a look at their summer schedule: Is it structured from morning to night? Does your child’s summer include a combination of activities such as academics, sports, relaxation and socialising? If so, then you are on the right track. If there is too much of an imbalance in their summer activities, involve your child in the conversation or if you have a younger child, see what they gravitate towards. Free time during the summer should be bringing your child joy, giving them the energy and positivity to start the new school year with enthusiasm.
Barker, J. E., Semenov, A. D., Michaelson, L., Provan, L. S., Snyder, H. R., & Munakata, Y. (2014). Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00593
Lench, B. D. (2014, April 11). Unstructured Free Play Important for Kids. https://www.momsteam.com/successful-parenting/unstructured-free-play-important-for-child-development-experts-say
MindHK (n.d.). Mental Health in Hong Kong. https://www.mind.org.hk/mental-health-in-hong-kong/
Saltz, G., Dr. (2018, June 26). The Importance of Unstructured Summer Playtime for Children. US &World Report News. https://wtop.com/news/2018/06/the-importance-of-unstructured-summer-playtime-for-children/