Unstructured Time

Summer 2008 is the summer of unstructured time. Up to this point in my child-raising, I scheduled enough summer activities, at home and away from it, to keep everyone involved, active, and happy. Or in other words, to avoid hearing “I’m bored” or “I don’t know what to do.”

Their individual summer activities this year consist of four days of camp for my oldest daughter, a week of Boy Scout camp for my son and swimming lessons for the youngest. That’s it.

Either I plan to be a crazy referee every day or I am taking a big leap of faith, right? Probably both.

Recently, several general leaders in my church counseled parents to not overschedule children and youth and to allow for unstructured time in families. (See these talks: Good, Better, Best; Mothers Who Know). One said:

Don’t overschedule yourselves or your children. We live in a world that is filled with options. If we are not careful, we will find every minute jammed with social events, classes, exercise time, book clubs, scrapbooking, Church callings, music, sports, the Internet, and our favorite TV shows . . . Families need unstructured time when relationships can deepen and real parenting can take place. Take time to listen, to laugh, and to play together.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, Daughters of God

One scheduled activity we are doing this summer is to read a chapter of Watership Down every day after lunch. In reading about rabbits, I think I am coming to understand one reason why “unstructured time” is so important.

The “main character” rabbits, who are setting out on their own, come across two sets of rabbits who are fed by humans. The wild rabbits said, “They did not know how to make up their minds. It was not within their capacity to take a decision and act on it. These rabbits had never had to act to save their lives or even find a meal.”

Feeding young people a constant schedule of things “to do” may be like breeding “hutch” rabbits. In our culture we put great emphasis on providing opportunities for our children to develop their abilities and talents and potential. But, perhaps, in the process we are creating generations with diminished ability to act according to their own initiative.

For the moment, my summer experiment is tiring everyone out, especially me as referee mother. But I plan to persevere through this painful period when they move from everything being structured to unstructured. Because I just don’t want to raise hutch rabbits.

1 Comment

  1. Ryan
    Jun 9, 2008

    I don’t know many mothers, but besides my own wife (who is also a mother), moms don’t really do this (unstructured schedules, letting kids go free, etc.), and those who do actually have to schedule in free time. It’s like, “OK, between 2pm and 3pm you have free time.” I think these people may be missing the point.

    As a child, my mother was great at just letting us be. We were forced to entertain ourselves or else mom would just say something like, “If you’re bored you can go mop the floor or weed the garden.” That’s great motivation for a kid to find something to do.

    It was with this free time that I really discovered who I was and what I liked. I learned about computer programming because I was so bored I decided to see how the game I was playing actually worked. I learned to love basketball. I really really really think time like this helps kids find themselves and learn to make decisions.

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