bike ride 2013

As we transition to summertime we get to focus even more intently on play. Not as easy as it sounds.

There’s a balance with having a routine and structure for your child while also facilitating some time for creative play. Unstructured play doesn’t get the voice it deserves in my opinion. Parents ask me about the camps I’ve signed up for far more than they ask what downtime my children will get this summer. In my mind, the perfect summer is a blend of scattered exciting opportunities with swaths of time ready for unstructured play.

Boredom can be good for heavily scheduled children and can foster creativity

There’s lots of stress amidst the celebrations and change that comes with the end of the school year. Children thrive in routine, so even a good transition out of school can cause disruption. Some children will have insomnia, decreased eating, or even feelings of anxiety. Big changes can trigger feelings of depression in some children, too. Check in with your child if you’re worried and remember that more important than what you say will likely be that you listen.


Maria Montessori famously identified the value of play saying, “Play is the work of the child.” Play is so important it is a protected child human right by the United Nations. Just as labor laws protect our children from hard labor and work, we parents must protect their chance to wander, dream, roam, and discover. Research shows play is important for brain development, an important platform to learn decision-making, and offers up a tool for children to identify their passions. I don’t mean time in front of the TV or DS. I mean time outside, in the backyard, or in a child’s room. In the 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics statement on play, Dr Ken Ginsburg wrote, “In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies.”

Play rules supreme in infancy to toddlerhood and leads a child’s development. By the time our children are school-age, play becomes the focus and quest of their day. Curiosity teases out new skills from four to six months of age to the teen years and children will often surprise themselves with accidental accomplishments while playing! Unstructured play at any age fosters creativity and drives new skills and wonder.

Play is one of the most important gifts we share with our children. We want our children to have unbounded playtime without margins and restrictions. We want the opportunities for our children without screens and noise and “true toys—things like blocks and dolls” to play creatively from the very beginning. Parents today may feel an essential drive to schedule activities from early infancy on when in reality what their children need most is a parent’s full attention, time for play, and a place at home to stretch out and roam.

7 Tips For A Successful Start To Summer:

  1. Keep some things constant. Help children transition by keeping routines constant these first few weeks. Even if bedtimes shift, keep the bedtime and dinner time consistent one day to the next.
  2. Get outside. Have goal for at least 1 hour outside every single day this summer. Be without a ceiling.
  3. Camps and sports are great scattered throughout the summer but if your work schedule allows it, plan for at least a few weeks of unscheduled time. Remember that a bit of boredom can be good for children who are typically heavily scheduled.
  4. Make a “wish list” with your children for the summer. Grab a large piece of paper and sit down for 20 minutes tonight and map out dreams you all have for the summer. Check them off as they are completed. When boredom exceeds wonder, reach for the list!
  5. Check in about safety concerns (driving, water safety, sunburn) with your teens and older children who will be unsupervised.
  6. Stock the fridge! Prioritize fresh fruits & veggies – you’re in control of what comes into house. If you fill the fridge with pre-cut fruits and veggies your children are far more likely to eat them. Entice them with salsas, spreads, and yogurt for dipping.
  7. Make a countdown calendar until a family vacation. Research shows that we get as much (or more) happiness planning and anticipating a vacation as we do experiencing it. Use the days you wait to your advantage!

Make sure you work hard to find time that is unscheduled that fits your family’s vision for summer. Then unleash your children to the wonder that is summer break…

Resources For Parents In Seattle This Summer: