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Give the Gift of Time

It’s August 1st…the last few weeks of summer vacation are here. As adults, we often yearn for unstructured time to recharge and pursue our own interests. And yet, when it comes to our children, we struggle to offer this special time to them. We often find ourselves caught in the trap of overscheduling and constantly offering activities to keep them entertained. I’m here to encourage you to fight the pressure to sign up for another sport, play or art club.

It can feel counterintuitive, but the key to helping your child find their own interests and passions while fostering their creativity and independence is preserving their unstructured time.

Unstructured time allows children to:

  • Strengthen their sense of self: Unstructured time gives children an opportunity to explore their individual interests and passions and build confidence in their own abilities.

  • Develop their imagination: It encourages children to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to entertain themselves. This can lead to a heightened sense of self-awareness, a necessary attribute for developing emotional intelligence.

  • Build problem-solving skills: Unstructured time allows children to identify problems and come up with their own solutions. It can help them develop analytical and critical thinking skills.

So, in order for kids to explore unstructured time, they’ve got to have some. Get brave and clear your child’s calendar! Where can you carve out space for unstructured time? It's okay to start small! If your child has a packed camp calendar- perhaps you can carve out one activity free weekend day. As you and your child get used to the feel of a more open week- build in more and more time for your child to control the precious hours of their day.

Once you’ve carved out that time, fight the urge to fill it back up. Changes like this will be an adjustment. Find ways to encourage your child’s initial boredom. Boredom is a catalyst for creativity, as it forces children to tap into their own imagination and find ways to entertain themselves. By resisting the temptation to offer instant entertainment, you are offering your kids a new opportunity to get curious and creative.

This might be hard at first! You can help kids who are used to super structured days get used to an open day by preparing ahead of time. Talk to your child about why you’re carving out more open time for them in the day. Spend some time prepping for this experience as a family and work together to brainstorm a list of things that kids can do when they feel bored. (Pro Tip: It is important to agree to set aside screens during this time.)

When your child is struggling with this new open time- offer these strategies:

1. Staying out of the way! Really hold back here and let them figure out what to do next. It’s okay for them to be a little uncomfortable for awhile as they try to come up with how to use their time.

2. If your child really does seem to need your support try these things:

  • Listen to how your child is feeling and empathize with them.

  • Suggest that they change their environment. (If they are inside, suggest that they venture outside.) Being outside is great for kids, so if you have a safe outdoor space for kids to play- get them out there as much as possible in all kinds of weather!

  • Offer ideas about how to choose what to do next without actually suggesting activities. (Be sure to spend only a few minutes talking with them before exiting the scene.)

4. Model how to use unstructured time yourself. Find ways to carve time out of your own busy day to build in space for your own creative pursuits. By being an example of how to find joy and fulfillment in unstructured time, you are teaching them that it is a valuable and necessary part of life.

Have fun, giving your child the gift of time this summer. Offering kids unstructured time is how they will build autonomy, curiosity and creativity.

Need some extra help with this? PopUpPlay is here to help. Send us a note ( and we’ll set up a strategy call to build your family's custom play plan.

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