Did you know kids need boredom to grow? A huge part of learning can only be done when you have unstructured free time to think on deeper levels and explore. This is just as true for spiritual growth as it is in other areas of your kids’ lives.
There’s a trick to this unstructured free time though. You have to create an environment where thinking and experimentation will actually happen. If your kids spend all of their free time playing video games or watching Netflix, there will be no positive growth.
So what does an environment look like that encourages growth when there is unscheduled free time? Here are some ways you can create that type of environment for your kids.
- Have as many hours a day as possible screen free. Yes, they will whine and complain for the first few days. If you can hang tough though, the creativity and curiosity will gradually return to your children’s minds and good things will begin to happen.
- Take advantage of libraries – especially church libraries. Did you know many churches have free libraries? Often they are filled with great books for kids and teens that will also help them learn more about God. Your public library may also have books that will encourage your kids to explore and learn about new things. Many libraries and bookstores also have summer reading contests that can result in prizes like more free books. Don’t forget to leave an NIrV Bible sitting next to a comfy chair to encourage your kids to read it, too. (Don’t forget audio books for kids who would rather listen than read.)
- Create a comfortable environment outdoors. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A blanket under a tree works just as well as a deck or patio. Make sure there is plenty of shade for those hot summer days.
- Place exploration materials outside. One of the best playgrounds I have ever seen had large branches and stones for kids to move around and build forts and other fun things. It was fun seeing all of the creativity in action.
- Free up your kitchen or dining room table – or set up card tables. To explore, kids need a space where they don’t have to constantly put everything away. Having a table that is always available to start a project (that can stay for several days if needed) will encourage deeper dives into exploration of one area.
- Keep a tub or cabinet with art supplies. They don’t have to be expensive. A ream of copy paper works just as well for most kids as expensive art paper. If you can afford it (try dollar stores), add markers, paints, special art pencils and crayons – even clay or other craft supplies.
- Share your kitchen. There are lots of great cookbooks that are kid friendly. We get a lot of ours at our public library book sales for a dollar or two. Make sure they know you are willing to buy the ingredients they need to experiment with cooking. Or get them to pick out new recipes for you to try and cook together.
- Share your hobby supplies. Let your kids know you would love to teach them your hobby and share some of your supplies. You may be surprised they are interesting in learning more about what you find so interesting and fun.
- Take advantage of local green spaces and trails. Some of the best exploring is done on new trails and in new green spaces. Encourage little ones to look for as many bugs or flowers as they can find. If older ones want to plop down at a picnic table and read or draw, that’s fine, too. In fact, you may want to bring art supplies, books, cameras and other items that might spur their creativity in a new place.
- Take advantage of museums and concerts. Many areas have free days at their museums and free outdoor concerts in good weather. Many dreams have been dreamed while someone is zoned out listening to music or while viewing beautiful objects from different times and places.
- Encourage siestas. In the hottest part of the day, encourage everyone to have a quiet rest time in their rooms or on a sofa. (One person per bed or sofa.) They don’t need to sleep – just do something (that doesn’t require a screen) quietly for an hour or so. What you want is for them to have some quiet time with no talking and little background noise. Some of the best insights come when everything around you is quiet except for the background noises of your neighborhood.
- Provide a “drama” box. Interesting clothes from your closet and various other prop type items can encourage kids to play make believe games or even perform dramas.
- Provide musical instruments and journals. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Many a child has spent hours trying to master a harmonica or writing in a pretty journal from a dollar store.
- Make books and other media available about other places, languages and people. Open the world to your kids. Have picture books of different countries, try foods from different cultures. Have books and shows available in another language. Kids often love exploring other cultures and languages if they have easy access to the materials they need. (Your public library or local societies for various countries, languages and cultures can often provide free or low cost materials.)
- Ask a question or pose a dilemma of the day. Yes, this is raising the bar for families who like a challenge. Make it fun like “What are the first five things you would do if you became ruler of the world?” or “What would you do if someone gave you a million dollars, but you had to spend it all on other people?” Not only can their answers reveal a bit about their hearts, but the family discussion at the end of the day (after they have had all day to ponder) can give you opportunities to share some of God’s wisdom.
Remember, this is unstructured free time…allowing them to explore and create in their boredom. If you start making formal assignments and schedule activities for specific time periods, you are taking away the freedom they need to explore. Have a meeting before summer starts to let them know all of their options for free time.
For the child who insists even with a ton of things they could choose to do, that there is actually NOTHING to do…sweetly offer to give them some extra work around the house to ease their boredom! Often, that is the initial driving force to all of those interesting things you are providing.
So give your kids lots of unscheduled free time this summer and encourage them to really think, explore, learn and grow. Do the same for yourself as much as you can. You may just be surprised at what happens.