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Children Need Free Time

Giving children free time allows them to explore their world.

As parents, it is easy to worry about providing children with resources, but free time is the best possible resource you can provide for your child – and it is free! Children need free time to explore their world, develop ideas, and understand things that they observe.

Giving children free time allows them to develop hobbies.

Giving kids free time is a wonderful way to help them discover hobbies. Emma spends a lot of time taking pictures with our little digital camera, and she has learned to pay attention to light, shadows, and how she frames her pictures.

Giving children free time allows them to explore possibilities, among other benefits!

Free time also provides the space children need to explore boundaries. Emma and Johnny recently got together and devised this alternative menu for our family. We didn’t end up eating their menu, but it was fun to see them come up with candy alternatives to foods we really do eat!

whimsical menu thought up by children during unstructured free time

Unstructured free time sets imagination free! Four-year-old Lily recently discovered that fingers make excellent pretend people – and I remember doing the same as a child. What a wonderful thing, to discover that you don’t need special toys or props to enter a make believe world!

Free time provides the space for imaginative play that children need to explore and understand their world.

Free time is important for adults, as well! We need unstructured time to decompress, think about things that have happened, contemplate ideas, and mindfully plan how we want to make the most of our life. I find that free time is something I have to consciously schedule into our lives, and that it works best when we have large blocks of time when we are either at home or in nature. We also create free time by limiting electronic distractions – television, email, phones, internet and even my camera! Technology is wonderful, but it can easily take over our lives!

What benefits do you see in making unstructured free time a part of daily life? How do make time for this precious resource in our busy modern world?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

16 thoughts on “Children Need Free Time”

  1. Love this post MaryAnne, there’s a fabulous quotation from D.H.Lawrence ” … leave the children alone. Pitch them out into the streets or the playgrounds, and take no notice of them …” so that they can fully explore their imagination and curiosity unconstrained by adults. Obviously he takes it to the extreme but so much truth in it x

  2. I’ve always felt this way. There’s no need to cram their days with activities. It’s important to let children be on their own and let the imagination flourish!

  3. Ah, free time! We couldn’t do without it. My kids have a couple hours outdoors each weekday morning, and a couple hours with a book or sewing indoors in their bedroom each afternoon. If they are efficient with their chores, music practice, and studies, they can, and very often do, have even more free time. Same for me, if I do the laundry, dishes, school prep, etc, efficiently, then I have time for the things I like to do.

    1. I think free time is one of the greatest blessings on homeschooling! This past year has been a struggle with the kids in all different schools and no buses. I feel like I am in the car all day every day – and so is Anna! If Emma doesn’t get into our neighborhood school with Johnny and Lily for the fall I will have to figure something out – Mike is not a homeschool fan but I can’t commute like this two years in a row!

  4. For us, it’s a delicate balance of keeping my kids busy and off screens. But I agree that free time is so important and underrated! I love how you fill their free time with wonderful and creative projects.

  5. Oh, I SO agree! We’re a fairly laid back family, and unstructured time is so important to our mental health. We try to have some quiet time in the afternoons, which benefits everyone’s moods – adults and children! Our girls are used to it, and they really enjoy having an hour or so to themselves. And I like seeing what they’ve decided to do with that time! My 4 year old is very into puzzles these days, while my 7 year old likes to create activities for her little dolls (like school, or creating a quest with obstacles for them to overcome – those are my favourites!). If we miss quiet time for several days in a row, it’s pretty obvious! We have friends who have a different scheduled activity each night of the week, but I just don’t think I could personally handle that running around, and my kids need a good chunk of playtime to create, imagine and act, or their spirits start to wilt! :)

  6. I love this post MaryAnne and I couldn’t agree more. Kids come up with the most amazing things when they are left to explore. I’m pretty good at making sure the kids have free time but not as good at making sure I get some but you are so right – it is just as important for adults. I absolutely love the alternative menu – I want to visit for s’more night and minty mix also sounds intriguing!

  7. Natalie PlanetSmartyPants

    This is a fantastic post. I often think that my upper middle class child has all kinds of toys and privileges, but she doesn’t have a gift of free time. We are working hard to make sure that she does have free unstructured time every day, but it’s not a lot during school week. We are so looking forward to summer and to more free time for her (and for us!). And, by the way, Emma and Johnny’s menu is so much fun! They really put a lot of thought and time into it, didn’t they?

  8. such a good point to make… especially when we live in a society where being a good parent is often judged by how full your calendar is. my favorite part of free time is simply being able to observe what my son comes up with to fill that time. his little mind amazes me!

  9. I can always tell when my kids need free time. It is definitely so important. There are times, too, when we have a family outing and I just need to leave my camera at home and enjoy the moment.

    1. I love my camera and the memories I capture with it, but yes, there are times when it’s better to leave it home and just enjoy the family time.

  10. Yes! Unstructured time makes me not stressed out. It’s fun to have plans but too many stress me out rather than allow me to enjoy them. For my kids, they’re able to get creative, they don’t rely on their parents for entertainment all the time, they can delay gratification, they know to wait, they know how to be bored.

    I tend to stick to one plan per day. If we have a big party we’re going to, then we won’t do anything big that morning. I’m not one to squeeze in a ton of plans in my calendar.

    My eldest also isn’t in any extra curricular activities right now. I’m not against it, but we haven’t seen any opportunities for him to do so that’s conducive to our budget, his interest or our schedules.

    I also limit my own activities. I put a cap on blogging, and I make sure to read every night.

    Great topic MaryAnne. We’re spot on in agreement with the need for free time :)

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