6 Ways to Create Unstructured Play Time for Your Kids

Mighty Mommy has six simple ways to create unstructured play time for your kids and how to keep this playful momentum going as they grow.  

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #399

Tip #4:  Beat the Bored

There’s a wonderful quote I love about boredom—“Only boring people get bored.” That, however, is not the response your 10-year old child wants to hear when he has nothing exciting with which to entertain himself on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Boredom can also be an opportunity, according to Linda Caldwell, professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management and Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State.

Caldwell goes on to say that in fact, learning to beat boredom is a crucial life skill. “Kids who are always bored in their leisure time, says Caldwell, are in danger of developing “long-term boredom, where nothing is ever interesting.” That long-term boredom has been linked to substance abuse, school drop out, and vandalism. And boredom doesn’t just come from having too few activities, Caldwell says, “It could be a sign you have too many.”

So if you run into some opposition from your kids when you give them the opportunity to have free playtime and they immediately announce how boring this is for them, don’t fold.  Instead, use this as a stepping stone to help them find ways to play and entertain themselves.  If they aren’t ready to come up with ideas on their own, visit sites like educationworld.com where they offer lots of fun, inexpensive and creative ideas for kids of all ages.

This doesn’t mean you have to let them finger paint while sitting on your cream sofa, but find a spot in your home where you can allow them to get messy

Tip #5: Get Messy  

For those who can’t function unless their environment is well-organized and pristine, allowing your kids to make messes can be truly daunting. However, by letting your kids have a little breathing room when they are in the mood to create, you’d be surprised at the outcome. This doesn’t mean you have to let them finger paint while sitting on your cream sofa, but find a spot in your home where you can allow them to get messy. A corner of the dining room might be perfect to set up an affordable easel, poster paints, chalks and crayons, glue, pieces of scrap fabric, and more. We use plastic shower curtains from the dollar store to lay down when the kids want to be artistic—it’s cheap and makes for easy clean up!   A couple of years ago, my then 6-year-old and her friends held a holiday art sale in the neighborhood—completely their own idea. With the money they made, they bought new materials at the craft store and worked on creating more projects.

Tip #6:  Create Adult Playtime

Remember what it was like to have fun? For many parents, life is about crossing things off a neverending to-do list. Without time built into each day for nourishing our spirit, we become more vulnerable to frustration and stress.  Well, not only is it important to foster non-structured playtime for your children, it’s equally as important to do so for yourself. When you set the example of being carefree and being spontaneous with your time, you’ll become a great role model to your kids to follow suit.

See also: 5 Tips to Stay Inspired as a Parent

Break up your to-do lists by having some adult playtime. Grab some crayons and make a card for your partner or a coworker. Have a dance contest with your children. Find reasons to have a good, old-fashioned belly laugh. These small acts can make a big difference in lightening your stress level by helping you reconnect with the playful and happy parts of yourself that can get buried under the list of things to do.

How do you encourage free playtime in your family?  Share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Be sure to sign up for the upcoming Mighty Mommy newsletter chock full of practical advice to make your parenting life easier and more enjoyable.



About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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