Planning Unstructured Time

We had last Friday off of school, the weather was springlike, and Bea had big plans for not doing anything. Her plan for the day went something like this: We weren’t going to get in the car at all, we would play outside as much as possible, we would have a picnic lunch at the park nearby.

IMG_8476I had some cleaning to do so did that while the girls explored our unused backyard. Then we packed sandwiches and snacks, got out bikes and strollers, and headed to the park. We played and ate and made new friends and came home rejuvenated.

It was such a reminder of the importance of unstructured time. Even though Bea had a plan for our day, it included a lot of loose play. When I went to call a friend while the girls were swinging, Bea exclaimed, No! This is just mom, Bea, and Elle time! Just the three girls! No one else!!

She needed focused time and I was glad I could give that to her. There’s a lot about decision fatigue lately. Solutions include wearing a uniform, eating the same thing for breakfast every day, and eliminating all unnecessary choices.

I think it’s funny that we need research to tell us this when all we need to do is look at our kids. Bea knew that, after weeks of structure at school, she needed to rest by having a day of unstructured play. Of course, if every day were filled with unstructured play, the days would be too long and boredom (the unproductive kind) would set in. A little structure is a good thing.

But I can learn so much from my kids about rest and play. When my to-do list seems overwhelming; when life seems overstructured; when I have decision fatigue, maybe I just need to get outside without an agenda, play, and have a picnic.

How do you pause to rejuvenate in the midst of structure? What are ways you find spontaneity?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “tired.”


11 thoughts on “Planning Unstructured Time

  1. Jesus knew what he was teaching when he said, “Let the little children come to me.” We can indeed learn so much from kids. The tradition in our church is for kids to take their First Communion in 5th grade. The new trend is allowing parents to decide so I’ve had kids of varying ages as young as Kindergarten. The truth is I think they often get it better than us adults do. I’m in the 6 spot this week.

    1. That’s so cool that parents can decide readiness… Our church lets any age take communion and it’s so amazing watching the littlest kids participate.

  2. Annie, you are such a great mom! You’re right. When we are attuned to our children, we can learn and benefit from their intrinsic knowledge of what they need. We do need that unstructured time. I’m not very good at giving it to myself. I feel good getting things done . . . until they stress me out.

    Down time for me can include (on rare occasions, coloring in an adult coloring book), watching a movie, sorting through my thousands of digital photos and deleting the ones that are not good or are duplicates, taking a walk with my camera and snapping photos. Or reading. Reading is always good.

    I just need to give myself permission to have unstructured time. 🙂

    Have a great weekend, my friend!

    1. Right? It seems easier to read the needs of my family than my own. (Or easier to put mine aside…) I’m learning to take some time for me, too – to recognize when I need play. Also, wanna come organize my photos?! I love that this is how you relax! 🙂

  3. You identity an important truth about the need for structure with space for unstructured. Ahh! Haha. I find I create the most free time by sticking to a routine, which sounds contradictory but would agree Jesus offers a great example of this through his ministry: stay on mission so we can be with one another, be with the present moment.

    1. Haha – right? We need to plan for spontaneity. But, it’s so true! When I can organize our schedule for those unstructured moments, it’s so wonderful!

  4. Hello Annie, thanks for this. It’s taken me a loooong time to be OK with our kids staying inside the whole day on Saturday and doing nothing but eating, playing on their consoles and listening to audiobooks. I used to think we needed to get out and about, but I realise this is the best wind-down for them after a busy week being pushed at school. If we ever do have activities planned for a Saturday, we REALLY feel it on the Monday when it’s time for school again and remind ourselves that Saturdays must remain religiously un-organised! xx

    1. Yes! Bea’s kindergarten is full-day and it’s made me rethink my stance on weekday screentime. She comes home from school and gets to watch 2 shows before homework and bike riding, etc. She needs that downtime so much and without it, the afternoon is an emotional mess. Learning to let my kids relax (however that looks) is so important! Gotta love parenting ideals, right? 😉

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