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By Jessica T

Where has our unstructured time gone?

Uploaded: Mar 5, 2014

Much has been made of the decline of unstructured time in our kids' lives. Around February each year, I brace myself for the barrage of emails I get from the parents of my daughter's friends inquiring about our plans for summer. Last spring, when we were expecting twins, was no exception. Were we sending our daughter to Camp (insert cheeky, posh adjective here) in July? What was our daughter doing the week of June 16?

Let me repeat what was happening last summer: My daughter was expecting the arrival of her long-awaited siblings. We had no idea what to expect and wanted to avoid over-scheduling her summer. After all, it was one of the only times in her life when she could look forward to having both parents at home - not to mention visits from her grandparents. "I don't know," I responded to each of the inquiries. "I think she's doing Camp Cinderella that week."

"What's that?" the other parents asked.

"It's when you change diapers and help with housework all summer long!"

In the end, we did send my daughter to some half-day camps and even a week of overnight camp. In fall, when the school year began, more questions started to roll in. "What is your daughter doing on Tuesday afternoons?" "Is she playing volleyball?" "How about soccer?" "What about math enrichment?"

I often respond that my daughter has two after-school activities a week. We think that's enough. More importantly she thinks it's enough and has always drawn those boundaries for herself. She values her unstructured time. What does she with that time? She does silly dances for her brother and sister. She helps prepare dinner. She does her homework. She spends extra time on the assignments that she enjoys. She writes letters to her grandparents and cousins. She reads books. And she sleeps.

I'm saddened how overscheduling our kids has reduced spontaneity in all of our lives. I hate that her playdates and birthday parties are scheduled a month in advance. When parents are rushing children from one engagement to another, they have only short interludes to socialize with one another. If we adults run into each other serendipitously on the street or at school, there isn't time to talk, much less plan a spur-of-the-moment dinner or cocktail.

It's ironic that we are more isolated than ever in an increasingly "connected" world. Perhaps we're giving our kids "every advantage" by rushing them from soccer tournament to violin lesson to swim practice to chess club, but aren't we also depriving them of a childhood? Aren't we keeping them from forging their own unexpected bonds with each other and learning the practical skills of taking care of themselves, like making scrambled eggs and folding laundry? And how will they ever learn to entertain themselves if they are never bored?