Put downtime on your family's to-do list this holiday season

McCarthyClaire_dsc0463It’s nearly school vacation time—and you’re probably making plans (or will, once your shopping is finished) for things that will keep the kids busy during their time off. Museums, concerts, playdates—whatever fills the days in a useful, educational way. Because you can’t leave the days blank, right?

Actually, you can. And sometimes leaving them blank is exactly what children (and families) need.

Don’t get me wrong: if there’s some really cool exhibit you’ve been waiting to see (my family wants to see the Harry Potter exhibit at the Museum of Science), or Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a trip to The Nutcracker, go for it. And if that one kid your daughter has been dying to play with is finally free over vacation, by all means set up a playdate.

But sometimes it’s important to remember the real meaning of vacation, which comes from the Latin vacare: to be empty, free. Children need this, especially these days when being scheduled (sometimes highly scheduled) is the norm. They are so scheduled that in 2006 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a report entitled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” It’s sad when the AAP has to remind parents to let their kids play.

The thing is, unstructured play is important. It’s particularly important for child development, because it’s through imaginary play that children explore the world, practice decision-making skills, learn to work in groups and learn to share. It’s also how they learn how to entertain stockphotopro_502628QHA_no_titlethemselves without the aid of an electronic device, and how they practice self-control. Unstructured time is important for mental health, because it gives kids a chance to decompress and relax; without this, there’s a higher risk of stress and depression.  And it can be good for physical health, especially when that unstructured time involves physical activity.

Families need downtime, too. With everybody running every which way, we miss chances for connecting with and enjoying each other. Not to mention the stress on the parents who do all the scheduling—and the drop-offs and pickups and snack- and gym bag-packing.

So how about using vacation as a relaxation and reconnection time? Here are some suggestions:

  • Turn off the alarm clocks and get some sleep.
  • Turn off the TV and computer screens. You may face some resistance on this, as screens are often what kids want to use to fill blank days. But turning off screens turns on all sorts of creative possibilities.
  • Offer your kids materials to make stuff—like clay, blocks, paint and paper. Cut out pictures from magazines and make collages. Build a city. Leave it up all week and add to it.
  • Make a fort out of sheets and chairs. Bring pillows inside. Have a picnic there. Use flashlights.
  • Go outside a lot. Go for walks or to the park. Build snowmen if there is snow.
  • Play music. Dance.
  • Get out the board games. Have a marathon Monopoly game in your pajamas.
  • Take part. This is really important.  Don’t just set the kids up with something and pull out your laptop or get on the phone—play with them. Your kids will love it, and I bet you will too.

If you approach the vacation this way, you just may find that when it’s over, everyone will be not just rested but happier. You might even find yourselves wanting to spend more time this way. Which would be really wonderful—for everyone.

Built any good forts lately? Ever made origami animals out of used holiday wrapping paper? What does your family like to do together during vacation time?

One thought on “Put downtime on your family's to-do list this holiday season

  1. *comments taken from Children’s Facebook fan page*

    Jan M Legendre-Stoddard
    I like to take the girls to wagon hill and slide down the hill with them, we have so much fun, they always think they will break me as we tumble down the hill in a pile of family. 🙂

    Melissa Allen Hanna
    Watching a movie or playing outside… And we do some really cool crafts too.. The girls and i have a blast….

    Liz Paradise Cuneo
    My son is all about the video games. However he asked to make gingerbread cookies. Im looking foward to flour everywhere after school 🙂

    Lacy Berman
    we like to get a new puzzle every Christmas and work on it through the vacation.

    Liz Paradise Cuneo
    Lacy I used to do that when I was a kid with my bros and sis So much fun

    Kelley Hemenway
    I always plan on spending a lot of time with Sarah, but things come up. Useless things! Your children aren’t going to remember if the dish’s are done, or how clean your house is. I find that Sarah enjoys just having me to herself to read, color, or just go for a walk and play outside together. The best memories are usually the ones that you don’t have to pay for. Just time alone to talk one on one, and most of all laughing together. THE BEST. Wishing all parents a great Holiday Vacation.

    Carla Williams Mangiacotti
    I suggest never putting off that one to one with your kids ,before you know it there grown and gone……..

    Crystal Kane
    I have been trying to include my children in the things I am doing for the holidays, I have them helping me make candy and cookies.

    Jennifer Miller Fine
    Great ideas and wonderful article!

    Rose Meeza Cappetta
    My grandson and I love to watch the Polar Express at this time of year and drink Hot Chocolate with marsh-o’s. Love that kid.

    Rose Meeza Cappetta
    Oh and How true is it what Carla said, grown and gone before you realize it.

    Robin F Dougherty-Anderson
    there is nothing more important than your children…spend as much time as you can with them, for there are times you can never get back!

    Melanie Cormier Pepin
    Thank you for this. Children need quality time with their families and it doesn’t have to involve spending money or running all over the place. Keep it simple when they are young and children will learn to appreciate things more. Play a game, read a book, bake cookies. Children need time to relax. Shut off the Wii and TV, cell phones and tune in to your families.

    Shirley Blazon Rowe
    No matter what or how busy things are, I make sue that the Supper/Dinner table is a constant place to share our day with eachother.

    Gladys Olson
    Crafts are a cheat thing to do. Go out and look for pine cones, get some peanut butter or lard, bird seed and made the birds a treat. Do worry if they make a mess it can be clean up after. Make cookies and frosting and let the kids have a ball.

    Dori Kelly
    Gladys…I still make pinecone bird treats! Great memories of my childhood with time spent with my family. 🙂

    Beth French
    When thinking of a memorable activity to do with my three boys, I default back to the old fashioned family fun activities; baking, playing outside in the snow, making multisensory crafts, dancing/ singing to all our favorite tunes, and reading lots of good books. Spending quality family time together! 🙂

    Gladys Olson
    Dori Kelly We did it at my granddaughter’s 3th b-day the kids loved it.

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