As school lets out for the summer, many parents are concerned about their child maintaining all they’ve learned from the school year. Some parents may be tempted to add extra classes or tutors to stave off the summer slide, but one of the most effective methods for boosting brain development is often overlooked.
Unstructured play time has proven to be just as important to a child’s development as standard academic milestones. During the school year, it can feel almost unattainable to fit unstructured time in between sports, clubs, music and more. By making play a priority this summer, learning becomes a natural byproduct. What’s more, unstructured play time gives kids the chance to rest and recharge, so they are better equipped to take on the next set of challenges that come with a new school year.
“Studies show that unstructured play helps kids develop creativity, use their imagination, learn to compromise and collaborate—all of which will serve them well both in the classroom and beyond,” said Filip Francke, CEO of century-old toy company Ravensburger. Parents should encourage unstructured play while kids are alone as well as with others. Alone time allows them to explore areas of interest at their own pace, while unstructured play with other kids or family helps them learn important social skills.
There are many ways for parents to guard against the summer slide while keeping the fun and lighthearted spirit of the season alive.
Here are some ideas for turning summer brain drain into summer brain gain with play as the centerpiece.
Play on your own: Arts, crafts, blocks, outdoor exploration—playing solo helps kids develop their own interests and learn important coping and regulation skills. Single-player games are great options for alone time as well, whether it be at home or during vacation travel. Consider Invasion of the Cow Snatchers, a quirky multilevel brain game that uses a magnetic UFO to beam up unsuspecting cows, all while building critical thinking skills.
Play with friends: Summer’s seemingly endless hours are perfect for playing with friends. Any STEM activity is great inspiration for unstructured play time with buddies. For example, the GraviTrax marble run is ideal for the STEM enthusiast or budding engineer. Friends can design and build their tracks together, then challenge each other to a competition: The first marble down the track wins!
Play with family: There’s nothing like an epic family game night to bring fun home. In Harry Potter Labyrinth, Harry and his friends await rescue in a maze of shifting Hogwarts corridors and staircases. Families can spend a magical evening together with favorite storybook characters in this new take on the classic Labyrinth series.
Unwind and recharge with play: Even kids (especially kids!) need time to unwind and recharge. Sometimes that’s playing tag among the fireflies, dueling it out for the “win” in a game, or quietly piecing together a new puzzle.
Unrushed, unstructured play is vital to a child’s development and summer is the ideal time to make it a priority for the whole family. And, if still itching to make the summer count—how about sketching out a plan for all the ways to play this summer?