Summer is upon us and most students enjoy the freedom from school that it brings. Many families take vacations near and far, and many stay at home to enjoy their own back yard. Sometimes parents fill children’s days with structured activities in sports, the arts, academics, youth groups, scouts, or 4-H, while others send their children away to summer camp. What will your family do this summer?
Many gifted children and youth say the unstructured time of summer gives them an opportunity to recharge, defuse, think differently, and relax. Some gifted children and youth have told me that they would like parents to know that summer should be a time for the child or youth themselves to determine how they will spend their summer, not their parents. These children and youth said they would like to explore things of their own interest on their timetable, not what and when their parents think they should be doing. For example, one young girl said she would love to spend her summer days playing with her Legos and reading stories because she can build things inspired by the stories and investigate how to make her buildings stronger. Sounds like a possible architect or structural engineer in the making. One teen said he would love to have the summer to further his coding skills and refine the program he is working on to help people stay organized, and he wished his parents wouldn’t think he was “wasting time in front of the screen”. He viewed his time as something of value to help others who have difficulty with organization. Sounds like serving others using a plan to solve a problem, something engineers and computer scientists do.
Research is clear about the value of unstructured play for human beings. We adults are usually the problem. Too often we look at unstructured time as wasted and unproductive, yet even some of the most innovative companies such as Google, Digital Air Strike, Method, and Candescent Health encourage creativity and play. They find that this time is not wasted, but rather, allows creativity and innovation as part of the company’s culture, not as an add-on benefit.
Perhaps your family needs some down time after a busy school year. Consider giving your gifted child or teen the gift of unstructured play time to choose his/her own activities with time to continue their exploration throughout the summer. Consider spending free time playing with your child or youth perhaps in a backyard game of catch, or a summer-long game of Monopoly. Time together in unstructured play will likely benefit us all.
Following are some of the seemingly endless resources about play on the Internet.
The Power of Play
Minnesota Children’s Museum
Articles for Families on Play
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Play is More Than Just Fun
TED Talk by Dr. Stuart Brown. This is from ten years ago but provides a good background of play by a pioneer in the field.
Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, Summary and Recommendations
Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, Full Report
The National Institute for Play
Playtime Isn’t Just for Preschoolers--Teenagers Need It, Too
Play Doesn’t End with Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too
The Importance of Play for Adults
20 Companies Where Creativity is Key
Ask the Doctor