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Plan Your Kid’s Summer Schedule with Free & Structured Play

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Kids hula hooping outside

As the structured schedule of school days is replaced by summer freedom, parents scramble to find daily summer activities to fill their kids’ long summer days. But how do you find the balance between structured play and unstructured free play?

One recent study showed that unstructured free play can help kids meet goals without their parents' prompting. But a summer full of free play can make even the most imaginative kid restless, so families should strike a balance between structured activities and free time. Below are some tips for building a summer schedule that the whole family will enjoy.

  1. Create a Loose Routine: It's summer, and kids don't have to wake up at the crack of dawn, hop on the bus, then attend extracurricular activities after school, but they do need a loose daily routine so that they'll know what to expect each day. Fill in gaps between meals and snacks with daily summer activities for kids, from outdoor play on sunny summer mornings to trips to the pool on scorching hot afternoons. Your routine for a lazy summer day doesn’t have to be rigid – even a little structure will help keep kids engaged.  
  2. Focus on a Favorite Summer Activity: Summer is a welcome break from a busy extracurricular schedule. Take this opportunity to allow your child to focus on a favorite activity and nurture his or her interest during the summer. Look for a week-long sports, dance or cheerleading day camp for budding athletes. How about enrolling in a six-week session of art or drama classes? Take advantage of the warm weather and sign the kids up for swim lessons. By focusing on just one summer activity, you can establish some structure without filling up every free minute.
  3. Let Friendships Bloom: Summer doesn't have to mean saying goodbye to school friends. Chat with other parents about getting the kids together this summer at a local playground or play dates at alternating homes. Let kids get to know their school friends better while enjoying some unstructured free play time.

A successful summer blends a loose routine with unstructured free play. Take advantage of the opportunities that this relaxed season offers, and allow kids to nurture their interests and build relationships outside of the classroom. At the same time, daily free play can help inspire kids' imagination and make summer one of their favorite times of the year.

In collaboration with National 4-H Council. Visit 4-H.org for more tips, ideas and activities for the entire family.

© Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 2019

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