I’m sure you would all agree that it felt like we had a crazy number of snow/ice days this year. My adult mind no longer enjoys the magic of a snow day quite the way my children do. For me an unplanned day off just means client cancelations, extra phone calls, and a general messing with my schedule. Strangely enough, that is exactly what makes a snow day seem so wonderful to children. It is a chance to have a day without a schedule, a day without a plan.
Schedules can be a good thing. Structure and predictability is important for children. Organized sports, music lessons, etc. can provide fun and enriching experiences. That said, it is also incredibly important for children to have unstructured time where they can play freely and spontaneously. Numerous studies have shown that free play is a critical part of healthy child development. Many of these same studies share concerns that children in our society are finding themselves with ever busier schedules and with dwindling opportunities to “just play.” The thing is, it is not “just play.” Free play (without a screen involved) is how children build creativity and imagination. It is how they process events that have occurred in their lives and how they try on new behaviors. It is a way of relieving stress. Free play with other children allows them to develop social communication and problem solving skills. This is true for older children as well as younger children, even though their “play” may look different.
Now you may say, “yeah, when my children get free time, they end up bored and then they want me to entertain them.” That can happen, especially when children do not have enough practice with free play. They can get used to others telling them what to do and how to play (or used to a screen providing mindless distractions.) I say, let them be bored! Give a couple of suggestions, play with them for a little while (because that can be fun, too), but then back off and let them struggle a little with their boredom. Some of the most elaborate and creative ideas my children have come up with happened when they were bored.
I think we may finally be done with snow days for this year (Yeah! Bring on spring!), but I do want to make sure that I purposefully and regularly plan for days that have no plan. Days where my kids can be spontaneous, stress free, and, yes, maybe even a little bit bored. Because that is when the real creativity and the real playing can begin, and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.