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Feature Articles—Child Care


Brother and sister riding bikes togetherChildren benefit from unstructured time in the summer

Leanne Spengler, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Remember when you were a child and summer was the time to play? You may have had some responsibilities around the house, but for the most part your time was unstructured. Today, children have more structured time during the summer because of camps, swim lessons and summer school. This could negatively impact a variety of developing skill areas including independence, creativity and critical thinking.


University of Missouri Occupational Therapist Lea Ann Lowery believes that a lack of unstructured time is the reason many teens and young adults have trouble problem solving. She also sees trends of youth being overly reliant on certain objects or electronics to stay busy and involved. In turn, they want immediate gratification or they get bored easily.


Summer is also typically the time for a vacation, which could provide a chance for the family to enjoy unstructured time together, but not all family budgets allow for one. A staycation is a vacation that is spent at or nearby your home. Here are some activities the whole family can engage in during a staycation:


  • Backyard exploration:
    • Dig for worms
    • Plant a garden
    • Look at the clouds
    • Watch a spider spin a web
    • Make mud pies
    • Build a fort
    • Run through the sprinkler during the day and catch fireflies at night
  • Community exploration:
    • Visit the local park for a picnic
    • Try out different walking trails and playgrounds or spraygrounds
    • Check out books from the public library that the family can read together
    • Go to a farmer’s market or produce stand to get fresh berries or other fruits for homemade ice cream
  • Family exploration:
    • Take time to share family traditions like foods, crafts or hobbies
    • Let your child teach you something new
    • Give your children a disposable camera to capture their perspective of the world


Whether you take a vacation or a staycation, give yourself and your children some free time to play and explore this summer. The memories of free time can strengthen family bonds through shared experiences, as well as provide a mental vacation during times of stress.


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Last update: Monday, June 19, 2017