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Do you know what phrase I don’t mind hearing in the summer? “Mom, I’m bored!” In fact, I love when the kids claim they’re bored and there’s nothing to do.  Of course, they may drag it out in an epic whine, but even that’s okay.  Why? Because it gives me the opportunity to break out the unstructured play protocol.  That sounds a lot more formal than it is, but it’s our way of helping the kids tap into their inner creativity.

It's ok to be bored

Fred Rogers said that “play is the work of childhood” and I couldn’t agree more. Unstructured play gives kids the chance to explore the world around them, combat their perception of boredom, and find ways to entertain themselves.  As much as I love my children, I am not their activities director.
We encourage unstructured play by keeping a tub of random things that could possibly be used to create a game, do a craft, or explore the backyard.  Let me tell you about it.


The Bin of Random Toys: 

When we’re straightening up the house in our weekly chore duties, we place some of the random things that we find in an 18-gallon plastic bin.  There have been footballs, jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, watercolor paints, toy cars, empty paper towel tubes, yarn, and even fidget cubes that have been left on the table.

It’s a huge hodgepodge of things that, with a little creativity and imagination, could become the stuff of toy car races in the driveway or an obstacle course in the yard.  Somehow things get rotated quite frequently, so the kids never really know what’s going to be in there.


How We Use that Bin: 

When the kids claim that they’re bored and there’s absolutely nothing to do, we tell them to take out the bin.  There’s usually a bit of hemming and hawing, because it’s much easier for them if we provide the entertainment.

But, since that’s not happening, they head off to the tub (albeit somewhat petulantly) and start rooting through it.  Before long, they’re sitting on the driveway coloring with the chalk or tossing a football back and forth.  Their play is unstructured and their activities are designed by them.  It’s great to watch!


Why It’s Important

Kids today are overscheduled and overstressed.  They have so much being planned and prepared for them that they lose the ability to entertain themselves.  Unstructured play forces them to get back to being kids.  It makes them think of things to do on their own.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to be planning your child’s Saturday afternoon when he’s 25, so shouldn’t he know how to find things to entertain himself? Shouldn’t he learn to explore the things he’s interested in? That skill doesn’t always come naturally, so it needs to practice early and often.

Just like you wouldn’t expect your child to immediately know how to write in cursive, you also shouldn’t expect him to suddenly know how to entertain himself when so much of his play has been structured.  So, create a Random Toy Bin and let the kids put it to good use.  When they claim that they’re bored, be excited! It’s in those times when your child’s creativity and imagination can really begin to develop.

Check out this list of 60 Screen-Free Activities if you want to give your child a jumping-off point. 
60 screen free activities

I suggest reading this post, too—> Let Them PLAY & GET DIRTY
let them get dirty

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Dear Becky,

    As a school teacher myself, the “overscheduled and overstressed” thing is something I see in children (and parents!) every day. In fact, parents often ask me for advice on what to do during the Summer Break now that they have so much free time with their children. It’s almost like they are afraid of their kids having a boring day – for some reason that is not allowed in our society today.

    This is a great post to alleviate this problem and I love your idea of a using a tub full of stuff and having unstructured, creative play.

    While I don’t have any kids, I do have overscheduled nephews and I will definitely share this with my sisters as well as both teachers and parents at the school.

    So, thank you so much for sharing this important post!

  2. Very good points you wrote here..Great stuff…I think you’ve made some truly interesting points.Keep up the good work.