School started months and months ago, but we’re still adjusting to the new schedule. My kiddo went from 3-hour school days just three days a week at a child-led Montessori school to full-day Kindergarten classes five days a week at an achievement-centered elementary school with strict rules. S reminds me a lot of myself at her age. She needs a sense of control and understanding in her own world. She needs to participate in choices that affect her and be a part of decision making. So allowing her unstructured time to decompress and unwind after school has been pretty important for us. Here, I’m sharing 3 tips for creating fun unstructured time in your own home to ease the transition for your own kiddo.
After getting S from school, I share my expectations for the afternoon on our walk home so that she understands what I’m thinking and I can hear what her expectations are as well. This allows her to know what to expect from the afternoon so she can plan it out in her mind, and for me to understand what she would like. This typically involves me saying that I’d like for us to work on two pages from her homework packet before she watches TV or plays in her room, and her replying that she would like a snack first. By sharing our expectations we prevent a lot of miscommunication and head butting. After all, both of us are the type of people who plan things out in our minds and think it will be going that way.
Once S has had her snack and we start homework she gets to a point where she’s just done with schoolwork, but we have to get through it and I know she won’t revisit it once she’s in “free time” mode so I set a rule that we need to finish the homework for the day first before unstructured time where she can choose her own activity and plans for the afternoon. She may want me to be involved in her unstructured time and request we bake something or go somewhere that we can’t at that time of day and then I let her know that it’s something we would need to plan and include in our day another time. Aside from finishing what she needs to do first and playing safely, another limit to unstructured time is that it does end. Dinner is usually the end of unstructured time as we start getting ready for bed after that.
It might sound silly to plan something that’s unstructured, but the truth about unstructured time is that it’s set within structure. S totally needs a sort of structure setup to create and manage her own expectations and know her limits within it. So sometimes we’ll chat about what we’re doing the next day and possibly as far as the day after that (especially if there are new/different things happening than usual) to plan ahead. Without giving unrealistic expectations that S can change any plans she doesn’t like, I give her room to participate in decision making in ways such as if she wants to eat a snack or do homework first, or if she’d like to go to the store today or tomorrow instead. We’re still going to the store, but she has now participated in the decision so there’s (hopefully) less of a tantrum about it.
Do you have unstructured time in your home?