Kid Wrangling Involves Planning for Play

Our typically quiet household was turned somewhat upside down this week as the result of a visit from my sister, her husband, and my eleven and nine year old nephews. This was compounded by three days of additional visits from their eight and twelve year old cousins and friends of ours who visited with their eleven year old. All in all it made for a noisy, joyful, busy, and sometimes chaotic environment.

Undaunted, we put our collective kid-wrangling experience to work and managed to keep everyone busy with activities that included visits to a museum, wave pool, concert, and the science centre. It was quite wonderful until toward the end of the week when we realized the kids were a little edgier than usual. While no doubt the edginess was due in part to the stress of travelling and not sleeping in their own beds, it also may have been that we simply overscheduled the kids as the result of our desire to make it a meaningful visit. Consequently, we planned a day of unstructured activity or what we boomers used to call “play”.

Why a day of informal activities? Just like adults, the minds and bodies of kids need relief from the daily stress of demands and expectations. Recreation and play keeps them healthy, balanced, and ready to learn.

Kids also learn independence by making choices about how to use their unstructured time. At first they may seem a bit lost if they have to find something to do on their own, but they soon learn to entertain themselves. My nephews initially watched television on their day off but that was soon replaced by puzzles, cards, and board games. They also tapped their creativity by inventing new card games that made no sense to me but seemed to work for them.

The active play was also important for burning off energy and contributing to their fitness. While the running games they played in the park across the street seemed a bit goofy, it didn’t really matter as the laughter and giggles said it all. Even the potential for accidents as they ran, jumped, and climbed was important in teaching them to take and manage risks. We can’t bubble wrap our kids even though their play may result in cuts and bruises. One of my nephews managed to run full tilt into a pine tree that left him with a lovely set of scratches down his face, neck, and shoulder.  On the plus side, he did say it reminded him to make sure he always looked where he was going.

This connection between play and learning is also important because we all need time to reflect on what we learn. Play can help us connect new information to what we already know and help us master stressful situations. Daydreaming often results in new ways to solve problems.

So how can we ensure our kids have enough unstructured play?

Allow more family playtime by making sure you and your kids aren’t overscheduled.  While music and dance lessons, swim classes, camps, and organized sports are important, don’t try to do them all at once. Spread them over the seasons or let them wait until next year.

To encourage play that develops imagination, encourage creativity with craft supplies, empty boxes, lego, modeling clay, paints and puzzles. Cooking and building activities are also good.

Provide plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities such as walking, gardening, shooting hoops, cycling, or hiking local trails. 

Playing board games and cards with your children is an opportunity to encourage and strengthen interactions and relationships. One of my nephews is very competitive but is learning to be a more gracious loser, and winner, as the result of playing games and cards.

Perhaps the most important reason for play is that it helps us strengthen our relationship with one another.  By way of illustration, my greatest Kodak memory wasn’t any of the formal outings or recreation activities we implemented during the week. Instead, it is one of walking into the living room and seeing my two nephews sitting on the couch, snuggled under a fleece blanket, with their arms over one another’s shoulders.  It was both a tug at the heart and a reminder from the kids about what’s really important.

Posted on 08-22-10


Great blog, Brenda!  I think it is important nowadays (do I sound like an old-timer?) to just let kids be kids… Creativity needs an environment with no rules sometimes.  And we definitely need more creative thinkers in the upcoming generations.

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  08/23/10  at  11:27 AM


I definitely agree with everything you said here!  It’s important to expose your kids to all different activities, but they also need to have a time to choose what they want to do.  If a child is constantly going from one place to another, they will never have a chance to relax and have their alone time, which everyone needs.  My toddler seems to do great with both, so far.  We have different activities we go to, but when we are at home, she will grab a few books and read, or color, or play with puzzles.  People are too worried these days about germs, injuries, etc.

•Posted by OBGYN  on  01/18/11  at  09:19 PM


Creativity needs an environment with no rules sometimes.  And we definitely need more creative thinkers in the upcoming generations.

•Posted by northface outlet  on  10/24/11  at  11:39 AM


Making crafts is great way to encourage imagination and creativity. Teaching kids to use their hands for something else other than pressing buttons or swiping screens. lol… A box of crafts supplies can easily turn to a few hours of play time. And it be some good bonding time for parents and kids.

•Posted by RaineAngel  on  10/17/13  at  02:17 PM

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