I can still hear the sound of red-winged blackbirds singing as I pulled my rusty old wagon down the path to the woods. When I got to “my” crabapple tree I unpacked the wagon – a ragged blanket to cover the thistles, three or four of my best pals (dolls and teddy bears), a stack of books, and a jug of Kool-Aid. And then I was set for the afternoon. I could talk and pretend with my dolls until it was time to pack up my wagon and head home for supper. With a loose schedule, those days were my time.

In a recent survey, children from ages 4-15 years old were asked, “What would you like to do this summer?” The overwhelming response was, “PLAY!” Not one child requested more lessons or structured time. It’s also significant that less than 5% mentioned any kind of major trip or outing. Over and over what the children wanted to do was play with friends, ride bike, shoot hoops, go swimming, etc.

We are so fortunate to have camps, clubs, and lessons for learning new skills, making friends, and gaining confidence. The difficult thing is to make choices and be sure to include time for just playing, dreaming, imagining, and tinkering – and not only for kids! Adults need unstructured time too. It’s during this time that we think of new ideas and figure out things about ourselves and our abilities. Fields must lie fallow for certain periods, and so must human beings. Down-time results in richer accomplishments later on

Here are a few of my favorite “down-time” childhood memories:

  • Dandelion stems curling in cold water.
  • Pictures drawn in the dirt with a stick.
  • A tent made from a rope tied between two trees and an old blanket.
  • Hopscotch.


Create down-time this summer for your children – and plan some for yourself too! As an adult you probably won’t make a tent in the backyard, but what will you do? Savor a carefree moment and you will see a change in your productivity, mood, and satisfaction with life.