Downtime, or allowing kids to play freely without adult supervision, organization or intervention, is a hot topic. Neurologists, psychologists and other experts are adamant that kids’ brains require unscheduled time, separate from adults, to daydream, process and integrate information accumulated during their busy days—in essence, to function optimally. What kids get instead are organized activities directed, mediated and supervised by grown-ups.
According to Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range parenting movement and president of LetGrow (an organization that helps communities foster free play), and other experts, all of this is to our kids’ detriment.
Yet every parent we’ve spoken with about this has, in actuality, let go of the fantasy of offering their own kids the freedoms they themselves enjoyed as children. Perhaps experiences like author Kim Brooks’—in which she was charged with a crime for leaving her four-year-old son alone in the car (on a cool day, with the windows cracked and the alarm on) for a few minutes so she could buy batteries at a store mere feet away—deter us all from letting go.
We reached out to Skenazy to ask how exactly we can build downtime into our kids’ lives, given our current parenting culture. How can we give kids the freedom to play while keeping them safe and avoiding, oh… arrest? (That is, unless you live in a free-range state.) Here, her insights and advice.