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Incorporating “Unstructured Fun”

By: Misty Boucher

Last week my middle daughter had tryouts for her high school’s field hockey team. There were two required tryout sessions per day, followed by a scheduled Friday scrimmage. We had plans to go out of town for the weekend, but learned of a mandatory Saturday jamboree. I could see the summer quickly disappearing before our very eyes. I felt disappointed on her behalf. She just turned sixteen and spent the majority of the summer in Driver’s Ed and also participated in off-season high school practices and games. With tryouts beginning mid-August, it feels like she hasn’t had much of a summer. To me, it seems like the notion of unstructured fun is becoming extinct.

Like most kids their age, my kids' calendars are filled with commitments. Most parents I talk to agree, expectations for high school students have dramatically increased. Athletes are expected to be available and present for off-season clinics and practices. Even snow days have been converted to “remote learning days.” I can’t help but feel disappointed that our kiddos aren’t experiencing the magical moments that take place when spontaneity is favored. While I appreciate the predictability of a schedule, I want to make sure that we are making time for unscheduled fun. I wondered how I could encourage her to embrace the moments in between the practices and her other scheduled commitments?

I decided to seek expert advice! In short, I turned to the source, the sixteen-year-old herself. I asked her to make a bucket list of activities she would like to do before the start of the school year. I reminded her to consider her proposed practice schedule, as well as her energy level. Her “wish list” was both impressive and expansive. Here are a few of the things she jotted down:

  • Watch the sunrise or sunset from somewhere cool, preferably the beach (which for us is a 55-minute drive)

  • Have an ice cream lunch

  • Watch a movie at the movie theaters

  • Game night with friends (we have these several times a year at my home).

  • Recreating a tik tok food trend

  • Mini-golf (completely forgot how fun this is!)

Encouraging my daughter to create an end-of-the-summer wish list helped us figure out some activities she would enjoy while still honoring her commitments. It’s understandable that as our kids become involved in high school sports and other ventures their downtime will change. For both parents and teenagers it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of enjoying some of the simpler things summer has to offer. Unscheduled “fun” will likely help make the scheduled commitments feel less daunting and hopefully ease the transition from summer to school.


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