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Free range vs. scheduled activities: What's better for children during the summer months?

Posted at 8:30 PM, May 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-16 00:29:40-04

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DENVER -- The school year is ending so now is the time for parents to do their homework and figure out what is the best way for their children to spend the summer.

Do you fill the summer with scheduled activities like day camps, classes and trips? Do you throw routine out the window after a jam-packed, hectic school year?

Denver family therapist and parent coach Kerry Stutzman suggests the first thing you do is adjust your expectations about what summer will actually look like. 

"Parents have these fantasies that everybody else is having this happy, sweet summer of days gone by.  But the reality is, parents are stressed and tapped out and their kids are fighting and they're not sure what to do to manage the chaos," Stutzman said. 

If you have the resources, there are countless camps and classes. But a successful summer doesn't require money. The Denver Metro is spilling over with low-cost or no-cost things to do. The City of Denver alone has 200 parks.   

Stutzman recommends establishing some kind of routine during the summer. It doesn't have to be strict, but she says kids respond better to some type of structure.

But there's an alternative to summer vacation that does not require structure or a day full of scheduled activities. 

There is a school of parenting known as Free Range Parenting that argues kids really need to be allowed to explore on their own, unsupervised. And that there should be little to no scheduled activities in the summer when kids' school year is so hectic and jammed.

Child psychologist Dr. Gail Gross, a proponent of the Free Range approach, writes, "Summer freedom can alleviate some of the stress that may have built up throughout the rest of the year."

Two of the most troubling words for any parent is, "I'm bored." 

Stutzman recommends parents put solving "I'm bored" on the children instead of the parents. Use that as a cue to encourage kids to come up with something interesting to do.