My social media is flooded with photos of kids I knew as babies, grinning from ear to ear beneath their tasseled caps, ready to leap into what’s next.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Graduation season also heralds the arrival of that most anticipated moment – the last day of school. Is there any feeling so wonderful as the possibility of a languid summer stretching out before you?

If you are a parent, you might also be feeling a small stab of panic.

How to fill the days until autumn rolls around? How to keep your child learning and on track to make up for the losses brought about by COVID? How to be sure your child has the intellectual stimulation needed to reach their full potential?

Well, if I may pose a counterpoint … what if you didn’t?

Obviously, someone has to be caring for kids and making sure they are safe and well-fed. Bedtimes, brushed teeth, all of these matter.


There are also a lot of really great programs in which kids can participate. One quick look at the website of the Brunswick Parks and Recreation Department shows a whole summer calendar’s worth of tempting choices. Local libraries such as Curtis Memorial have many free, great summer programs as well. All of these are wonderful, and you should join if that’s what works for you.

I’m just saying there is value in the unstructured summer, too. In the hours spent high up in a tree reading a book all by your lonesome; in grabbing a tarp and creating your own fort in the backyard with friends; in finding a quiet spot all your own and hunkering down with a stack of paper and markers; in creating maps; in long walks with the dog; in being bored.

A lot of that list came from my own childhood, so you’re forgiven for dismissing this as yet another back-in-my-day moment. But there is research behind it as well.

The mental and cognitive benefits of unstructured play have been known for a long time. Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget and all the other bigwigs of educational theory stress this. It’s the foundation of the entire Montessori system of education. What we learn from the data time and time again is what we already know in our hearts: If you want a healthy grown-up, let the kid play.

Unstructured play is messy. It lacks focus, it lacks “purpose,” and it doesn’t often yield a product you can hang on the fridge. There are no standardized tests.

However, we know this is where the critical stuff happens. In addition to the neurobiological need to “reboot” the system for better performance, unstructured play actively teaches emotional regulation, builds self-confidence and allows for creativity and problem-solving. It creates space for what educational guru Eleanor Duckworth termed “the having of wonderful ideas.”

Goofing off is important stuff.

What if this summer, in addition to the things you can’t quite let go of (and, honestly, there are some great day camps), you stocked up on some cornstarch, maybe some food coloring, a bunch of paper and markers, worked in a weekly trip to the library for books, and left some fort-building materials lying around?

Let boredom happen and see what comes out the other side.

Comments are not available on this story.