How to Survive Your Child's Day Off

To help children develop a better sense of time, we must begin by designating certain days as unstructured “practice” days.

It’s every child’s dream: to wake up to a foot of unexpected snow with more on the way. The phone rings and the announcement is made: there’s NO SCHOOL today!!!

As exciting as these days-off are for kids, there’s a special kind of anxiety they can bring to the hearts of parents. A long, unstructured day at home isn’t always the magical, Pinterest-worthy experience we hope it will be. Often, unstructured days turn into expressions of “I’m bored!”, sibling bickering, and the eventual resignation to hours of screen time.

For children, these outcomes often stem out of an undeveloped sense of time. Thankfully, we can help our children develop their sense of time, enabling them to more fully enjoy the unstructured days that lie in their future.

To help children develop a better sense of time, we must begin by designating certain days as unstructured “practice” days.  Try to find at least one day a month, whether it’s a weekend day or a holiday, in which there are no activities, camps, museum trips, family parties, etc., for at least six hours of the day.


When that day arrives, approach it as your child’s day.  This is a day in which he will have the opportunity to embrace his schedule, filling it with all the things he wants to do.  Too often, parents emphasize the need to be on time for events that matter to them. For your child to better understand how time feels, the day will need to belong specifically to him.

When your child wakes up on the morning of a practice day, take out two pieces of paper.  On the first, make a two column chart: “What I have to do” and “What I want to do.”  In the “Have to Do” section, list out the basics: brushing teeth, eating lunch, etc.  In the “Want to Do” column, help your child come up with lots of ideas of how he might spend his time during this day.  The only requirement is that the list has to be made up of simple, everyday activities.  In other words, you won’t be taking him to an amusement park or out to a movie. However, be sure to include a couple of activities that might be fun to do with parents, like playing a game or taking a walk.

On the second piece of paper, list the hours of the day in 15, 20, or 30 minute increments. If this is the first time your family is doing this, you should discuss and record all the “Have to Do” items into the schedule at appropriate intervals.  Then, you’ll continue to fill in the rest of the time increments until the entire day is filled with activities.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Isn’t this a bit regimented for a day off?”  The answer? Nope!  The important thing about this schedule is not forcing your child to stick to it.  In fact, the goal is the opposite: his schedule will give him a sense of how to fit all the awesome things he wants to do in one day.  If he gets really engaged in something, there’s no reason he can’t skip over something else in the “Want to Do” category and continue on with his current activity.  The schedule will help him begin to gain a sense of what time feels like.

Occasionally practicing these “unscheduled” days will help your child develop a more defined understanding of time, enabling him to truly enjoy and appreciate unexpected free time when it occurs.

In the end… you may find you and your child enjoying a “Pinterest-worthy” day-off after all!


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