top of page

Children’s Downtime: Opportunities for Creativity, Engagement, and Self-Discovery

Child being creative

Downtime: Opportunities for Creativity, Engagement, and Self-Discovery

Some parents are dismayed by the thought of children’s unstructured downtime, envisioning their kids staring at screens or complaining of boredom. Other parents prepare by scheduling or having at the ready a non-stop and full slate of activities designed to keep children’s bodies moving and brains engaged. Still, other parents try to find a middle ground where their kids have enough activities so their muscles and minds continue to work and grow, but with free time mixed in. That happy middle ground may well be where kids learn the joy of creativity, engagement, and self-discovery.

Increasingly, parents are recognizing the importance of imaginative play, exploration, collaboration, creative expression, and invention. Although there’s a place for technology in children’s lives, spending too much time immersed in computer games and on devices can be detrimental. It can encourage lazy habits of mind, where children come to rely on entertainment and activities created by others, instead of creating their own fun and discovering their interests.

What happens when kids are given enough free time to feel bored? As long as they’re also getting ample stimulation, care, and guidance, downtime provides opportunities for them to figure out what they enjoy doing, and what they want to know more about. Other benefits include learning how to manage their feelings, time, behavior, and intellectual focus, all of which are important for achievement and fulfillment in the long run. Kids who spend time making secret hideouts, inventing stories (of genies, forest rangers, astronauts, and circus clowns), and thinking about what to do next, are much more likely to take ownership of their own learning.

Help children open exciting portals—that is, gateways leading to self-discovery and learning, and which precede and enhance development in different areas. Co-create possibilities! Spend time together planning, and having fun. Here are some starting points:

  • Co-create a brainstorming session. Let ideas flow. Think creatively. Make an Ideas Jar, and keep adding to it!

  • Co-create ideas for exploring the natural world. Check out the beauty of the great outdoors—during a drizzle, or when it’s snowing, or windy, or hot and humid, or when the sun rises or sets—and let the senses take over.

  • Co-create plans for an outing. What’s happening at the park or library? Why not organize a trip to parks or libraries in other neighborhoods? Or go on an adventure to a zoo, a conservation area, or a farm.

  • Co-create a home-based science center. A corner with interesting stuff can become a station for spring-boarding enjoyable STEM activities (science, technology, engineering, and math), and for problem-solving in areas such as physics, chemistry, robotics, and more.

  • Co-create an art center. Include odds and ends for pictures, cards, collages, and other works of art. Add glue, colored paper, ribbons, feathers, cardboard, buttons, felt, googly eyes, frames, wool, popsicle sticks, paper clips, lace, cotton balls, scraps of fabric, tin foil, and whatever seems intriguing.

  • Co-create a music-making center for composing and performing. Make instruments out of paper tubes, wax paper, and a rubber band, or with sticks, tiles, wood, plastic, or different-sized pots. Invest in a kazoo, a harmonica, and a recorder. What rattles, rings, clicks, or makes other interesting sounds? Toss those into the mix, too.

  • Co-create a drama center. Fill a carton with stuff for theatrical productions. Scout around for hats, make-up, shoes, scarves, shirts, sheets, purses, gloves, and props.

  • Co-create a designated reading area and a couple of shelves reserved for activity books. Include crossword puzzles, games, sudoku, brain-teasers, treasure hunts, and how-to manuals on topics like drawing cartoons, building birdhouses, gardening, and decorating cupcakes.

Last Words

For all the above, keep activities appropriately challenging, and encourage kids to collaborate, share, and ask questions. Help children welcome downtime as exciting opportunities for creativity, engagement, and self-discovery!


Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a multiple award-winning author of several books. Her most recent is Ignite Your Ideas: Creativity for Kids. To find out about her publications, presentations, and newsletter, and for resources on supporting children’s learning and well-being, go to

Cover photo by Vlada Karpovich

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page