By mid-July, my two children had finally settled into summer. I knew when I got downstairs one morning and saw my nine-year-old son, Ethan, coming through the back door in his bathrobe with raspberries and blueberries he’d picked from the backyard. We went back out and spent some time in the yard together, me sipping coffee and Ethan observing snails munching on our coneflowers.

Carly, who turns eight this month, joined us about an hour later. She’d been reading in bed and was ready for breakfast. As I turned on my computer to start my work day, they were sitting on the patio in the backyard with art supplies, sketching the gladiolas that had just bloomed and chatting happily. Cicadas buzzed in the trees. Ah, summer.

This wasn’t the way things felt in late June, however. In the first couple weeks following school, they both paced a lot. Ethan, especially, had a hard time settling into a new rhythm. By 8:30 each morning, he had already flitted between at least five different activities and was starting to get edgy. “Can I call a friend? Can I play with my iPod? Can you play a game with me? I’m hungry. There’s nothing to do!”

The world of school is so focused and structured. Children move from activity to activity, lesson to lesson, and room to room, with barely time to breathe. Even recess and lunch often feel frantic. And during the school year, even though Heather and I try not to over-schedule, it doesn’t take much before guitar practice, swim team practice, and track practice fill every evening. It’s no wonder that children can have a hard time knowing what to do with “downtime” when they get it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could build more downtime into each school day? In today’s hurried and harried school climate, it’s hard to imagine setting aside time to let students self-direct, but there would be some great benefits. Think of the powerful, important skills they would practice: self-initiative, creativity, self-regulation, and many more!

If you’re looking for something to do in your classroom right away, try starting with having ten minutes of “quiet time” when students return from recess and lunch. (We teach this strategy as part of The Responsive Classroom Course and use it with the adults who take our courses. It is an incredibly effective technique for getting the second half of the day off to a good start!)

Mike Anderson wrote the third, fourth, and fifth grade books in the What Every Teacher Needs to Know K–5 Series. He is also the author of The Well-Balanced Teacher and the co-author of The Research-Ready Classroom.

Tags: Quiet Time, Summer