Give Your Kids Unstructured Social Time and Watch Their Ability to Connect With Others Flourish

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social time


Socialization and Human Connection are not Synonymous

Moving from a small town to a big city changed what kinds of activities were available to us as homeschoolers.

Where we came from, the only things available were unstructured playdates and mom’s coffee nights. It was wonderful.

Moving to a big city meant there were so many structured options that I spent a year, frozen in decision fatigue, because I was overwhelmed with facing so many options. And because I couldn’t find a play group. Seriously. No one was consistently meeting for casual play and hanging out.

Yes, there were some co-ops who added play to the end of their structured time, but I didn’t want the structured time, or the high price it would cost to join.

I just wanted to give my kids unstructured time with other kids. While I wasn’t finding this in local homeschool groups, I was finding it in our neighborhood. We live next to the neighborhood pool. The kids play together frequently, and the parents have conversations. It is almost magical.

Why? Because these unstructured times, for both parents and children, create and foster human connection. We can discover and embrace each other during these times. This is not possible when we are operating within highly-structured environments.

I am not saying we don’t need structured environments; I am saying that, without a balance of structure and lack of structure, we are missing something vital.

And I think, as homeschoolers, we can fall into this trap of too much structured time just as easily as our schooled peers.

I think church is a great example of what I am getting at. When, during church, do you connect with other humans? Is it during the structured time of the service? Or during the casual conversation afterwards? I am not suggesting we ditch the service. I am suggesting we embrace the importance of that casual conversation afterwards.

We often mistake socialization as human connection, but learning how to get along, blend in, and stand in line, has nothing to do with human connection. When we learn to connect with other humans, we learn to love everyone…not just those who are the same as us.

We learn that there is a wonderful person across from us, created in God’s image, and yet entirely unique. We learn to honor the uniqueness, both in them and in ourselves. We cannot do this in structured environments.

I could not let go of this need for unstructured social time. I didn’t know why at first, but now I understand; in this unstructured space, parents and children, alike, find human connection.

I don’t feel a need to teach my kids how to stand in line or sit at a desk. I want them learning how to have a conversation, compromising, playing hard without hurting others, negotiating, accepting others where they are, etc.

This is the magic of unstructured social time. It is the thing you cannot get any other way. It is human connection.


Marla Szwast lives in Marietta, Georgia with her husband and six children. She has written articles for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. She is the author of Stepping Through History: Starting With You!, and a semester long fifth grade science course. Both courses are published online at Schoolhouse Teachers membership website. She writes about home schooling, child development, neuroscience, and the history of education on her blog at:, you can also follow her on Facebook @jumpintogenius, or Twitter @MarlaSzwast, or Medium.

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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).