It's New Year's Eve, and the family calendar for the coming year is already starting to fill up like a crowded parking lot. But it doesn't have to be this way. Consider starting the new year off right with a "Slow Down the Family" resolution.

In our fast paced parenting culture, where children's time is often spent in lessons, organized sports, and other structured activities, it can be challenging to do less and trust that our kids will do just fine. But even the doctors are urging us to slow down.

In a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics titled "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Parent-Child Bonds," the authors argue that unstructured play time gives children space to create, reflect, problem solve, and become more resilient human beings.

So how, exactly, do we free up time for our kids and ourselves? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Rethink the family calendar. Take a good look at your current family schedule and all the activities that eat up your time. Rank your priorities and start to consider what you can let go. Invite your kids into this process so that all of you can start to understand how you value your time.
  • One structured activity per child. If possible, try to adopt a One Activity Per Child policy in your family. This means that swimming, music, and foreign language lessons can happen, but not all at once. Such a rule can also help children prioritize and decide which sport or lesson means the most to them.
  • "Schedule" your free time. One of the best ways to ensure free time is to schedule it into your calendar like everything else. For example, if you want your kindergartener to have unstructured playtime two or three afternoons a week, make sure you mark those times in the calendar.
  • Declare family hangout days. If wearing your pajamas until noon on Saturday sounds fun for everyone in your family, make it happen! Establish a traditional weekly hangout day or half day for your family. The main thing is to own your family time and not let anything else encroach upon it.
  • Go outside more often. In this latest book, Last Child in the Woods: Savings Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv urges parents to let their kids roam freely outdoors, where natural spontaneous play and creativity can blossom. Calling for a "nature-child reunion," Louv makes a powerful case for back-to-basics like puddle jumping and mud pies.

Remember, when you leave more time in your family schedule, you also create more space for spontaneity. So clear out that crowded calendar. You never know what your "slowed down" kids will discover in the coming year!