A few days ago my daughter, Beth, sent me a video. The caption said, “So the neighbor kids showed up with this ‘boat.’” The word boat was in quotes. The so-called boat consisted of four blue, plastic, 55-gallon drums and some boards. It was held together with ropes. I have no idea where they got the drums, boards or rope.

It took some doing and at least six children to get the thing into their pool. They figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t easy to stand up on the contraption but they had fun trying.

A day or so later there was another video featuring the “boat.” This time they had some kind of wagon to haul it. The new caption was, “The ‘boat’ has evolved.” It looks more like a raft than a traditional boat.

They have big plans for their creation. Tests are completed in the backyard pool. I don’t think the creek they usually play in is wide enough for it. Apparently there is a pond somewhere close that I have never seen and that is where they intend to sail it.

At any given time there were a half dozen or more kids in the backyard. They were different ages and abilities. They were all involved in the creation and testing of the watercraft. I didn’t recognize most of them. When they got tired of dealing with the boat they decided to play ball.

I’m not sure what game they were playing other than to say it was some kind of baseball. It looked like the rules were vastly different than those of the traditional game.

The reason I am telling you this is not only that I am proud of their endeavors, but that I firmly believe that kids need unstructured time. My grandchildren all have sports or other organized activities. But it is in their down time that they really learn.

The boat project teaches so much more than just how not to build a boat. They are learning to work together, and they learn that they all have something to contribute. I imagine a little math gets thrown in along with research and other subjects that they don’t realize they are learning.

Schools seem to have shorter and shorter summer breaks. Teachers are being asked to teach so much more than in the days when school was a matter of sticking to reading and writing and ‘rithmetic.

Children need down time — so do teachers. It takes time for children to put to use what is being taught in school. It takes time to realize which house is safe to go to and which to avoid. It takes time to figure out where the snacks are stored in a neighbor’s kitchen. It takes time to build a boat and to know that the neighbors have a pool where they can see if it will float.

A long time ago, when summer lasted forever, my two brothers decided to make a raft. They cobbled some wood together and floated it in Twin Creek. They made it to Ithaca before it fell apart. They had to walk the 5 or 6 miles back home.

I don’t think that the grandchildren and their friends will get that far from home. My point is that they need time for unstructured play. Would either my brothers’ raft or my grandkids’ boat have been built if their downtime had been scheduled down to the minute? Probably not.

I am eagerly awaiting the next picture of the boat. Will it be abandoned or will it be topped by happy kids who built it themselves? Only time will tell.