Managing Downtime for Teens at Boarding School

written by: Eagle Hill School
This article will discuss what schools (and students) are doing to proactively manage downtime on campus during the year, a well-known catalyst for problem behaviors, particularly in students with learning disabilities.

In our last blog post on downtime, “Beyond the Beanbag: Residence Life Programming and Why It Matters,” we learned how schools are intentionally creating and cultivating an environment where after-school time is structured to provide growth opportunities for LD students.

More specifically, this post will cover what boarding schools and educators can do to help students effectively manage their unstructured downtime once the bell rings. As we mentioned before, residential programming can’t be random—it needs to follow a set of guidelines or a framework.

Using the curriculum model, there are four main areas in the management of student downtime:

1) Academic Success

2) Cultural Competency

3) Effective Community Engagement

4) Intrapersonal Development

These should serve as the impetus behind all after-school programming.

What Are Schools Doing?

Beyond the theoretical and more academic analysis of this type of work, parents are often curious about the actual execution and implementation. We’ve compiled a few examples below (there are many more) that showcase how schools are intentionally and effectively managing student downtime for children affected by learning disabilities.


Most boarding schools offer a wide variety of different clubs and extracurricular activities that students can get involved in. While it may seem like a given, it’s important to note that this wasn’t always so flexible. Historically (and it is still the case with many traditional boarding schools) students were required to play a sport after classes. While this might be an effective outlet for some, we know that not all kids love sports or competition. Schools have increasingly come around to allowing their students to take part in things that interest them. This is a far more effective way of keeping students occupied and out of trouble than forcing them to do something they don’t really enjoy.

We see this theme even more profoundly with students who have learning disabilities. Often, they have been marginalized before by being forced into an activity they don’t enjoy or feel comfortable partaking in. is crucial in getting them involved in a school’s clubs and other social activities.


While some kids will show zero desire to play a sport at school, many find various seasonal sports not only a fun way to de-stress, but a valuable lesson on teamwork and camaraderie. Being part of a larger whole can be an extremely positive experience for students. Further, the level of commitment that some teams require is an effective way at managing downtime once classes are over.

Eagle Hill intentionally weaves education and exercise together in our SPARK program. The positive effects that exercise has on the brain, and thus on learning, are well documented and should be a part of any student’s high school experience. SPARK allows our students to reap these benefits without needing to join a team or play a sport they have no interest in.

Community Outreach and Volunteering

Some volunteer programs may essentially be clubs, as described above, but many are more independent or one-on-one. Students can get involved with volunteer work that can range from helping give care at a nursing home, to working with conservationists outdoors. It’s up to students and their advisors to determine what the best fit is and work the volunteering into their schedules.

Final Thoughts

Students, their parents, and advisors should all have thoughtful conversations with one another about what type of after-school activities are best for the student. Rewarding and engaging activities will be far more effective in keeping a child occupied after school than something that is forced upon them. Boarding schools have become increasingly aware of this and many are now not only flexible about these alternatives, but encourage them.

What is Learning Diversity About?

Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

The contributors of Learning Diversity come together to engage our readers from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and mathematics, athletics, and residential life. Embracing learning diversity means understanding and respecting our students as whole persons.

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Eagle Hill School

An innovative approach to LD education in a classic New England boarding school environment, where diverse learners achieve success.