How carefully do you structure your kids' summer activities? Do you take advantage of summer days to schedule as much fun as possible, or do you let time slow down?
Our summers as kids were largely unstructured. Okay, totally unstructured. The months leading to September would stretch ahead in a vast expanse of possibilities. The long, hot days meant hours spent in the backyard playing “cook” with muddy bowls and twigs, asking dad to hook up the sprinkler, riding around to see whose driveway had the pileup of bikes that meant that’s where our friends were, slurping ice pops, and waiting for the fireflies to show up. We didn’t go to camp, we didn’t have sports practice, or instrument lessons, or enrichment classes. We had time.
I won’t say we never got bored. I can remember sitting with my brother, drawing sticks through the dusty dirt underneath our swingset, wishing we had someplace to go and something to do. And I won’t wax on about how “necessity is the mother of invention” or how “it’s okay to be bored”. Some days that boredom was as oppressive as the heat.
As a mom, I am often struck by how often the word balance seems to be the only solution to so many worries and problems that take hold in my mind. I live in a town where most kids are presented with schedules of pre-booked, prepaid summer fun. We have every camp under the sun, from swimming to engineering, and for working parents I get the necessity of childcare. I also get the concern over the “summer slide,” although I think that kids deserve a break from academics for a little while. I understand the pressure parents feel to keep their kids entertained and active and social.
But as I type this, my kids are in the den playing school. The oldest just walked the younger two through telling the difference between the long i sound and the short i sound, and then they switched to art class where the middle one explained how to fold a piece of paper to make a kite. They laughed together over an Elephant and Piggie book, and the teacher made sure the little one took a potty break. They have been at it for over an hour, which is why I’m at my computer right now.
I am continually amazed (and I cringe at the overuse of that word, but I need to use it here) at how much they do when left to their own devices. They didn’t ask what we were doing today when they woke up. I didn’t have to get them dressed and out the door. We don’t need to be anywhere.
But as I sat here listening to my daughter ask comprehension questions after reading to her little brothers, she put me to shame. I’m their mother and an English teacher, and I should be scheduling time to make sure I do that. I should be creating activities and opportunities for them and making sure they are engaged. But what they are doing in the den right now is the ripple effect of the school year. There, they receive structure, enlightenment, social interaction. They admire their wonderful teachers. And now they are embracing those elements through freeplay. I don’t need to interfere; good work is being done. All they need is space and time.
So I’m not feeling so guilty about sitting here with my coffee. Or about not scheduling anything to do today. That’s not to say I don’t feel the pressure to do all the things. I do. The planner in me made a list and you can bet that things like waterparks and festivals are on it.
I also want us to experience the feeling of slow time together. I want the lazy river days of summer, the days that take us where they will, to hold their own among those days on the calendar that have writing on them. And I want to trust that my kids will reveal to me what they need. Today they are happy. Today they don’t need any of those things on my list, but that trip to that museum, those playdates and craft projects will be there for a day when just hanging out isn’t going to cut it.
I suppose what I’m getting at is that if we live with the seasons, and recognize seasons of life, we are more in tune with what we need. Right now it is time to relax, to reflect, to relish the freedom of sixty or so summer suns. Right now my kids are little, and their little imaginations provide so much of what they need without the overload of an amusement park each day. We can pack our days with activities and pack our bags with itineraries. Or not. Summer gives us time.
Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this was the first real time of freedom and living; this was the first morning of summer.
- Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine