The month of May reminds me that summer is right around the corner. With warmer, longer days come the chance to be outside more. Whether you like to walk, ride bikes, hike, or simply sit outside with a good book, the budding trees let us know that it is “none-to-soon” to give a little bit of thought to the type of summer we are hoping our children experience.
While there is almost no way to have a “bad” summer when you are twelve, there may be ways that we, as parents, can encourage magic to happen. The magic I am referring to is not the product of a “highly engineered” summer. You know, the summer where a child races from one adult-driven activity to the next with little or no pause, or the summer in which each activity is crafted to develop some intellectual capacity or another. While there is obviously a place for this sort of activity, I hope there is also still room for a Huck Finn-type experience, one in which the days stretch long before them with “kid-generated” fun the order of the day.
In this sense, some of our strategizing needs to involve a healthy dose of “un-planning” by checking to be sure that there are significant stretches of the summer devoid of activities, stretches during which any fun to be had is at the discretion of the child. It is on their, not our, shoulders to think of something fun to do. It is their job to think ahead about whether they would like to read a book, call a friend, sit quietly, run excitedly, practice a hobby or play solitaire. Please notice that these activities are dramatically unstructured and dependent upon imagination and kid initiative to happen. Also notice that texting and computer play are not on the docket. This may require creating tech-free times of day or the removal of technology from the playing field completely for days on end.
While we don’t always think about it this way, a prerequisite for summer creativity is boredom. When easy solutions to what to do next (think soccer clinic, music lesson, computer camp or gymnastics competition) are exhausted, and you can’t imagine what to do next and you are tired of sitting around, the magic starts to happen. This is because kids will take on the challenge of making their own fun. For each child this will look different. For some it will be reading voraciously, for others it will be calling a friend and creating a game. No matter what it looks like, the boredom serves as catalyst for the child to take charge of their summer making it their own.
This “my imagination, my summer” aspect of a good time is one of the main reasons why kids enjoy outdoor camps. Surrounded by nature and new friends, there is often a ton of “make your own fun” time embedded with the camp activities. This isn’t rocket science; it’s old school. Put kids together in a natural environment, make “toys” available – a hiking trail, some rocks to climb on, a Frisbee, two old handkerchiefs, and some books – and get out of the way.
Is there a place for F-16 camp, coding enrichment, or French immersion? Sure. These can be wonderful experiences for kids. My hope, though, is that we will also include plenty of down time and make it our job to ignore their pleas for TV or technology to help pass the time. Being out of “text touch” with friends is healthy for the adolescent soul. Ultimately, we want our kids to be self-directed, the makers of their own real and imaginary kingdoms, relationships and self-understanding. Let’s not drown out the time and opportunity for this to happen with “good for you” activities.