I am writing this from home because it is a snow day. There are four or five inches of snow already on the ground, and it is near-blizzard conditions. Seems to me like the perfect time to think about SUMMER. Without dating myself too much, my fondest memories of June, July, and August involve long days with not a lot to do—maybe catching up with a friend, maybe riding bikes here and there, probably some games of one sort or another with neighborhood kids—whiffle ball, pick-up basketball, tennis. I spent a lot of time with my brothers and a bit of time reading. One summer, I went to sleep-away camp. If there was a theme which united it all, it was that it was my job to keep myself busy and make it fun.
The benefits of long, lazy days
I’m certainly not suggesting that this is the way summer must be for all Colorado Academy students. In so many ways, the idle hours were a privilege, because my family did not need me to work to make ends meet. The money I made through summer jobs and our lawn mowing business was mine to spend as I chose. Still, what I learned about imagination and making my own entertainment was invaluable. Sometimes, I worry that there is a lot of pressure on parents these days to engineer summer experiences that are “rich” and “educational” which could come with a “cost,” a cost in quiet time with family, or oneself, or in the benefits which accrue to children because they experience a certain amount of boredom. Yes, boredom.
There is good research out there today about the benefits of boredom for young people. Getting unplugged and then having to be creative about what it is they want to do was at one time a rite of passage for kids, and now it seems be endangered. The gift of downtime often leads young people to be uncomfortable at first and then, out of necessity, creative about what it is they want to make happen. In those unstructured times, kids wrestle with making their own “joy.” This will look different for each child, but it can be an important skill to develop if our goal is to send out into the world self-directed and self-reflective young people.
A recipe for summer
There is no recipe for a “perfect” summer. If I were to write one, however, it would look something like this:
A quarter cup of time with family
Two teaspoons of organized activities—something that the child truly loves
8 ounces of free reading
More than a dollop of boredom
Optional: summer travel, camp, or other experience of one sort or another
Summer provides a chance to recharge and to remember who you are and that you are good at many things. The school year is fantastic; it is filled with opportunities, challenges, and growth, but so is summer, when parents can slow it down and give their kids the chance to be kids.