This past Sunday I was perusing through Parade magazine when I came across an article by Mitch Albom about how today’s kids have over-scheduled summers. Albom actually stated that kids should experience some boredom during the summer (it gets the imagination flowing) and that they should be in charge of finding and creating their own things to do. After I read it I thought;
“Finally! Maybe I’m not so mediocre after all!”
Because this summer our family has done absolutely nothing. By “nothing” I mean we haven’t gone to Atlantis, taken a plane anywhere, and haven’t gone on any trips requiring me to attach our broken luggage carrier to the roof of our van. Only one of my children attended a summer camp, and no one was signed up for lessons of any kind. I have scheduled play dates on the fly. My children have had ample time to use their imagination and be bored. Or just be bored. I’m agreeing with Albom. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I have done stuff with the kids, just not stuff they view as summer-acceptable. Since the first day of July I have required my oldest two children to read and practice their instruments for thirty minutes each and every day before they hang out with friends. While the squeaks and toots from the trumpet and clarinet can be hard to take at 9:00 in the morning, I tended to be outside during this time. My son has read three books—even finishing his school “required” summer reading by the end of July. My daughter is on her second book as well. My children view reading a bit like they view shots at the doctor’s office—something extremely painful that must be avoided at all costs – so you know what I’m dealing with!
I also instituted a “no technology” moratorium between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. I know. I’m a horrible mother. But I knew with an unstructured summer, my children would be attached to TV, video games, and the computer quicker than flies on picnic potato salad. They had all day to find something to do. Use their imagination. Make something up. Figure it out.
I’ve taken them to the beach three times, picked blueberries with my four-year-old (the others flatly refused this outing), we’ve gone to the movies (we never go to the movies) and we’ve gone swimming. My middle daughter has learned to bake from scratch and has crafted away the hours with yarn and a hot glue gun. I taught my son how to make scrambled eggs and do the laundry. He also mows the grass and has a small side job cleaning the neighbor’s pool, which has provided him a little jingle-money.
Admittedly, the hardest one to keep busy has been my youngest who wants to play with me incessantly and has now taken to hanging onto my clothes and arms. She has a toy room full of options—a dollhouse, magnetic board, pretend kitchen, you name it—and still manages to complain and whine about being bored. Which has sent me veering right into the wine rack at about 4:45 p.m., I’m not going to lie. Maybe next summer I’ll find a camp just for her.
Now I understand not every family can have a laid-back-no-plans-summer. Many parents both work and need to schedule and structure their children’s time precisely because they aren’t home. I get it. And while I need time to work from home, physically I’m here. I’m sure my kids are wishing for me to get a full-time job I have to drive to; just so I’m forced to let them do something.
I am kind of itching to go on a small family road trip, maybe take a long weekend so we can spend time together as a family. It would be a tiny break from these same walls and heck, I wouldn’t have to prep a meal for a few days at least! Going on a mini-vacation would also give my children something to write about, say on the first day of school when every class in the entire nation is journaling about, “What I did this summer.” It would give them something more to say than, “Nothing.” We don’t have plans in the works yet, but I’m thinking about it. More importantly, I’m putting my children’s imagination to use by letting them dream about it.
The best part of our no-plans summer has benefitted me most. It always seems to be the moms that plan and pack, arrange and organize trips, and since we haven’t gone anywhere, I’ve been mostly stress-free. I’m not constantly washing laundry to place in suitcases or washing dirty laundry from a trip completed; I’m not up and down the attic stairs gathering bags for toys and bags for toiletries and bags for beach towels. I’ve actually completed projects that have been on my to-do list for months; painting the kids play house, hanging picture frames on my downstairs living room wall, giving my son’s room a mini-makeover. I’ve kept up with my garden this year, have made blackberry jam, and have had time to focus on my work. It hasn’t always been easy or without whining and complaining (mine and my children’s) but it has been productive in its own way.
Maybe my kids have used their imagination during all this down-time or maybe they haven’t. Maybe they’ve sat there on the lawn staring at each other, cursing my name, and creating an unspoken alliance with each other to try and drive me crazy. Some days I feel like that. But at least they are working together, right? Cooperation is a positive outcome, isn’t it?
But how about you? Do you feel that kids are over-scheduled during the summer? Should we be giving them more unstructured time to think and play more? In fact, what are your children doing right now? Share away…
Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at www.eastcoastmusings.blogspot.com. You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.