Monday, May 11, 2009

Set Summer Free — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Summer's almost here. And even though the Chicago weather is playing hide and seek with the calendar, it's only a couple of weeks until we dip our toes into the first holiday of the season.

When I was a kid, summer meant one thing: freedom. Freedom from school and schedules, from musts and have tos and right nows. Summer meant playing outside until dark and being able to roam as far from home as we could get, as long as we could still hear our mom call us from the front porch. When I got a little older, summer meant the freedom of riding our bikes to the park for swimming lessons and staying there all day. My mom brought us a picnic lunch and stayed until dinner, when my dad came to play and swim with us until dark.

Summer meant swimming and sprinklers and hours and hours with nothing to do. It meant the freedom to get thoroughly and completely bored. So bored that you would invent things to do. So bored that you would read books without pictures. So bored you would even play with your brother.

But for this generation of children, the freedom of summer has been sold into bondage. The hectic schedule of the school year has already sent its bounty hunters ahead to lay claim to those formerly lazy days. Whole hours and days and weeks have been enslaved by day camps and sleep-away camps, art and music and dance classes, tutoring and swimming lessons. And while I'm sure all these opportunities do provide enrichment, I can't help but think they are also stealing something important from our children.

Shortly after I got married, my 12-year-old stepson spent a week or two with us in the summer. He brought some things to do, but eventually told me he was bored. I said to him what my mother had always said to my brother and me when in that situation: "Why don't you go outside and play?" He looked at me blankly and said: "What do you mean?" Let's see, I thought, "Go outside" — that's pretty clear; "and play" — that seemed pretty straightforward, too. I remember feeling profoundly sad that he had no idea how to entertain himself, even for a brief time, on a beautiful summer day.

By the time I started having my own children a year later, I learned that summer had turned into a world of preplanned, preprogrammed, prepaid, adult-led activities.

My mom didn't drive us all over town for play dates; we played with the kids who lived nearby. She didn't feel the need to register us for every sport and camp. We did one or two things with adults in charge, but mostly we played sandlot baseball and pickup games of Red Rover with the kids in the neighborhood. When we chose our own captains and teams, we learned leadership skills. When we agreed on the rules, we learned to the art of cooperation and team building. Believe me, I'm not romanticizing my youth — I was the last one chosen as often as not, and frequently felt bullied and left out. But I learned things from those experiences and feelings, too.

It's true that I remember reaching a state of profound boredom during the summer, but it didn't happen for weeks and weeks. In addition to stimulating our imaginations and making us responsible for entertaining ourselves, the onset of boredom had the added benefit of actually making us look forward to school. My kids often feel like school has barely ended before it starts up again.

I love summer. I like spending time with my kids. While they have had their fair share of summer camps and activities, I have refused to surrender every minute (and every dollar) of our summer to regularly-scheduled programs. The downside of this, of course, is that even though my kids have had time to play, most of their friends have not been around.

I harbor a secret hope that things may be a little simpler in this summer of recession. I say set summer free! Let's take this opportunity to reclaim some sweet summer independence so we can all get good and bored together. But check back with me in early August. My ideas of summer freedom may feel like a life sentence by then, and I'll probably be singing the jailhouse blues.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. Susan can be found blogging year round at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

1 comment:

Susan Bearman said...

Comments from the original Chicago Moms Blog post:

Sheri said...

Exactly why my kids aren't doing summer school. Sometimes a kid just needs to be a kid.

May 11, 2009 at 06:08 AM

chicago office space said...

Kids are so engulfed in the internet and video games that going outside and playing is almost obsolete.

May 11, 2009 at 08:39 AM

se7en said...

I wrote about this recently because I think it is so sad that in the scheme and the dash "to get ahead" kids just don't have fun anymore... We spent our summers playing: cricket on a local field and chasing each other around a pool to cool off... Now kids have "special summer training" so that they can make the A-team when school starts up. And little kids have lives that are far fuller and more scheduled than their parents: dropped off before their folks get to work and getting collected when their folks are finished their work day! How in the world are they going to grow up to be creative problem solving adults if they have been told what to do every second of every day!!! I am so with you kids need time to be bored and stare into space, they need the space to think and time to create ideas.

If you would like to see our post on "Why kids don't play anymore" then you are welcome to pop over.

May 11, 2009 at 02:44 PM

Tracey B. said...

Oh our summers are FREE. Way free. To the point that it's ridiculous how much free time we have.

And I love it.

I refuse to sign my kids up for anything other than day camp through scouts (1 week and I have to attend 1 day for each boy!) Once or twice we've done a week or 2 of swim lessons, but other than that? We're EMPTY!!!

May 11, 2009 at 03:14 PM

Karen Putz said...

When my kids were younger, I definitely kept our summers free and I was fortunate that two other neighbors did the same so we spent a lot of time together and the kids played together. The oldest is in high school and has a tough summer schedule with football but the younger two still have most of their summer free. It's much harder now for me to find other kids that also have a free schedule.

May 12, 2009 at 05:59 AM

Molly said...

I like that idea. It's a very good one. Although I'd just settle for setting summer weather free, at this point.

May 12, 2009 at 07:39 AM

Carrie Kirby said...

I agree — there is definitely value in boredom. Boredom is the mother of invention! Kid-directed activities are also really important to kids' development and I just hope that my kids get the chance to join in impromptu neighborhood games as they get bigger. Hey, it could happen.

May 12, 2009 at 05:55 PM

Meagan Francis said...

AMEN! I'm bypassing the summer camps, the planned activities and the organized sports this summer, turning off the TV, and setting my boys free. I want them dirty and exhausted at the end of the day. I just hope there are other kids around for them to do it with.

May 13, 2009 at 07:50 AM