There’s an automobile company that has usurped the idea that summer has always belonged to children. As the camera pans across a scene of children in swimsuits running through the sprinkler or standing by their bicycles I can’t help but remember my own summer days of childhood. Being outdoors from sun-up to sun-down, playing baseball with neighborhood friends, hanging out at the town pool, catching lightning bugs…I could go on and on.
We live in a different world today, filled with fear for the safety of our children, and I can’t help but wonder if they will have similarly cherished memories when they are grown because to think that they might not is terribly sad.
We can make sure they do. Children need unstructured time to daydream, to invent, and to pretend. They learn important lessons when they have to answer to their peers and settle their own disagreements. They develop strong bodies when they ride bikes, jump rope, climb trees, toss a ball, swing a bat, or dangle by their knees from the monkey bars. Social skills emerge as they gather friends to build tents out of old bedspreads, organize a “secret” club, or invent games of their own.
Gone are the days when parents think nothing of waving them out the door in the morning and not seeing them again until lunchtime but there are still many opportunities you can provide.
Perhaps their free play is limited to your back yard or a trusted friend’s home but the single most important thing you can do is watch from the kitchen window rather than sitting in the yard overseeing their every move. Squabbles will happen – don’t jump in to settle them until you see possible physical harm hovering.
Provide the props – old bedspreads, monkey bars, sprinklers, and refreshments – but let the children find out that “boredom” can be solved by inventiveness.
Let them make their own social arrangements instead of always setting up “playdates.” The goal is to raise children who are self-sufficient, confident, happy, and resourceful. But that is more challenging when a child comes to believe that the only way they find a friend is to have his or her Mom make the phone call and set up the time and place.
Children can become go-getters and self-starters if we let them develop these skills.
Most children spend a large part of their day in school or camp, so parents are best positioned to provide these other opportunities in the evening and on weekends. In a group setting, children have many activities built in: swim time, arts and crafts, sports, and so on. Use these activities to kick start their free time at home. Go out in the yard and toss the ball around, have them show you how they learned to put their face in the water – and show as much enthusiasm for that as you might for a perfect spelling test or handwriting they bring home from school!
Many parents worry their children will lose the academic skills they have acquired in school and look for workbooks, or tutors, during the summer. It would benefit them to let them find out that their academic talents have “real world” value. Count how many lightening bugs they catch, and for an older child, look up bioluminescence on the computer! Encourage them to build a tent, or find a spot under a bush to enjoy a snack and read a book.
Suggest your child and his or her friends put on a play – based on a book or story they’ve all enjoyed. The porch or perhaps the deck will make a great stage!
As you travel, visit local historical or cultural sites the children might enjoy – they don’t need to spend the whole day in the pool. Collect shells on the beach and try to identify the animals who once lived in them. Help older children learn to be travel savvy – let them hail a cab or check the departure boards. Let your children order their own food at the restaurant and maybe an older child can calculate the tip.
Summer will always be a magical time for children. You can empower your children by letting them find out that they have the power to create their own magic. Children who have that power will seek more opportunities and become the go-getters and self-starters we all hope they will become.