Summertime maybe our most memorable season as it is so short yet so fantastic. As we all muddle through months and months of cold weather, just getting outside is a delicious feeling.
If you are over the age of 30 or so, you may find yourself occasionally waxing about a special summer from years ago. Maybe it was the summer that you got your first car and your first taste of real freedom. Maybe you got your first real job and your own money. Maybe you experienced your first romance with a summer girl or boy from outside the area.
Kids from my generation were free to do whatever they wanted to do as long as they did not get into trouble. Given the fearful perspective of most parents today, what I am about to say may sound unbelievable or even a little crazy. Most days in the summer, kids from my generation got up early, left the house and sometimes did not return to the house until supper, or sometimes not even the depending on what was happening with friends on any given day. We were free to go where we wanted and to do what we wanted, there was no set schedule.
Kids today are experiencing a world that is highly structured and adult dominated. The school year is packed with many activities beyond academic pursuit and those activities now reach into many weekends. I have never agreed with activities during the weekends, I have always believed that weekend should be for family to do things together. I realize that I am in a distinct minority in this belief.
For many kids, summer will simply be an extension of the school year with a tightly packed schedule that leaves little discretionary time. Many kids will go not just one sports camp but several. They will play in adult organized sports, go to summer camp, take swimming lessons, go on family vacation and, in most cases, always under the watchful eye of an adult.
Summer was a time for renewal and rejuvenation at one time and that renewal came from the freedom to make choices. I wonder if children today will experience the interior exploration that comes from unstructured down time. Those down times may include being peaceful and quiet while doing absolutely nothing other than being outside. Free time means no set agenda, no adults hovering nearby and the option to let things unfold as they will.
It seems that the fears of parents in general have been heightened by media portrayals of child abductions and abuse stories. These fears have resulted in parents keeping a much higher level of supervision than I experienced as a child. While no parent could be faulted for wanting to keep their child safe, there may be a way to minimize the loss of freedom. In the structured world where most children operate, adults have set all the ground rules and have made most of the decisions about how kids must behave. When kids have the freedom to operate with some autonomy, they have the chance to practice decision making and negotiating. Children will move at their own pace, discover their own interests and apply the vigor they deem appropriate in the pursuit of those interests. Parents can set play dates at a home where a parent is present but does not intervene in the play unless absolutely necessary. Many communities have playgrounds where kids can come together where an adult could be present but not hovering over the kids but rather watching from a far.
Give your children the chance to experience as much freedom as is possible within your comfort zone. Free play is an important and fundamental experience that all children need.
This summer, have a least a day or two where your child has some free time built in to their schedule to just relax and set their own agenda.
It is summer, take it easy.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at hurlburt@ wildblue.net.