Monday, May 25, 2015

Fighting to Put the Break Back in Summer

Google “Are kids too busy in the summer?” and you will find a case of polar opposite search results. Many hits will claim we’ve created a group of over-anxious, over busy little people. The others will tell you how to keep your kids busy on a limited budget. The underlying commonality is parental drive to keep children on the go.

As the parent of three girls nine and under I will admit that I enter summer break with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Saying goodbye to alarm clocks and hello to anytime of the day trips to the park, pool, zoo, etc. promises a freedom I long for. Welcoming all day every day family togetherness? Well, any honest parent would admit that requires some extra prayer.

However, it seems our fears that familial peace will prevail combined with our culturally driven message that busy equals better has taken the break right out of summer.

Recently I heard a parent say she wanted her middle elementary daughter to “make some decisions so that she can focus on one thing and excel at it.” My brain waffled with how we ask children who still need reminder to brush their teeth at night to identify their talent that will win them high school letters and college scholarships. The pressure to determine their stand-out gift (under the assumption that they possess one) without falling behind seems to mean activity rigor fresh out of the womb that steals opportunity to simply have fun. Beyond that, it means slave driving success when they have the chance to “get ahead” because they aren’t in school all day.

And it’s more than sports because I’ve received all the pamphlets on church camps, arts camps, academic camps, and the like. Whether the gift is evangelism to be the next Mother Teresa, or painting to be the next Van Gogh, or poetics to produce the next Shel Silverstein, opportunities rain plentiful.

“The experiences we thought kids had to have before high school has moved down to junior high and now elementary. Soon we’ll be talking about leadership opportunities for toddlers.” William Doherty, professor of family studies and director of the marriage and family program at the University of Minnesota, said on interview. 

Now, before you assume I’m some extremist, anti-camp and opportunity, let me assure you that I’m not. Our girls will go to vacation bible school. They will take swimming lessons. They will come to mother-daughter dance class. One will attend her first volleyball camp and one is going to put on her running shoes and blaze down the track. I’m happily penning these opportunities onto our summer calendar because I’m in complete agreement with Alvin Rosenfeld that, “Enrichment activities are perfect. They add a lot to kids’ lives.” I just also agree with his assessment that, “we’ve lost the ability to balance them with down time, boring time.” 

There is need to let our kids be kids. To run through sprinklers and build forts and pick dandelions. They need breathability in their life to decide if they want to shoot hoops in the driveway or go to the library event or see if the swift fox is actually out of his hole at the zoo. They should be able to hang upside down on the couch and read or sit right side up and play a game. They ought to make messes with paint and get smelly in the yard. In the words of clinical psychologist Paula Bloom, “Kids need to know they're not defined by what they do. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.” Furthermore, they need to learn how to make good choices in the midst of free time so they don't make regrettable ones when life offers them unstructured time down the road.

There is a fine line between...

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  1. That balance is so hard to find! I'm a mama of littles and I'm already starting to see it. Apparently, we're not far off from developing leading opportunities for toddlers. I just pray I can find a good balance between the deprived and the overscheduled, as they get older.

    1. Stay in prayer. Intentional is the best we can do, and we can feel good about that.


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