Go ahead, kids. Lie in the grass. Study the clouds. Daydream. Be lazy. You have our permission.
I feel sorry for today’s kids. Summer comes, they’re finally free from school—and bang!Band camp. Science seminars. Internships.
Instead of downtime, it’s get-up-and-go time. Chorus travel, archaeological digs, dance tours. My nephew from Michigan flew to Georgetown University for a summer medical program, replete with cadavers. He was 16.
He’s hardly alone. Some kids fill their summers with so many prep courses that they’re ready to graduate from college by the time they get there. It’s all very admirable, but here’s a question: Why so busy?
I can make the case for doing nothing all summer. That’s right. Nothing. I know it won’t advance your kids’ career objectives or improve their SAT scores.
But it might be good for them.
When I think of my childhood summers, I remember lying in the grass, hands behind my head, feeling the blades dig into my fingers. I studied the clouds. I joked with my friends. None of us wore watches.
Weekdays were indistinguishable from weekends. I’d wake up when my eyes opened, read comic books over bowls of -cereal, go outside with my baseball glove (just in case a game broke out), and find something to do—oil my bike, make things in the garage. Was it lazy? By today’s standards, maybe. But there was a freedom that today’s kids don’t enjoy. We sat on curbs. We daydreamed. Think about the word. “Daydream.” It means your imagination wanders while your eyes are open.
What kid has time for that today? Preteens are on travel soccer teams. They fly to faraway cities. Play tournaments. Isn’t that what pro players do?
Likewise, camps chew up the summer months, but they’re no longer just softball and swimming. There are fashion camps. Circus camps. Science camps. Achievement is emphasized.
Even kids at home find their free time under scrutiny. Some children are made to adhere to playdates as if keeping a doctor’s appointment. (By the way, the closest I ever came to a “playdate” was when my mother opened the door on summer mornings and said, “Go. Don’t come back until supper.”)
We need to lighten it up. Sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Sure, camp can be fun, and travel ball is exciting, but if we cram in activities from the last day of school to the first, we’re ignoring an important fact: The way kids work during the academic year—honestly, you’d think homework was a full-time job—a mental break may be needed. These are young minds, young bodies. Replenishing the juices by kicking back is not a bad idea. And if not in childhood, then when?
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “If we don’t enroll our kids in an activity, all they’ll do is text. Or watch TV (and text) or talk on the phone (and text).”
Well, you could prevent that. You could take away the cell phone, the iPod, the Nintendo. Then see if you can get your kid to do four things in a day:
1. Have a face-to-face conversation with a friend.
2. Read something.
3. Build something.
4. Get wet. A pool. A hose. A sprinkler. Whatever.
That’s really enough. Before you can blink, it’s the school year again, where every day is jammed with sports, AP classes, student government, and field trips.
That’s fine for September. But if September is no different from June, July, and August, then we’re doing something wrong. And our kids are missing something precious.