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Do you remember being a kid and having your mom kick you out of the house for the entire day during the summer? Playing spontaneous baseball games, creating objects out of nature, and riding up and down the street on your bike over and over again were how you spent your daytime hours. Or maybe you spent your time like me counting mosquito bites, rolling down grassy hills, and leaning against a tree with a good book.
Times have certainly changed. My kids complain if they have to spend 20 minutes outside. But with a little ingenuity and a bit of persuasion, you can help your children enjoy summer the way you did.
1. Pick a Weekly “No Device” Day
Summertime is the perfect opportunity to implement a no-device day. Your kids can’t argue since there’s no homework to be done. One of the reasons you were able to enjoy summer more is that you had only four to five TV channels and most daytime TV was boring.
Getting kids away from the electronic devices includes phones, which is no easy task. Try modeling the behavior yourself so they can see that you’re on board. Your kids need to know that it is OK to live a day without devices and that being bored is actually a good thing. It allows the mind to think creatively about what to do, and allows space for day dreaming and noticing the surrounding environment.
When you’re tempted to check your phone when you’re outdoors, at a park, campsite, or even the pool, remember that you didn’t have that option when you were a kid and neither did your parents.
2. Little Brains Need “Space” to Grow in Other Ways
We have become a society where education is the ultra-important goal for our kids. When we were kids, summer was summer and the kids that had to go to summer school felt it was a punishment. Our parents didn’t push us to keep learning math, science, or grammar during the summer. They let us play. “Play is a child’s work,” stated child educator, Dr. Maria Montessori. Unstructured, unconfined playtime does help a child’s brain to grow.
Just take the example of planning a pick-up baseball game in the field at the end of your street. You literally had to become a CEO of a small organization to make it happen. You had to go knocking on your friends’ doors, ask the adult if Suzy or Johnny could come out to play, plan a spot, pick captains, divide kids into teams, include the little brothers and sisters who could barely hold a bat, designate a referee, set the rules, and play the game.
Doing all of that takes a lot of critical thinking skills, assertiveness, self-confidence, and maturity. These are skills only learned through life experience and not through structured play.
3. Give Them Space
Being a helicopter parent is more prevalent today than ever before. When we were kids, parents mostly left their kids alone to discover the world in neighborhood summertime activities.
You might argue that today’s world is quite different than in the 1970s or 1980s. While you might be afraid for your child’s safety, it’s important to not intervene with every single activity. We have become so used to organizing their team sports, setting play dates, and driving them absolutely everywhere that we tend to give our input on everything.
In a way, it’s good that we’re more involved with our children than our parents may have been. However, it can squelch their autonomy. Even if you must accompany your child to an activity spot for safety reasons, sit back—way back—and let them have their space. Small arguments between kids, conflicts, or even falling in the grass or mulch are good things. They teach a child conflict resolution and how to not make such a big deal out of small things.
4. Give Them Authority
When you do play with them, give them the authority from time to time. In creating a new game or playing a time-treasured board game, let your child set the rules. During the school year, kids are inundated with rules they must follow and at home it becomes much of the same. Summertime play allows a child to safely and creatively be able to test out making the rules and being an authority figure.
For example, my son loves to play Scrabble. The general rule for Scrabble is that once you use a space with a “double letter score” or “double word score,” you can’t reuse it even if you reuse the letter to build another word. He made the executive decision that you could use it and went on to lift the letters to check for the added bonuses with each play. While playing I told him that he couldn’t do that because it was against the rules. He got so angry that he refused to play the game for months. One day, I suggested we play Scrabble and he said, “I’ll only play if we can play it my way.” I figured it was no big deal to include his rule as long as it applied fairly to all players. Allowing him to be the boss and create the game rules made him so happy and made him feel in control for once.
5. Teach Them to Appreciate the Small Stuff Like You Did
Kids love it when you share stories about your childhood. Summer is the opportunity to take them out and show them. Put on some play clothes and take them to roll down grassy hills. Watch the clouds and shout out shapes or pick out constellations in the stars at night. Make hobo pies with your kids over an open fire. Skip rocks into a pond or lake. Think of all the things that gave you happy summertime memories as a kid and help them to experience it all over with you. These genuine bonds will create lasting memories and help you to awaken your inner child.