The pleasantly warm days of summer were trickling in as they always do in June and that particular day, June third, was the last day of school for my four kiddos. I picked them up and headed to Chick-fil-A for sweet tea because, being from the south, that’s how we celebrate last days of school. Everyone had plans for the summer, big plans, and I remember they were all chattering about them at once.
Then, I swear, on that JUNE THIRD driving down I-25, it started to snow. No, not snow, I mean blizzard. It started to white-out blizzard so hard we couldn’t see three feet in front of us. Being our first summer in Colorado, it could have been raining literal cats and dogs for the way our eyes were bugging out. So we did what any car full of kids inching through dumping snow on the last day of school would do, we threw up our hands and began a chant-yell, “First day of summer! First day of summer! First day of suuuuummer!”
First days of summer can make you dance with joy or throw-up with anxiety, depending. Right? Our kiddos come home, thunk backpacks to the floor, clunk shoes off their feet, grab up controllers for rounds of Mario-Kart and we are thinking, “What now? Is it going to be Mario-Kart all summer?” At first we say no, no way, this summer they are going to have “productive activities”, because we learned these words from our parents and we hear them loud and clear. But we are tired, and it’s been a long day and we can think of not one productive thing to do. So, we sit down because a few more minutes of Mario-Kart won’t hurt. For days. We do this for days until our parent’s words get the best of us and guilt starts slinking its slimy way into our brains. Then we enroll them into camps and lessons and races and stuff that keeps us running and ragged but at least they are doing “something”, and all the while we are not giving them one single damn thing that they really need. Things like fun, and play, and forming a tribe with the rest of the family and bonding with you.
Guess what? I have two magic words that are going to make your summer the best you’ve ever had…DO LESS. Just DO LESS. Doing less is way cheaper and way better for everyone. Our kids, their generation and in this nation, are completely stressed. Even if we don’t know the stats, we see the stress in their attitudes and fatigue and tight little faces. Truth is, WE couldn’t keep up their schedules or handle their worlds without going a bit bonkers.
So, here’s what you do – hang out. Be around each other doing something or nothing in-particular and give the magic time to happen. I mean, what great relationship do you have that wasn’t formed except by a bunch of hanging-out?
When we think about so much down time with our kids though, we wring our hands and our heads explode a little because what in the world will they do? Well, I don’t know exactly, but that’s when you use the second two magic words. GO PLAY. Maybe they will play outside. Maybe they will explore or read or pull out Monopoly. Maybe they will teach the dog tricks, pluck on the guitar, terrorize the cat or maybe even create something fabulous. I do know this, the words “go play” unlock worlds of creativity and thought, but before much at all happens they are gonna get bored and you are gonna hear about it. DON’T FIX THIS. Letting kids be bored is a thing they NEED. Boredom is the mother of all really cool imaginations and, when they fix boredom themselves, their imaginations fly; imaginations that will make their later lives work, and their grown-up jobs work and their one-day-very-own families work too.
My mom sent us kids outside on summer days and told us not to come back until dark. She wasn’t being abusive or neglectful. We were safe and when left to ourselves we built forts and played kick ball and caught turtles. We worked out our own fights and made up our own games. It was the best thing ever. This independent play is so important in child development that now there are play-grounds being built around the country that are filled with old tires, tree-swings and construction materials and parents are not allowed in.
So, here are some ideas. Keep screens off. Putt around the house, cleaning, cooking, reading, working, and when they ask what to do? Say, GO PLAY. Or find a swimming pool or better yet, a creek, take your favorite book, and some snacks, set yourself up in a nice sunny spot. And when they ask what to do? GO PLAY. And at night, after dinner when the trash is out and the dog’s been fed, pull out Apples to Apples and say COME PLAY.