I enjoyed a Doonesbury cartoon (by Gary Trudeau) a couple of years ago. It showed two mothers waving goodbye to their children on a school bus, on the first day of school. One turned to the other and said something like"Whew! It's a relief to have school start again. What with the French and drama camps, the music workshops, the tennis lessons, and the play dates, I'm exhausted."
When the other mother is silent, the first asks, "So what did Joanie do this summer?"
The other mother shrugs, "Nothing much. She messed around in the creek, built a tree fort, and played with the dog."
The first mother stares at her open-mouthed, and then comments, "Well, I guess technically that's not child abuse."
And Joanie's mother comments wryly, "That was my thinking."
Unfortunately, too many parents are more like the first than the second. Not content to fill every moment of the school year with productive activities planned to ensure their children's success, whether in academics, sports, or social life, they carry over the scheduling to the lazy, hazy days of summer.
Perhaps this is a reflection of their own frenetic and competitive lives, with so little room for down time. Perhaps it is the over-participation and over-involvement in children's lives, so accepted today, that leads to micromanagement of kids' time, both summer and school-year.
Whatever the motivation, this over-scheduling is not to anyone's benefit--notice the first mother's complaint of her own exhaustion.
Think, for a minute, of your own memories of summer vacation, time free from homework routines, with the long days extending for play past the dinner hour. No matter where you lived, my guess is that you remember time hanging around with friends, time spent inventing games and activities, and time spent exploring the outdoor world.
What's more, this was a time when the direct involvement and supervision of adults was more distant and relaxed. This is time when children can be the authors of their own lives, rather than living a life someone else wrote for them. In your memories, there were probably times of boredom as well, times when the games seemed too stale, the freedom even too much. Perhaps parents over-schedule kids because they fear hearing the complaints of "having nothing to do."
On the other hand, how will children learn to create, entertain themselves and solve their own problems if we don't allow them to have down time and empty spaces in their lives, to consider how they really want to fill their time?
Being bored is terrific motivation to initiate, to dream, to plan, to shape one's own destiny. Parents who have over-planned and over-structured their children's lives may expect that their children will have particular difficulty when left to their own planning. But this is a time to bite the bullet and let them try.
The gift of time is something all of us need to learn about, and some unstructured summer time is an important gift to give to your children.
Marcia Arpin continues to write and illustrate several articles for newsletters, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites each month. Do you need Marcia's great ideas to enhance you publication? Email her today: email@example.com
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