Letting Kids be Kids
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t make specific plans for my summers. Except for the usual trip to Granny’s house, summers were left wide open to whatever my imagination—and that of my siblings and friends—could come up with. Were my summers boring? Never.
Mornings were spent catching bumblebees and butterflies, making mud pies to bake in the sun, digging for earthworms and riding bikes. Afternoons could find us having a tea party or picnic in the backyard, picking blackberries so Mom could make a pie for dinner, selling cups of Kool-Aid or playing in our above ground pool. Evenings were spent having family dinner on the patio followed by a game of badminton, red rover or freeze tag. On special evenings, Dad announced that we were going for milkshakes. But before we left, he would send us out to the yard to look for a four-leaf clover. Whoever found one got French fries with their shake.
Sure, we had chores to do. And we did do work before play. But when I look back on those summer days, I look back with nostalgia. There was something magical about them, and they seemed to last forever.
Now days many parents feel that their kids’ summers are too busy and go by in a flash. When I had my own daughter, my husband and I had decisions to make about her summers. Living in a small town full of professionals, sometimes I felt outside pressure to have my child super-excel at an early age. Many of her friends were involved in costly private music, art or sports lessons.
We ultimately decided to be balanced. We wanted our daughter to take advantage of opportunities to meet new friends and improve her skills. So there were summers when she took different two-hour sports camps and group music lessons, and she always attended Vacation Bible School. I think these helped her grow socially and physically. But when I asked our now 17-year old this morning, “What are your favorite summer memories as a kid?” She answered, “All the playing in our backyard…my little swimming pool, sandbox, fort and sprinkler.”
These provided so much more than what they were. Her swimming pool was a place where Barbie trained dolphins; her sandbox built a small town; her fort was a schoolhouse where she taught her dolls; and her sprinkler was a waterfall to jump through.
Child psychologist Susan Linn wrote in her book, The Case for Make Believe that “Children learn through playing, through active exploration that feeds their imagination, not by always having others organize the world for them." 1
So as you look ahead to your children’s summer, consider giving them time to play. Time to be a pirate or a princess, a vet or a ventriloquist, a nurse or a navy seal, a baker or a banker, a teacher or a trucker, a scientist or a sheriff. And someday they will look back with nostalgia, too.