Esther Cepeda: For July, let kids be kids
CHICAGO -- We're deep into my family's unprecedented “Summer of Lethargy.”
SOL (for those of you who like acronyms) is progressing as anyone might expect. At present count, my youngest son has been in pajamas for a good 42 hours and counting. My oldest hasn't done laundry in at least two weeks. No firm plans have been put into place for anything, with each day oozing unpredictably into the next.
After last year's “Summer of Busy Busy Fun!” (SOBBF doesn't adequately capture the ethos), during which we schlepped through multiple camps, outings, pool time, book clubs, the local amusement park, math worksheets, sporting activities and a too-long vacation that we'd booked before realizing every moment was accounted for, SOL was sorely needed.
In the key transition summer from middle to upper middle school for my younger son and from eighth grade to high school for my oldest, my husband and I were dead set against allowing any sort of summer brain drain to occur.
No siree, Bob, no one in my house was going to blow his crucial beginning-of-year benchmark tests or have a rough start in the fall.
In all, SOBBF was a successful endeavor. Both boys started school in early August—yes, early August!—in a strong position and did well in each of their new schools. They were mentally prepared for the higher expectations and, for the most part, met them. It was like a first marathon taken on with a 30-mile tempo run already under the belt.
The coming school year is a known quantity, however, so the gloves are off. There is a moratorium on screen-time limits, required reading has been temporarily suspended and even music lessons are on hold. The kids are chillin'.
Much has been made lately of unstructured free time for children. In The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey recently wrote “Why Free Play is the Best Summer School,” a paean to the idylls of carefree summers:
“Unscheduled, unsupervised playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we give our children. It is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health. The value of free play, daydreaming, risk-taking, and independent discovery have been much in the news this year, and a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado [on self-directed activities and brain maturation] reveals just how important these activities are in the development of children's executive functioning.”
I agree wholeheartedly, but this sort of “Let the kids roll around Mayberry on their own until the street lamps come on,” is a middle-class-and-up luxury. Highly talkative families with consistent, sustained quality interpersonal relationships and set daily routines can get away with really taking a break over summer without worrying too much about the erosion of skills known in education circles as “summer learning loss.”
It also helps if your family lives in an ultra-safe neighborhood where unsupervised outdoor play is a legitimate option.
But one size does not fit all. There are children for whom no set bedtimes or wake-up times, being out all day or having unlimited access to video games and no reading isn't a treat. It's the norm.
While no one should suggest that all children need to let their hair down, all the way, all summer long, mine won't for much longer because their schools require certain books be read and math packets, which are counted toward their grades, to be completed before the first day of school. Still, we should at least declare July “opposite month” for our kids.
In a perfect world the high-achievers could unwind with some brain-drain time and the ones with few resources, who feel they “never get to do anything” could find an affordable sport, art, craft or story time to take them away from their regular routine of low-quality time-killing.
Recreation—in the true sense of enjoyment, pleasure or leisure—does re-create us and a change of pace does almost everyone good.
Whatever your socioeconomic situation, find a way to give the children in your life something different just for the weeks of July. Make it your special “opposite” time and see if it doesn't make for at least a few good memories.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.