By Laura Reagan-Porras
Ever since Dr. David Elkind, cautioned parents about consequences of loading adult expectations onto children, in his ground breaking book, The Hurried Child released over a quarter of a century ago, parents have suffered from the guilt and anxiety of not measuring up to the fabled balancing act required of modern day parents. In his newer introduction, Dr. Elkind warns that childhood obesity, school violence, media messages through technology and the general commercialization of childhood are redefining children and parenting. Parents often feel caught between preparing children for the future and protecting them from societal ills. One of those ills is focused on in the book, The Over Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-parenting Trap. In it, Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise caution parents that overscheduling leads to the same stress-related health and psychological problems that overscheduled adults experience.
Relax! Before we over-stress about our parenting and lament today’s struggles, let’s remember that summer can offer us a simple, immediate solution. Summer affords us the perfect opportunity to have fun without the bells and whistles of expensive vacations and electronic devices and escapes.
Just like their childhood, summer will be here and gone before you know it. School days can be so regimented with tutoring sessions, soccer practice, homework and chores that kids look forward to doing nothing with the freedom of summer. If we aren’t careful though we can book their summer time too. We can send them to camp, schedule play dates with children of the college educated set so their vocabularies expand, make stimulating visits to educational museums and take day treks to the zoo. These are worthy, educationally stimulating and purposefully fun activities. However, it is also important that we balance the scheduled time with some light hearted spontaneous moments of joy that celebrate the wonder of childhood and parenthood.
It may seem counter intuitive to keep a list of possible spontaneous activities to cultivate but the truth is, many of us simply aren’t good at letting go and having fun. Review the list below as a reminder to seize the moments of summer and enjoy each other. The list is meant to help you watch for and catch the moments as they come or create the summer memories of a more carefree childhood together. Add to the list to make your own homespun summer memories.
1. Play in the rain and enjoy your child’s smiles and giggles.
2. Wash the car and squirt each other with the water hose.
3. Cook together and don’t worry about the mess.
4. Read books side by side on the porch, drinking lemonade.
5. Journal side by side in the backyard with freshly brewed sun tea.
6. Sing each other’s favorite songs while watering your yard.
7. Lay down on a blanket outside (picnic style) and watch the clouds go by, tell each other the shapes you see. Make up cloud stories and praise your child’s imagination.
8. Buy a new box of crayons and draw portraits of each other.
9. Pack a picnic lunch and go to the park to eat. See where the day takes you.
10. Make a bird feeder and sit still outside to watch the birds feed.
11. Tell stories to each other with the listener providing the first line and characters to the storyteller.
12. Make or buy bubbles. Blow bubbles in the backyard.
13. Make your own frozen popsicles with your favorite fruit juices, eat them outside on a hot summer’s day. Let the juice drip down your arms and then squirt each other off with the water hose.
14. Turn on the sprinkler in the backyard and run through it, over and over and over again.
15. Paint something!
16. If it’s too hot to play outside, put on your favorite music and rock out together!
17. Get your groove on and give your kids a spontaneous dance lesson. Show your them the dance craze from your schooldays.
18. Play a new version of hide and seek with water guns, when a player is “found,” squirt them!
19. Do chalk art on your driveway or sidewalk together.
20. Wash the dog together and squirt each other.
Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a child and family sociologist and freelance writer. As a mother of two, she is committed to play this summer!