There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it ~ Phineas and Ferb theme song
When you unschool, or even homeschool, summer means a slightly different thing than it does when your kids go to school. If you’ve done it right, summer break doesn’t really a mean a “break”, because there’s nothing to take a break from. And when you live in Phoenix, summer means a slightly different thing than it does in other places as well. When everyone else is gearing up for lots of outdoor activities, we’re making plans that involve A/C… unless said outdoor activities include being covered in water of some sort.
Still, there’s something romantic and lovely about the idea of the lazy, hazy, carefree days of summer. A time to be free, a time to play, a time to practice feeling good in your own skin.
For a lot of parents, there seems to be a temptation to see summer as a time to micromanage. A time to prize structure over spontaneity; control over freedom. There’s a post that seems to go around Facebook every year as summer approaches that highlights this fact, encouraging parents to print out cute little checklists to keep their kids on task all summer long. There are many variations, but the general gist is usually something like this:
Brush your teeth, get dressed, and clean your room
Read for 30 minutes
Play outside for 30 minutes
Draw, build, craft for 30 minutes
Practice your karate/musical instrument/dance steps for 30 minutes
Finish your chores
Help your mother with her chores
Obligatory disclaimer: I have seen things like this posted by a LOT of moms, including several whom I really like and respect. What follows is not about any individual people, but about concepts and ideas. Having said that:
Lists like this really, really bother me, for a multitude of reasons. First, I don’t think they accomplish what these well-meaning parents want them to accomplish. They’ve decided that video games/electronics/screen time are a less valuable pursuit than everything else. But by setting it up as a hierarchy in which kids have to perform certain tasks in order to earn it, they’re actually flipping the script and making the electronics MORE valuable, and grossly DE-valuing things like reading, being creative, and playing outside. Those are all fun and wonderful things in their own right, and their system reduces them to nothing more than pesky little chores that they have to check off a list before they get to the real fun. Second, lists like these emphasize compliance over relationship. And sure, they might “work” in the short term. If your child is one who is motivated by electronics, he might very well do whatever it takes to earn them. But what’s the cost? Mom has set herself up as more of a dictator or a boss than a partner, and all those things she wanted her child to do and like? The appreciation she wanted to foster for reading, for playing outside, for building things with their hands? Those things have become nothing more than tasks to endure in order to get to the elusive screentime.
Now I don’t make a summer-time – or any-time – list for my kids, because I don’t like lists (I’m totally lying. I ADORE lists. But my love affair with lists is just that – mine – and not something that I have the right nor the desire to impose on my kids) But if I did make a summer list for my kids, it would be the same as mine, and it would look something like this:
Rest – No, we don’t pay any attention to the school year in our lives, but for some reason the first few months after the new year are always super busy ones in our household. Tegan (age 8 at the time of this writing) just finished a play that’s been in rehearsals since January. Everett (age 12) just had his final football game of the spring season. And the last six weeks or so before the conference – starting around mid-August – are going to be insane with preparations. So I’m all in favor of any and all of my family members using this time to take a much-needed breather. To kick up their feet, to rest in both body and spirit, and to just BE for awhile before the next busy season is upon us.
Do what makes your heart happy – YouTube, Minecraft, video games? Jumping on the trampoline, reading, writing, playing with legos? Visiting with friends? Playing catch in the backyard? Researching, working, resting, figuring things out?….. It’s all there for the taking.
Travel – Our travel plans are different every summer, depending on any number of factors (finances, logistics, husband’s work schedule, etc) but we all love a good travel adventure! This year, Paxton (15) is flying out to Michigan for a month to visit, write with, and practice with his band, The Cringes. A few weeks later, the rest of us are headed that way for a two week road-trip, visiting friends along the way, and ultimately bringing him home with us.
Try new things – I LIVE for trying new things. Mine are usually of the creative sort, but I try not to shy away from learning anything that strikes my fancy. Spencer (19) has been applying for jobs lately, and has recently been talking about learning Spanish. Everett has expressed an interested in trying soccer (I think the only sport he has yet to try). Tegan wants to get back into gymnastics, and try some sort of martial art. Summer is a great time to start thinking about that kind of thing. I mean, why not??
Keep doing “old” things – As wonderful as new things are, there is something to be said for familiarity as well. I hope we keep working on, and playing with, and learning from the things we already know and love.
Step out of your comfort zone – I just realized I’m talking in a little bit of a circle now. “Do something new”. “No, do something comfortable”. “No, do something uncomfortable”. But a life well lived is a mixture of all the above, isn’t it? A few weeks ago, I took a giant step outside my own personal comfort zone (someday I will share a little here on my blog) and it was at once horrifying and difficult and one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I’m a big believer in the fact that if we want to grow, if we want to learn in deep and meaningful ways, if we want to be the best selves we can be…. sooner or later we’re going to have take risks, do the scary thing, and trust in the outcome that we can’t yet see.
Live and love deeply – When you boil it all down, is there anything else more important?
This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it’s a start. This is the only kind of list I need to get me through this summer. And if my kids’ lists looks totally different than mine? That’s okay too. It’s their list to make.
Will we still do chores around the house? Yup. Will we still pursue our hobbies and/or creative pursuits? Yup. Will we still read books and play outside and build things with our hands? Yup, yup, yup. But because we’re doing those things of our own volition, when it feels right, when it makes sense to US, (rather than just as a means to an end) they will mean something. They will be appreciated on their own merits. They will be something we learn from, rather than something we endure.
Oh, and as for those coveted electronics? We’ll use and enjoy those too…. without jumping through any hoops to get to them.