Kids in the summer: There’s more to it than academic progress

I flunk as a parent. I have no plans for my youngest kids this summer.

The older ones are working. But the 13-year-old and 8-year-old, the ones at the formative stages of their academic and skill development (if you believe what everyone says), are doing squat. No camp. No enriching activities. No special trips. Well, we do rent a house at the beach for two weeks every summer, that’s something, but I have no particular plans to entertain them there. I’ll be reading books.

Come September, my kids will be the sunburned ones with dirt under their fingernails who are a bit stupider than everybody else. Unless they are going to be judged by their ability to recite SpongeBob episodes, shoot water pistols or build Minecraft houses, in which case they will totally shine.

I could say that it’s because I am all about unscheduled time, about encouraging them to listen to their inner muse, create their own fun and learn resourcefulness. But that’s not it.

I’m just exhausted. This has been a long year. I’m pretty darn impressed that as the school year ended we were still getting them out the door every morning in (relatively) clean clothes, almost always with lunch money and their homework. The end of the year events just about undid me; the fact that I actually managed to get five dollars to the second grade room parent for the class present for the teacher was an absolute miracle.

Organizing summer too was just too much, as was the thought of continuing to get them out the door every morning in (relatively) clean clothes and equipped with everything necessary. We don’t need to do it for childcare reasons — one of us is generally home — so I just didn’t.

The kids weren’t really interested in doing anything, either. I ran various ideas by them, albeit a bit half-heartedly, but they were really lukewarm. I could have forced them to go, but having just paid two college tuitions, the idea of spending money (the fashion design camp Natasha briefly showed interest in was a thousand dollars) for the kids to do something they didn’t really want to do, well, that just seemed silly.

All of us were counting down the moments until school ends. I remember that feeling as a kid, that last-stretch feeling, the staggering across the last day of school into the blessed blankness of summer.

That was what I loved best about it: the blankness. Not that we didn’t do anything during the summer; we did lots of things. But we made it up as we went along. And that was just fine.

I am puzzled, sometimes, by how things have changed. There isn’t a moment to be wasted anymore. My 8-year-old came home with a calendar full of math problems he is supposed to do every single day all summer, as well as a summer reading list. It was accompanied by a letter telling us parents that all this was crucial if we didn’t want our child to lose academic ground over the summer. Yeah, ’cause that’s all there is to life: academic progress. When did we start thinking this way? Whatever happened to goofing off for a bit? Are kids really making it further these days than before? I don’t think so. (My two college graduates would kill for a blank summer right about now.)

There’s certainly a chance my kids will get bored. Actually, I’m pretty certain they will. I remember getting bored during those blank childhood summers. But boredom isn’t all bad. It sometimes spurs you to listen to that inner muse, create fun or learn resourcefulness. It also has a way of making school look pretty darn good, and worth working hard for, when summer is over.

Ah, but now I sound like I’m making excuses for my behavior, which I shouldn’t do. I own my laziness and my insane need for life to be just a little less complicated. So come September my kids will be the ones who have forgotten some math facts, are no better at any sport and haven’t learned to program computers, design buildings or any other cool resume-building skill. Their “what I did this summer” essays will be very dull.

So yeah, I flunk. But all of us will be rested. And in a remarkably better mood.

Claire McCarthy is a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. She blogs at the Huffington Post, where this article originally appeared, and at Boston.com as MD Mama.

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  • John C. Key MD

    You have chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from you.

  • rbthe4th2

    Hmmm … I grew up poor. Until I went to live with my parents at 13, even then, we didn’t do anything but chores or free stuff for the summer. An occasional trip to see Grandparents and that was about it. I not only was never bored but turned out as the salutatorian of my class, etc.

    You will never regret learning how to take a break from life.

  • RenegadeRN

    I applaud your decision to allow your kids to decompress and just BE. I truly disagree with all the over scheduling of kids these days (and adults too!).
    I think it makes for anxious, stressed kids who do not know how, or that it is ok, to just BE as adults…as evidenced by skyrocketing benzo use.

    Creativity, critical thinking skills, and basic emotional development require time, breathing room, and some quiet (or even boredom) to be able to manifest, IMHO.

  • MrsDoc

    There is just too much frenetic activity associated with school! This came to mind when you mentioned end of year activities and the $5 to the room mom. Too much! I wish some courageous teachers and administrators would reign this in. Parents can’t. Who wants to be the ones who don’t send in $5?

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