For the past seven summers, my son has had a routine as soon as school let out for the year. His life has been centered around organized summer activities.
The crowning glory of those events for him was baseball. Before school let out in late May, he had already spent weeks practicing baseball both with his team and with this father.
His ball schedule would take over our lives for the ensuing six or seven weeks until it was done in mid-July. Nights would be spent practicing or attending games. And when my daughter became old enough to join the local summer softball team, our activity level really ramped up.
Almost every single night during the week was always accounted for – either with practice or games. Sometimes they would both have games on the same night in different towns – my husband would go one way with one child and I would head in the opposite direction with another.
This year will be different though. For the first time since he was 5, my soon-to-be 12-year-old boy won’t be on a summer baseball team. Turns out, although our small town had enough boys interested to field a summer team, our neighboring towns couldn’t scrape up the numbers to make their own teams. Because there weren’t enough teams to play our team, summer ball was cancelled for my son and his friends.
While it was a disappointment to all of us, we tried to look for the silver lining in the situation. My son and I decided it provided an opportunity for him to have an old-fashioned summer like the kind I used to have once school let out.
What is An Old-Fashioned Summer?
Here’s how many of us parents spent our summers when we were younger – school let out and we didn’t have any plans or obligations until August when school resumed. Nothing was structured. There were no ball games to play in, unless they were impromptu games suggested by a kid in the neighborhood.
Once that school bell rang, the summer was mine. I never had anywhere I had to be. I could daydream, see friends, keep myself entertained and, best of all, use my imagination. Every minute was up to me. I had to dream up my own fun because it wasn’t provided for me.
I still look back at those lazy summer days as a great time in my life. Whether I was swimming, reading or making mud pies in my backyard, summer break was a blast. It provided some of the glue for the relationships I have with my brothers and sisters still to this day. All that free time meant plenty of bonding time with them. We became friends, not just siblings.
And all that togetherness gave us so many memories and inside jokes that we still laugh about today.
What Did My Son Think of Having an Old-Fashioned Summer?
Surprisingly, it only took him a few minutes to get over the disappointment of not playing ball this summer once I pitched the idea of an old-fashioned summer to him.
He seemed almost giddy with the idea of his summer activities being up to him. The thought of having no plans made him feel truly free.
His reaction confirmed something I had long suspected. While my kids and their friends have always enjoyed their summer activities, I’ve always felt that they were a bit overscheduled, that they were missing out on the carefree times children were supposed to have.
I feel like kids have lost the art of entertaining themselves because they are always being whisked from place to place, from one activity to the other.
So I’m looking forward to this experiment as much as my son now is. I want to see what happens when he’s left to his own devices.
We’ll still be at my daughter’s softball games twice a week or so for the first five weeks of summer, but my son will be free to skip out on those games if he wants. He can stay at a friend’s house when those games occur, or he can bring a book with him to the ball field and read until the game is over. The choice is his.
In past summers, he would also do a basketball camp whenever there was one available. I had entertained the idea of putting him in a week-long basketball camp this summer. But now I’ve pulled the plug on that too. I think he would learn just as much by playing pick-up games with his friends in our driveway than he would by joining a crowded camp. Plus, he won’t have to spend time in the car riding to the camp, which is about 45 minutes away.
Another activity that will fall off our schedule is the local library’s summer reading program. While it’s a great program and I’m still going to encourage my kids to read, I’m going to let them do it at their own pace. I want them to read for enjoyment rather than meeting their points quota for the summer.
What Will He Do All Summer?
I think some of my friends suspect I may be going slightly crazy with this old-fashioned summer idea. They’re wondering how many times I’ll hear that my son is bored before the first week is up. And they might be right.
But just because he doesn’t have structured activities doesn’t mean he’s going to be sitting down playing video games all summer. Although, I’m sure he’ll be doing some of that in moderation.
But he plans to stay very active, and I have no doubt that he will. He’ll be able to go swimming whenever he wants at the local pool. I’ve promised to play him in tennis and to throw the Frisbee around with him. He can find his friends in our neighborhood and play with them.
And even though he might complain some about being bored, we’re both looking forward to a summer that will feel longer because we aren’t always rushing to get somewhere.