Nine Ways to Let Your Kid Be a Kid This Summer
- Friday, July 05, 2013
No doubt about it: Time for unstructured play is dwindling. There are many reasons why this is so. We’re working more hours. We’re spending more time “plugged in” to TV, phones, video games, and the Internet. Kids have more homework than ever. And as a society we seem to have decided that structured activities—academic, athletic, and otherwise—are more beneficial than play.
If you read my book, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, you’ll see that lack of play exacts a heavy price on kids. If you’re ready to change your high-pressure, overscheduling ways, summer is the perfect time to get started. Here’s how:
First, YOU have to buy in to the belief that play is important. Unfortunately, this is tough for many parents. We’re steeped in a culture that elevates work and downplays play. When we see our daughter dancing around the living room we think, She’s so talented! She needs dance lessons! But the minute you do this it stops being play.
Read up on the evidence about play. You’ll find it’s far more valuable than force-feeding children “education” at a young age. Research shows that children who attend play-based preschools, as opposed to academic preschools, do significantly better in school down the line. Baby Einstein actually retards, rather than advances, language acquisition. Once you realize that your assumptions are wrong, you’ll be motivated to change your parenting practices.
Think back to your own best memories from childhood. They won’t be the classes or the lessons but the time you were allowed to just be. It’s important to allow your kids this right as well. Children deserve a childhood.
Get back in touch with your own playfulness. Maybe you haven’t really had fun in a long time. Decide this is the summer you’re going to change that. Get in the pool with your kid. Go camping. Dust off your bicycle and go for a spin. When your child sees you playing, she will be more willing to play, too.
Kids really do model what they see. Plus, part of your job is to present a picture of adulthood that your children will want to emulate. If all they see you doing is working, or sitting around watching them play baseball, why would they ever want to grow up?
Explain to your kids that you’re going to “back it off” a bit this summer. Tell them you’re worried that they’re too busy to really have any fun and that you want to help them change that. Then, ask them to help you create a summer “bucket list.” What would they really like to do this summer?
Don’t be surprised if they don’t know how to answer that question. If they’ve been overbooked and overscheduled all their lives, they’re not used to thinking this way. Part of the joy of this summer will be in seeing their sense of play emerge.
Ask them which activities they want to keep…and which they want to toss. Gently explain to them that swimming, Scouts, gymnastics, and twice-a-week piano lessons is too much “doing” for this laid back summer. Ask them to figure out their least favorite activity (or maybe two) and then cancel it.
You may be shocked by what they tell you they want to quit doing. If your son has been on the swim team for several years and seems to love it, you may be shocked when he asks to quit. Sometimes our kids do things because we want them to, and somehow we failed to notice their heart has never been in it.
Pencil in some low-key friends and family time. This may mean saying no to some invitations. Or it may mean setting aside one evening as family night. Just make sure kids have substantial blocks of time to just hang out with you or with friends. (Surprise…even video games aren’t that bad in limited quantities.)
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