Planning a Schedule Free Summer

summer1Photo courtesy MyPoliticalExile

They started the countdown a couple of weeks ago. Eighteen more days, then 17, 16, 15…..until, finally, we’ve reached the single digits. This morning my daughter walked down the stairs and asked in a sleepy voice while rubbing her eyes, “Is this the last REAL day of school?” (She means full day.) So, now we’re in the homestretch—one full day and three half ones left to go until the sweet freedom of summer break arrives. And now the planning begins.

What am I going to do with these kids all summer?

I could find a collection of weeklong summer camps to fill up their schedules. A quick search on Google generates a variety of activities in our area to stimulate their interests and keep them busy—more than enough to accommodate 12 weeks of free time. There are sports camps and science camps, art camps and nature camps, acting camps and music camps. Is your child interested in architecture? There’s a camp for that. Underwater basket weaving? There’s probably one for that too. Each week could be focused on a central theme and through such intense study, the kids could really find their passions in life. Just think how much character and muscle they could build over the course of the next three months! Forget the summer gap—my kids could be accelerating their progress and getting out of the house all at the same time.

Except, we’re not going to do that.

And not just because the price tag of such a jam-packed summer would send a rip-tide current through our financial plans. (Seriously, have you seen the cost of some of these camps?) We’ve decided to focus more on the “break” part of summer break this year. It’s time for a good old-fashioned summer. The kind where the kids complain of being bored and I kick them outside for the afternoon with instructions to “find something to do.”  The kind where they spend the next three hours constructing a fort with tree branches and other debris found in the yard. The kind where they cool off after a long afternoon outside in the hot sun by running through the sprinkler and go to bed with skinned up knees and a few more freckles than they had that morning.

From September to May, our family calendar is filled with color-coordinated scribbles of school activities and sports practice, work meetings and doctor’s appointments. A free night is a rarity and an open weekend, well that’s as elusive as a rainbow colored unicorn. With three kids and a home business to run, busy doesn’t even describe our life for nine months out of the year. So, when summer comes, it’s a chance to breathe. A chance to slow down. A chance to relax. And, most importantly, a chance to rejuvenate. The last thing I want to do is pack a lunch every morning and wake them up by an alarm clock to get them to the gym on time for a full day of structured activities. I’d much rather let them sleep in late, encourage them to forage through the pantry for a bowl of cereal, and shoo them off to ride bikes and explore in the woods. If I have to pick a few ticks off at the end of the night, well, that’s just the price you pay for a summer of reckless abandonment.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we aren’t avoiding coordinated summer activities entirely. My son can’t wait for his favorite college players to return as counselors for hockey camp in June and he’s pumped about baseball camp at Notre Dame. My daughter prefers to spend her free time with colored pencils and painted canvases, so she is really looking forward to a week of art projects. But these will be the exception to the rule…summer is too magical to schedule.

I want to wake up in the morning and decide if it’s a beach day or a stay in bed and read day. I want to have impromptu sleepovers on a Monday night and last-minute camping trips on a Wednesday. I want to say “Yes” when my seven year old asks to stay up past bedtime to watch the latest superhero movie and “No” when the flyer comes in the mail for another round of gymnastics. I want my kids to experience boredom, and then find a way out of it. On their own.

And if we get up on a Thursday morning and decide to get out of the house and do something, we are fortunate to live in a community that is chock-full of free fun for kids. We will throw on our crocs, pack a lunch, and head down to The Commons to watch a magic show or learn about raptors—a weekly Stop, Lunch, and Listen program courtesy of our local library. My kids will reunite with school friends for an afternoon of running around on the lawn in their bare feet and splashing around in the puddles made by the fire trucks on Splash Day. Maybe we will head over to Kathryn Park to participate in arts and crafts or walk over to the Sweet Shop for a bowl of ice cream and a Green River. The possibilities are endless when the sun is shining.

We’re only a few days away from three months of campfires and sunsets, roasted marshmallows and lightning bugs. They will probably grow a few inches and need a haircut (and a long bath) when it’s all said and done. By the time fall rolls back around, they will be clamoring for the structure that school provides. At least that’s the plan.

-by Stacey Carlin
Layin’ Down Roots

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