By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Learning to play leads to summer fun
Placeholder Image

It's summertime, and at my house the kids are learning to play. This may sound like a strange and unnecessary activity. Most parents probably take it for granted that kids are born knowing how to play. Not true.

Kids aren't born knowing how to kick a soccer ball, dance hip hop or play the violin. They have to be taught to do all these things. The current generation of parents is very good at teaching things involving lessons and practice schedules. I know this from firsthand experience.

What we aren't so good at is letting kids be kids - unencumbered, unscheduled and free to just play. At my house, it's become obviously apparent: we have a lot to learn.

Summers have changed since I was a child. I used to take off on my bike in the morning and not return home until my stomach rumbled at lunchtime. I'd repeat the same sequence of events between noon and supper. We filled our days with running through the sprinkler, playing at the park and making forts in the woods. In the evening, a bunch of neighborhood kids would get together for a game of kick the can, red rover or baseball. Whoever showed up was part of the team, and we played until it got too dark to see.

It's easy to romanticize the "good old days" and remember the lemonade stand lemonade tasting a little sweeter than it actually did, but I do think there is something to be said of simplicity. And I think some of the simplicity of a generation ago has been lost in our organized, supervised, activity-laden, plugged-in, multi-tasking, cell phone-filled, T-VOed, hyphenated world.

Add to this the lost freedoms our children must live with because of ever-increasing dangers in our society, and you can understand why we fill their schedules with organized activities. It's a way to keep track of them and keep them safe. Unfortunately, safety can be restricting. It also eliminates boredom, which is not necessarily a positive thing.

I have a smart friend who says she loves when her kids tell her they are bored because they usually wind up creating something interesting and fun they never would have discovered if it hadn't been for the B-word.

Parents today are afraid to let their kids be bored. How can we cultivate their minds and strengthen their bodies if they are sitting around being bored? If kids are bored, we aren't doing our jobs as good parents.

I beg to differ, and my kids recently suffered because of this. They found themselves "bored" and I refused to rescue them from their wasteland. Why? Because I try to be a good parent.

During 10 months of the year, my kids are involved in organized sports and activities. I am an advocate of these types of things. They are great. However, they are not the answer to everything. We all understand this, even if it's in the far reaches of the backs of our minds.

For the first six or seven weeks of summer, my kids are between activities. They are unencumbered. Unscheduled. Bored. Free.

Can you imagine having six or seven weeks to do just ... well, whatever? Neither could my kids. They were bored by the third day (and that was only because I let them have a video game marathon during the first two).

"We're bored." They threw the words at me like an accusation, as if it were my fault they didn't know how to occupy their time. Sad thing is, they had a point. It was my fault, at least partially. And, as any guilt-laden mom would do, I vowed to help them resolve their dilemma - by doing nothing.

It was slow going at first. When I told them video games were off limits, they figured they'd watch TV. This didn't work for me, and since I am the boss, it didn't work for them, either. Next they thought I should drive them somewhere and pay for an activity because it's impossible to have fun at home for free. It was difficult, but I held firm on my do-nothing stance.

By mid-morning, they wandered outside and stumbled across their golf clubs. After some initial arguments about "messing up their swing" by playing on regular grass, someone had the idea of making a mini golf course in the yard. It kept them busy until supper. That evening, they mapped out a new golf course on paper - carefully planning and drawing their creation. It's been a week now, and they've diversified their activities. They've caught butterflies and other unlucky flying insects, played wiffle ball, conducted science experiments with various food items and had giant water fights with neighborhood friends.

They've also gotten into some trouble, like when they turned on the hose and flooded the garage, let their new pet dragonflies loose in the house or caused an explosion involving Mentos and Coke. There have been fights with friends when one secret agent spy shot the other without cause, or someone refused to let a little brother have his turn at bat. And, there are still times when they think they are bored. It is not a perfect world.

Still, declarations involving the B-word are becoming less frequent, and most days they are able to create their own fun. They are learning to play. I am learning it is okay to allow them the time and space to do so. That is what summer is all about.

- Jill Pertler's column appears every Thursday in the Times. She can be reached at