For many years, the mention of summer brought to my mind images of my kids spending far too long in their jammies.
I can picture them still holding onto the coziness of their sleep with untamed bedheads and quiet play in their rooms.
A new day meant a new opportunity to linger at an undiscovered park or pool, and endless places to picnic. On the days that got long, I arranged play with friends or age-appropriate outings. There was always a week of two of specialty camps thrown in to break up their summer, too.
Where did playtime go?
The organic nature of summers past has become stiff with sports schedules and practices for my teen and tween. I no longer dictate the framework of our summer months.
I’m not sure they notice it, but as I write this, I feel as though I’ve lost a bit of their childhood somewhere along the way. As I guide them through these middle years, I want to teach them how to carry the playtime of youth into their adult years, too.
It isn’t easy with academic pressures. We’ve all heard the statistics about students losing a portion of what they learned — known as the dreaded “summer slide” — during their three months off for summer vacation.
And on top of that — with the number of years remaining for my son until college now numbered on a single hand — summer school and college-test preparation might be unavoidable realities, too.
So I’m trying to incorporate inventive ways to keep my kids’ skills sharp without sacrificing their precious summer down time.
Some classes require summer reading for high school. I encourage my kids to get away from the couch and find a place outdoors to do that same work.
Though I may get an eye roll or two when I mention this idea, I believe such mandatory summer reading should surely feel more like relaxing while lying in a hammock or floating in a kayak.
SAT / ACT pressures
There’s also the threat of pre-SAT/ACT testing lurking around the corner. I hear of a lot of parents spending loads of time and money shuffling their kids around to focus on it in the summer months. While there are great local businesses that offer test-prep courses, I’ve discovered some online opportunities I’m hoping will keep us from spending more time running around in the car.
Khan Academy (khanacademy.org) is a FREE online resource that offers virtual learning options, including brushing up on various skills, plus college-test prep work “created in partnership with the authors of the test themselves,” said Elizabeth Slavitt, a representative with the nonprofit program for all ages.
Embracing a hobby
While my tween daughter still finds joy perfecting her back flips on the trampoline, my older son has forsaken that pastime for the delight he finds in hours of video games playing. The notion and intrigue of “play” seems immature to him.
Fortunately, alongside of their sports, they both love for music. While they’ve both had years of music lessons, they find the most joy in writing their own songs or downloading songs they can teach themselves. Hearing my downstairs come alive with all the noise of music and creativity gives me hope that kind of play isn’t going away anytime soon.
My tween is increasingly replacing play with socializing. For my teen, meanwhile, socializing is play.
They do play — it just looks a little different.
I’ve realized that, for them, summer days with busy sports schedules aren’t rat races, they’re a celebration of playtime teen/tween style, complete with stops for frozen yogurt on the way home.
They’re finding their summers — not grown up exactly, but not childish either.
I see the peace on their faces after they’ve spent an hour resting and reading in the sun. I hear the music of their hearts sing out in my home. And I think, OK, I may not be setting the schedule, but I see summer all around me.
And then I sigh, and all of a sudden it seems more like summer.
Time to go grab the bug spray and play.
Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 11 and 14. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.