The summers of my youth were different from those of today. For one thing, we never, ever took a family vacation. I never even thought to ask for one. We didn’t have the money and that was the end of the story. But, before you feel sorry for me, I never felt the loss. My summers were the stuff 50’s and 60’s sitcoms were made of. And, in spite of no school and no extracurricular activities, I learned more about life in the summertime than I did during the school year.
We were always outside. The main reason for this was that there was nothing to do inside. There were no video games, no internet, and no TV or DVD shows to watch. Let me tell you, there is nothing that will bond a group of disparate kids like boredom! Our neighborhood was full of kids of all different ages and with very different interests, but in the summer, we were a gang in the best sense of the word. We learned quickly that you either found a way to get along or you were going to have a very boring summer!
We had a large cherry tree in our yard, better known as “The Pirate Ship”. The older kids would climb to the top of the tree to the “crow’s nest” and survey the neighborhood, but they wouldn’t let any of the younger kids climb that high. The tree even had a “plank” and whenever someone was being rude or not playing fair, they were made to walk the plank. They weren’t allowed back in the tree until they showed sufficient remorse. We learned a lot about fair play and watching out for each other by being pirates.
Sometimes, we were allowed to walk into town as a group. We clutched our nickels and pennies and gathered in front of the candy counter. The older kids taught us which candies gave us the most for our money. We learned high finance and we left the store with tiny bags of treasure and a sense of independence and freedom.
One memorable summer, my dad built a rope swing. It was a simple structure built of long 4×4’s with a rope and a knot. But, to us, it was as grand as the Taj Mahal. We instantly had the most popular yard in the neighborhood. We walked around with blisters covering our palms for weeks. Unable to even hold on to the rope at first, we were soon hanging upside down and timing each other to see who could stay on the longest. We learned perseverance on that rope swing.
We built elaborate towns in the gravel in front of the neighbor’s house. The road systems were laid out in fine detail and the city planning was epic. There were Post Offices and grocery stores, gas stations and homes. I heard the neighbor tell my mom that he parked at the end of the street and walked home because he couldn’t bear to ruin our work. We learned a lot about democracy while building those cities.
Parents in those days resembled the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. They existed, somewhere on the sidelines, but they never interfered with our play. If someone went inside to tattle, they were usually met with: “Well, you must have done something first, go make it right!” We very quickly learned that we had to figure out conflict resolution on our own. And, by trial and error, we did figure it out. Those lessons were more deeply ingrained in us than any we were taught in school.
In this day and age, parents seem to feel that they have the burden of keeping their kids entertained. I see moms planning outings and playdates and lessons, until their children are too busy to ever just be kids.
Our moms felt no such compulsion and I tried to be that kind of mom as well. My kids quickly learned that saying, “I’m bored” in our home meant an immediate chore was assigned, no exceptions. As a result, they too became adept at making their own creative fun.
So, moms, what lessons will your children learn this summer? May I suggest you make yourself a tall glass of iced tea, put your feet up, and watch from a distance? You will be amazed at how much learning goes on in these lazy, summer days!