Letting Kids Be Kids

I just read an article on some parenting blog about letting kids be kids.  For some reason I find it sad that modern parents need to be instructed in that.  It gave helpful tips like, let your kid play in the summer.  Send them outside.  Let them catch lightning bugs.  Limit extracurricular activities to no more than one or two per season.  Really?  People don’t already know that?

When I was a kid, my job was school.  I took dancing lessons, but my job was school.  My mom gave me plenty of time to just be.  I read a lot, and did art projects a lot.  My older brother dragged countless large refrigerator boxes home for me behind his bike, that he would promptly carve windows and doors into for me and presto-chango, I had my own house.  My grandma played cards with me and it’s a good thing that the money she provided for betting was pennies, otherwise she would’ve gone broke, because I was pretty good.

Summers were even better.  I ate breakfast, got on my bike and left.  Granted it was the 1970’s and the chances of someone stealing me from my small town were less than the chances of your kid being stolen by a pervert today, but when I say I left, I mean I left.  My mom told me to be back when the church bells rang 5:00 and that is when I went home.  I would eat dinner and go back out til about 11.  At night.  In the dark.  With friends.  It was AWESOME!!  I was skinny and tan and healthy.  My hair would be so blonde at the end of summer that I was accused of dyeing it from about the age of nine or ten.  We rode bikes, went to the pool, hung out in the cemetery (hey, it was pretty and shady and quiet, don’t judge me).  We played in the woods, looked for glass bottles to turn in at Green Valley to finance our snack jones and generally had a blast.

By the time school started I was excited to go back because I was bored.  I had participated in zero extracurricular activities, and had not seen a great number of my friends.  The friends that I did see lived in town, not in the country.  Going back to school was being reintroduced to everyone and everything.  I remember how excited I always was to bring my stack of books home to cover and show my mom.  We also didn’t start school til after Labor Day, so hot school days in the fall were limited, because well, it was almost fall, not the middle of summer.

The world today is full of wonderful opportunities.  We are all much more connected to each other and to the rest of humanity than we ever have been before.  There are more ways to make a living, more tv channels, more electronic gadgets and more ways to learn to dance or play soccer or volleyball or football.  On the flip side, kids are fatter, bullying is now impossible to escape because it is on the internet, we have no privacy because everyone carries a camera with them in their phones everywhere they go, we can’t get away from the world because we are always connected via those phones and we are constantly bombarded by news.  The twenty-four hour news cycle has driven everyone crazy.

Here’s my idea.  In the summer, no extracurriculars.  No special lessons for elementary kids, and limited stuff for older kids.  Face it mom and dad, your kid, in all likelihood is not Micheal Jordan, or insert famous person name here.  Let them enjoy being kids.  Let them get bored.  Give them time to read for pleasure (and it’s ok if it’s a comic book).  Let them play cowboys and indians, or war, or house, or pioneers or Harry Potter.  Read them old stories and take them places that will stimulate their imaginations.  Give them a big plastic box full of paint, markers, paper, glue and stuff to create with and let them go to town.  Give them cap guns and Barbies.  Cap guns won’t make them murderers and Barbie won’t give them bulemia.  Give them their dad’s old army backpack, a jar of water and a sleeve of saltines (with salt on them) and let them go crawl through the mud on their bellies to win WW II or kill terrorists.  Let them play.  Let them imagine the world and the future.  Play is how kids learn to be.  It’s how they gain independence.  Structured, adult led lessons, do not give kids the chance to expand their minds and learn how to think.  It makes them think and be what the adults want them to be and think.  Adult life is hard, let them be carefree for as long as they can.  School is hard.  Let them decompress over the summer.  They are not going to end up in the projects if you don’t make them do homework all summer.   If you burn them out when they’re little, when it really counts, they won’t be able to function.

I have to stop writing now, because I have to put together a bug out kit for my son.  There are rumors that there are coyotes roaming the ten feet of woods in my back yard and he needs to go vanquish the varmints.  One last thing.  Get your kid a big dog or two and let them bond.  Dogs seem to enjoy playing interesting games too.  It’s summer, relax and catch the lightning bugs and remember the first bit of water out of the hose is not fit for drinking because it is hot.  Let it run for a minute or so, the environment will survive and so will you AND your kids.

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