I believe in the value of giant swaths of free time. Creativity doesn't readily conform to a schedule. There are projects I don't even start if I know I can't have several hours to alternately concentrate and let my mind drift.
And I believe one of the greatest gifts of childhood, if you are lucky enough to get it, is the chance to be free of certain responsibilities and come up with things to do on your own. I like being able to grant that to my kids on a grand scale in the summer. With a few exceptions, their time in summer is their own.
We don't have bedtimes during summer vacation. The kids sleep in as long as they want to. There are no rules about the TV. The only rule about the computer at the moment is they have to use it in the dining room just so they don't get holed up in some dark corner of their room on a beautiful day. If they use their own money they can flag down the ice cream cart whenever it comes by. They can play outside until the sun goes down. Friends from the neighborhood are welcome. Quinn can't bike outside alone if a grownup isn't home, but otherwise they can bike wherever. We keep track of them in a general sort of way, but our house with the trampoline the giant box of legos and the big supply of sidewalk chalk tends to be where lots of kids want to congregate, so we don't have to look far.
Quinn still has a couple of piano lessons to prepare for over the summer, and the girls still have violin, but that's about it. We do a family word of the day for spelling practice, and as school gets closer we'll buckle down and review math again. When their rooms get too messy we stand over them and make them clear a reasonable path. But for the most part not much is expected of them. They can decide what to do.
And what have they done with their time so far?
Quinn discovered the encyclopedia. He told me he found a really big book on our shelves, and when he asked what it was about and I said EVERYTHING he was hooked. You name it, he will look it up. (Not in the encyclopedia: Stuff, Everything, Quinn)
Aden asked me if I would help her make something out of wood. I told her it was hard to think of something I would like better, so she designed her own little bench that she can use to sit on like a stool or use as a tiny tea table. I got to teach her how to use a saw properly, and I showed her the different types of files and explained sandpaper grits. She got to run the drill press. Aden was really excited to make something on her own and she wants to come up with more projects.
Now, I freely admit that if I had children who were not so independent, or who were easily bored, or who were likely to just waste their whole summer in front of the TV, we would not be so relaxed about the rules. But our kids get along well and have a million ideas and are quite reasonable people. We can afford to let them be guided by their own imaginations and interests. Aden's been reading a book series called The Warriors, Quinn has been improvising a great deal on the piano, and Mona is developing a paper creation business to raise money for the Humane Society. These are not kids who need to be signed up for things in order to stay busy, and they don't tend to stray into activities that we wouldn't approve of. No, I have no idea why we are so lucky. I also don't know if it will last, so we just appreciate it while we can.
We talked at dinner the other night about what we should put on our list of things to do before summer is up. Quinn and I agreed we need to rent a paddle boat down in the park next to Lake Michigan. I promised the girls we will make sure to get out at least once to Incrediroll. We finally got around to planting a real garden, so there's that to tend and we and hope to harvest our own vegetables. We're going to learn to play croquet. There is the zoo to visit, a place we plan to go to find fossils, the beach to play on, and we will fly kites before school comes around again.
If we had more time we would plan a trip somewhere different, like Washington D.C. or Yellowstone. But not this summer, which is already seeming too short even though it's just begun.