Midsummer 2009 - Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom this Summer
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I don't recall my parents ever going into a panic because school was out and they had to entertain me. Come to think of it, did any parents in that generation 'entertain' their kids?! Nonetheless, I don't seem to recall many bouts of boredom. Somehow, I managed to find things to do without a pony, an inflatable bounce house, or anything requiring a microchip.
So why do we parents so often feel the need to be entertainment directors? And since when is 'boredom' a bad thing? Now I'm not condoning letting our kids fend for themselves all day long, but this summer, I'm hoping we parents and grandparents can all just chill a little and not fret so much about the details of what our children are going to do with their free time. It's summer vacation -- not a NASA mission! Let's take some of the pressure off ourselves and give our children some credit for using their imaginations. Better yet, let's help them to cultivate it by letting them figure out some of the details themselves!
Something recently happened at our summer photo shoot that serves as a perfect example of this. We had three children for models, and their parents were a little nervous because the children had never met and were supposed to play together and look like they were having the time of their lives with some fairy wands -- items the adults had no clue what to 'do' with. Even the photographer asked, 'What will the kids do with these?' I told him I wanted to leave that up to the children. When they arrived, each child chose a wand, and with all of us adults hovering in eager anticipation, they stood in a row like brave little soldiers in front of the photographer. With forced smiles and stiffly held wands, the line-up looked like something from Fort Bragg, as in 'Yes, SIR! Reporting for duty, SIR!' Now I was nervous. One wise mom suggested we walk away and start talking amongst ourselves. Within minutes after the children were left to their own devices, they forgot about us and the photographer, and soon, irresistible peals of laughter began filling the studio. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw more joyous movement than a passel of puppies with chew toys. The photographer laughingly said it was like photographing chaos. Two of the children actually began to cry when it was over. One of them (my grandson!) still asks his mom if he can play with the girls at the photography studio again.
That is the magic that can be found in stepping out of the way and allowing children spontaneous play with open-ended toys. Yes, we adults were close by and available, but we weren't hovering and orchestrating their every move. Perhaps the ingredients for a really good summer might be to provide our children with playmates from time to time and let them figure out the rest. Give them a few well-chosen toys (cardboard boxes count!), plenty of outdoor time, lots of love, and knock off all the worrying about getting it 'right' as parents. Let's give ourselves permission this summer to forget the bounce houses, microchips, and ponies and r-e-l-a-x -- because isn’t that what summertime is really about?