Summer’s coming – make sure you find time to play

BY BOB WACHS, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/24/19

The calendar tells us that, at least officially, summer is still a month or so away. The thermometer apparently hasn’t gotten the memo, though, as we’ve been living with temperatures above 90 …

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Summer’s coming – make sure you find time to play

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Posted

The calendar tells us that, at least officially, summer is still a month or so away. The thermometer apparently hasn’t gotten the memo, though, as we’ve been living with temperatures above 90 degrees lately.

The reality of life is that for many people summer is just a period of time, like their age is just a number. For many folks, summer begins around Memorial Day, stretches through mid-year and doesn’t come close to being over until after Labor Day and the traditional school year begins anew. Even with all that, however, many people will continue with “summer-like” activities — the beach or lake, cookouts, whatever — as long as they can.

Typically and traditionally, summer is most often aimed toward youngsters. Retail businesses promote products aimed at youngsters — clothes, swimsuits, toys and games, the list is endless — more than at adults, although many of the child items require adult presence. As our society grows more complicated, even and especially with the advent of technology which was supposed to make our lives easier and less stressful, there often seems to be less time and emphasis for youngsters to be children and instead become little adults by taking part in every planned and organized activity mom and dad can find. Time for unstructured play — just play — is fast disappearing. Technology has much to do with that. How many 8-year old folks have you seen lately with their heads buried in a mobile device? No doubt quite a few, if you look.

I’m not advocating we return to those thrilling days of 1820 or that we dumb down our youth but I am saying we should let children be children as long as possible because they’ll never pass this way again. With that in mind — and borrowing from something I read the other day — I’d like to suggest a few ways we can let kids be kids (and I don’t mean the baby goat kind).

First of all, parents and guardians have to buy into the belief that play is important. Our culture works against us here. We work so much and play so little that we can’t see the big picture. If we see our daughter dancing around the den we think she needs dance lessons and bingo — the play becomes an obligation.

Secondly, put a little thought into your childhood — if you played. I remember late evening games of “Ain’t no booger-bears out tonight” with my cousins as we raced around the yard of an aunt or uncle. So as adults and parents and grandparents and such, we need to rediscover our own playfulness. Jump on the trampoline or get into the pool and watch the youngsters copy your behavior.

Tell the youngsters you and they aren’t going to cram 25 hours into each and every day. Ask them what they want to do. You may be surprised to learn Junior is ready to give up guitar lessons for a while and instead just pick up his five-string when he wants and strum awhile.

Try to have a family time of — gasp — maybe doing nothing except just being. Back off pre-packaged play. That may mean try a sand box instead of a $100 ticket to Amusement Land USA. Don’t equate “down time” as being lazy. Instead of trotting out the old line of, “Don’t just sit there; do something,” try this: “Don’t just do something; sit there.” Your 18-year old high school senior might not like trying to find shapes in clouds but you never know, especially if he or she has never done it. Pretty much a guarantee your 5-year old granddaughter will enjoy it.

And finally, trust your children and their choices, unless they say they want to smoke dope all summer. Right now, his or her job is to be a child or youngster. More than likely they’ll work the rest of their lives. If they learn to play now and carry that with them, their lives will be much better.

As I read and ponder these words, I can’t help but wonder how well I did all that with my two forty-somethings who used to be teenagers who lived at my house. I hope they got something and I hope they’ll pass it on to their broods; I know I’m going to try to do my part with the little folks.

I wish I could claim credit for being smart enough to have mined the gems of wisdom I’ve quoted but alas, not the case. If you’d like more details to go farther into this adventure, try a book (or two) by Madeline Levine, a clinician and educator who has put years of study into child and student well-being. Among her better-known writings on the subject are “The Price of Privilege” and “Teach Your Children Well.”

Summer is fast upon us. Make it count.

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