The intellectual benefits of the real old-fashioned summer

Published by Lori Pickert on July 3, 2013 at 06:22 AM

When I was a child, things were different.

There were no screens to speak of — we had no cable TV, no video games, and no one I knew owned a computer yet.

When the summer sun dawned hot and relentless, we would pull on our shorts (cut from last winter’s jeans) and our striped Garanimals T-shirts and head outside.

That billboard I complain about would have been proud: we didn’t have video game controllers clutched in our dirty little hands — it was always a frog or a turtle, a handful of crabapples, a chunk of splintery wood, or a rusty hammer.

Every summer tended to be defined by large, lengthy, all-consuming projects. Projects that took up all of our time and energy, from dawn till dusk. Projects like digging a really big hole. Or trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for pogo-sticking. Or hammering 8,000 rusty nails out of old planks of wood with an eye toward making a fort or maybe a treehouse.

We spent weeks working on deep intellectual problems like how to catch a crawdad with a broken plastic bucket and a piece of hotdog as bait. No one’s mom appeared with a Pinterest post about how to build a crawdad trap and then, once we had him, how to turn his captivity into a teaching moment about biology and our polluted waterways. We just caught him (finally), then examined him at our leisure, played with him, named him, watched him crawl around in the grass, tried to feed him bologna, and then, if we didn’t kill him with too much scientific curiosity, we put him back in the creek. And no one even knew we had him in the first place.

When I was a child, things were different. We went swimming; no one was on a swim team. We played baseball; no one was on a baseball team. We hatched plans that required stealing balls of string from every junk drawer in the neighborhood; no one came at us with a Pinterest plan and a hopeful expression.

What has changed since then?

It’s not the screens.

It’s not video games or Minecraft or cartoons or comic books.

It’s freedom.

Not just the freedom to roam around physically, but the freedom that comes from not being under the parental microscope all the time — the freedom that comes from just being a kid when no one thought what you did all day mattered that much.

The freedom to conceive a big idea (digging the world’s biggest hole in the empty lot on the corner), rally support among your peers (bring your sandbox shovels and meet me after breakfast), problem-solve (get your baby brother’s wagon to move these rocks), practice leadership and collaboration (it was my idea; if you don’t like it, go dig over there!), and experience true satisfaction with a job well done (that is a really big hole).

No one cared what we did. No one said, “Is digging in the dirt really the best use of your time?” No one said, “How can you sit in front of the fan playing Monopoly for nine hours a day, six days a week?!”

If we had Minecraft back then, we would have played it nine hours a day, the way we played Monopoly and Clue. We would have plowed the vast capacity for single-minded focus that allowed us to dig a hole visible from outer space into building the world’s most complicated Minecraft castle.

How can you give your child a good old-fashioned summer like we used to have?

It’s not about fireflies or picnics or homemade kites. It’s about freedom.

Leave them alone.

Let them be in charge of their own time.

Let them have their own ideas.

Give them big, sprawling blocks of unscheduled time. Give them whole days, whole weeks.

Let them dig into whatever interests them and do whatever they want with it.

You can pull a million cute crafts and activities off Pinterest and arrange them for your child — and end up with a kid trained to expect a steady stream of fun things to do.

You can fill your child’s schedule with a perfect balance of activities combining creativity and outdoor time and language arts — and end up with a kid who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in charge, who doesn’t know what it’s like to make something happen.

You can end up with a kid who’s happy to let someone else have all the ideas and plan all the fun.

When we keep saying “you’ve had enough of that, now go do this instead,” we’re telling kids that their interests aren’t important and their focus isn’t needed. When we fill all their time, they don’t have the chance to fill it themselves.

The best part of the old-fashioned summer isn’t how innocent and simple it is, but how much room there is for growth, for ideas, for hard work, for freedom from micromanagement.  There are things you can learn in an atmosphere of freedom that you simply cannot learn in an organized environment. They aren’t always things about science or history or literature; sometimes they’re things about yourself.

The real difference between the summers of my youth and the summer of today isn’t what kids want to do, it’s how infrequently it’s even taken into consideration. Kids used to be in charge of summer; they used to be in charge of themselves. Now they’re passive recipients of someone else’s ideas, passengers in the backseat being taken somewhere to do something another person has decided they should do. Summer used to be the time when kids shook off the adult control of the school year and rose up, filthy with skinned knees, to create their own worlds. Now they seamlessly move from one adult-controlled agenda to another, from one set of classes to another, from one packed schedule to another.

If you really want to embrace the values of the old-fashioned summer, forget about the surface stuff — the yo-yos and pinwheels and bike parades — and give your kids a really radical gift: freedom.

Give it to yourself as well. Let go of the big expectations; take a deep breath and remind yourself that this summer has little to no bearing on your child’s future career prospects. Be lazy. Drink lemonade. Sit in the shade. Read a book. Cross off 90% of the things on your summer bucket list and really enjoy the remaining 10%. Eschew guilt. Summer is supposed to be about taking a break from the rest of the year, not simply switching from being pummeled by one set of expectations to being pummeled by another.

Pinwheels are nice, but empty days and low expectations are even better.



Comment by amy21 on July 3, 2013 at 09:40 AM

HEAR HEAR! (btw, that looks so odd typed out, doesn't it?) I am shucking off almost all expectations this summer. I'm doing my own work. I'm reading on the deck (that's where I was headed when I saw you'd posted; I'll get there in a minute). My oldest has been in his room all morning. I'm pretty sure he's reading. My younger two are doing something or other. I'll have to get us to the beach sooner or later, because, well, it's the beach. And yes, they did want to try fencing camp, so I signed them up. But that's 15 hours out of the entire summer.

Pinterest makes me roll my eyes. Must *everything* be a teachable moment?! YEARS ago--late 90s--I was the nature director for one year at a day camp run by a prestigious private school in the city. Why only one year? Because I thought it was okay--valuable, even--for kids to spend time just BEING in the woods, mucking around, exploring, investigating, with no lesson plan or expectations or adult interrupting them to cram their heads with teachable moments. I made sure they respected nature; I answered questions; I let their curiosity lead the way. The camp director and parents didn't approve. PROVE YOU ARE TEACHING OUR CHILDREN. IMPROVE THEIR KNOWLEDGE BASE. THERE IS NO VALUE TO JUST "BEING" IN THE WOODS. IT MUST BE A QUANTIFIABLE LEARNING EXPERIENCE. These poor kids were scheduled from morning till night all summer long. It was exhausting just to *hear* their schedules. The camp and I parted ways mutually. :-)

Comment by Courtney on July 3, 2013 at 09:48 AM

I can't tell you how much I love this. As I stew in the nostalgia of my summers in a small town where I played in the dry dirt and summer heat and challenged myself to read every book in its small library, I spend my time trying to find ways to "keep them active and engaged over the summer" per my social contract combined with my teens' desire to sleep all day and SO's opinion that they can do what they choose when they become an adult (after the mandatory medical school, of course.)

Comment by dawn on July 3, 2013 at 10:21 AM

once again, your timing is perfect for me!

i think i have (finally) let go of my need to schedule things every day for my children this summer.

dd (10) is going to spend a couple of weeks at camp (at her request) to play and study geology, one of her self-discovered loves, but the rest of the time, she's into her entrepreneurial endeavors with baked goods. she says she loves how i have allowed her to work on her big projects with big blocks of time, not just hours, but days & weeks. she determines when she wants (or needs) breaks to read or swim or hang out with friends and i'm trying to accommodate that.

ds (5) is currently delighted to delve into disney cars 2 world. he doesn't view the full-length movie, but avidly watches, discusses, and re-enacts most of mater's tall tales. he watches them in foreign languages. he creates his own lego versions of the scenes. he works with play-doh to make the characters. he tweaks and adjusts and rebuilds into what appeals most to him. he makes things his own.

what's particularly significant about this is that i was originally dead-set against it. i didn't like disney cars 2 (or the first one, for that matter). then i read lori's post and she turned me around. i have embraced my son's current love and, by doing so, i've opened up a whole new level of communication and interaction with him.

and while the kids are doing their things, i decided to do mine, so i am reading more, writing more, watching more, enjoying my own time more.

summer is looking sweeter every day.

Comment by amyiannone on July 3, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Well said. I completely agree with this, but it's hard to find others who are like minded. One child in our neighborhood comes over to our house after "spelling camp". Maybe he chose to go to spelling camp, but I sort of have a hard time getting my mind around spelling camp existing.

Comment by Esther on June 14, 2014 at 07:46 PM

Thanks for the laugh this certainly was good for my soul!

Comment by Francesca on July 3, 2013 at 10:42 AM

i love this post, and I couldn't agree more!

Comment by GardenTenders/Kim on July 3, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Thank you! I am embracing wholeheartedly not scheduling my almost 6 yr old a million in one things while the weather is nice! Our summer bucket lists includes things like buying icecream from a icecream truck.... more as a reminder to me to relax and not schedule us to the ninth degree. As I wrote somewhere else, I am embracing this chapter of our life. I don't need to be the orchestrate every second of my child's life. Down time is good time!

Thank you!

Comment by janet on July 3, 2013 at 12:10 PM

i am eschewing many things these days. went straight from coffee to a popsicle (the cheap kind with bad jokes on the sticks) on the deck under the umbrella with the speaker in the window blaring the dream academy life in a northern town...moving boxes can wait. my brain needs space to accept all we are doing. my dog wants to play.

meanwhile 900 miles away, my son is under the uber control of his grandparents (go outside, too much computer time blah blah). they want him to do something new every half hour! for some reason, both my parents, and my husband's (ok, our moms) have become scared, overbearing pests to their grandkids. as moms, they let us run wild in the timber, let us run around the neighborhood, watch crappy tv. they claim we are great people now, independent and reliable and all, yet they don't trust us doing for our son what they did for us. maybe they think we are awesome because of what they did, rather than what they didn't do?

Comment by Adrian Hoppel on July 3, 2013 at 12:18 PM

Brilliant. One benefit of having a new baby join our family a few days ago si that we've been able to wipe our summer calendar of any events as usual, but this time without any guilt!

Comment by Sara on July 3, 2013 at 12:43 PM

I think some of this may be related to where the kids are spending time during the summer. my siblings and I were at home with a college student or grandmotherly lady and so it was easy to just go outside and play while my parents were at work. I'm sure a lot of kids had moms at home, even back in the 80s. Now my husband and I live 700 miles away from family and rely on daycare centers or the school to watch our younger kids while we work. Although I still can't believe my parents let me play outside unsupervised when I was 5!

Comment by Deb on July 3, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Excellent, Lori.

a) I love your writing. Can't say it enough.

b) I love your ideas. This came at the perfect time for me. I've been feeling like Summer is slipping away and I haven't implemented enough Art Projects, Sewing Projects, Cooking Projects.... Instead the kids have been making Lego Creations to submit to the Lego website; garage saling with me and buying stuff for the express purpose of taking it apart and rebuilding something else; drawing pictures of us all as super heroes and putting on tv shows in a clear plastic box; and advising me on what to cook for dinner. It's been lazy and great and maybe I should embrace that instead of feeling guilty and unproductive.

Comment by Carrie Pomeroy on July 3, 2013 at 01:41 PM

I agree! My kids are home and available for those long, involved projects that take days to get into, but all their friends are constantly on the go with camps and classes. We have wonderful, creative children all around us, and I mourn that there's so little time for my kids and their buddies to have the kinds of unstructured summer days with the gang that I so enjoyed when I was a kid.

Comment by 1luckymama on July 3, 2013 at 03:01 PM

Amen! Glad I'm not the only one who feels so strongly about this!

Comment by Cindy Gaddis on July 3, 2013 at 04:33 PM

Great post! I call what I do "old-fashioned parenting," which in a nutshell means I give my children this freedom as much as I can. Like you, I lived that unstructured life. You mentioned that we don't need to look up how to do this or that and show our children, which is true; I don't. The difference, though, is my children can do that now. My son googled minnow traps and made one. I guess that might be one of the challenges of this generation...they know they can google what they want to do instead of using their own innovation and creativity. Overall, I think mine do a bit of both. Thanks for the reminder.

Comment by jess on July 3, 2013 at 04:45 PM

i'm reading this as h. is on his 5th hour of minecraft today (likely working his way to 9) and b. is upstairs building a fort and giggling with a neighbor friend behind closed doors. other than a few breaks for eating, drawing, and puddle stomping this has been their day and we've all enjoyed every minute of it. some days i feel like i need to putother days i get that pang of guilt that i'm not doing enough or i think maybe they are bored. but, you know what? i have never heard either child say they were bored. our only planned activities for the summer have been going to the movies every thursday morning to watch the harry potter series and going to the lake/beach as much as possible. other than that, they are free to go about their days as they please. this post was just what i needed to remind myself that we're doing summer right (at least for us) and that my kids deserve the same freedom-filled summers i enjoyed as a child.

Comment by Emma on July 3, 2013 at 05:12 PM

I didn't know these ideas were considered old fashioned! I always thought that's what summer is all about. We are fortunate to be homeschooling meaning there is a parent at home to be lazy with! But I have to admit to feeling a tad weary at the 'make sure you child doesn't forget everything over the summer' posts and the '41 million crafts to do this summer' or the horrifying 'how to avoid 'I'm bored' this summer, as if boredom was a terminal illness!

Summer is about movement, about exploration and sensation. Swimming outside, running in grass, learning about nature just by being in nature. We do activities through our homeschool co-op (though we are nearing our summer break) but there is always a healthy dose of play after we learn to forage or make fairy gardens! I think that north american society is afflicted by the notion that everything can be optimized, even people. I really value the chance to let things rest for a while, give our brains a chance to process and return to our work inspired and invigorated.

Each season has it's gifts, the heat of summer is telling us to slow down when we can. Hot and sticky afternoons are meant for swimming, lazing, drifting and dreaming : )

Comment by erintfg on July 3, 2013 at 10:04 PM

This is EXACTLY how I feel about summer, and I love that you are validating it for me. The other day my husband came home for lunch and asked what the kids had done all morning and I told him that I had no idea-- something involving Legos, no doubt, and the attic. They were having fun and leaving me alone, so who was I to interfere? LOL.

This morning they were getting a little squirrelly so I got out some new art supplies (chalk pastels-- we've never used them before), and used a tutorial to show them how to make a flag. And then I just left them there doing their thing-- and two of them made flags, and all of them made sparklers, and my younger two sat there for nearly an hour making a whole bunch of stuff, including a pretty impressive rose bush by my 4-year-old daughter-- and then when they were done they all cleaned everything up and went and played outside. It was kind of miraculous. And now they have a new material that they know how to use, and how to clean up after. (Right now I'm reading in your book about preparing an environment and providing supplies; I'm trying to introduce some new stuff over the summer).

Anyway, all that to say-- I'm finding that as I loosen my grip a bit they are finding new ways to have fun and learn and work together and even get themselves through their boredom. And that's fabulous.

Comment by erintfg on July 3, 2013 at 10:09 PM

I should add, I used to work in a school-age program at a daycare, both after school and during the summer, and the constant push to program those kids drove. me. insane. I mean, seriously, we pick them up from school at 3:00 and give them a snack, and by the time they're done it's nearly 4, and you want me to have a lesson plan and a curriculum and learning objectives and blah blah blah when they've already been at school all day long? Seriously?! Can't they just, like, play outside and goof around for awhile?

We did end up coming to an agreement that involved me providing "curriculum/theme related activities" that were optional. Some of the kids did them; some didn't. But honestly.

I'm so glad I don't work there anymore. I'm so glad I can give my kids some freedom to explore and be and do their own thing.

Comment by dawn suzette on July 4, 2013 at 07:48 AM

This pretty much sums up our everyday. I feel very fortunate that *I* have the freedom to afford them this kind of life. With the exception of about an hour a day of stuff I want them to do the kids have a whole day of freedom with very little restrictions. My husband calls it our perpetual summer...
Yes, I come up with ideas, present them with possible science experiments, or check out books I hope they will want to read but if they don't want to participate we move on. Mostly likely they take my idea, run with it and move it totally beyond where I would have taken it, because it is usually related to something they are already interested in, not completely arbitrary.
I think that is another aspect of the Pinterest thing. My daughter loves to look through Pinterest (on occasion) for ideas related to her interests. But parents pulling random "projects" off of there just so the kids have "something to do" bothers me.
I totally feel for working parents who need to find care for their kids and those places (with so many kids to keep track of and really worry about because of liability issues) feeling like they have to "occupy" kids and keep them "safe" from harm. It is a pretty deep issue with our society when though of in those terms.
Thanks for another great post Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 5, 2013 at 07:54 AM

thanks, dawn! :)


Mostly likely they take my idea, run with it and move it totally beyond where I would have taken it, because it is usually related to something they are already interested in, not completely arbitrary.

this — plus, in my experience, more and more my sons connected anything new with what they already knew and were interested in, even if i didn’t see an immediate connection myself.

it seemed like every time we had a fairly random experience (say, visiting a place on vacation), they would inevitably find a way to connect it back to something they’d learned and been interested in.

I think that is another aspect of the Pinterest thing. My daughter loves to look through Pinterest (on occasion) for ideas related to her interests. But parents pulling random "projects" off of there just so the kids have "something to do" bothers me.

this is the same way i feel about books of art and craft ideas — it is one thing for a child to leaf through a book, spot an idea, then use it as a jumping-off point to create something of their own. it is another for a parent to sit down and go through it methodically, trying to adhere to the instructions and end up with a finished product that looks like the sample.

Comment by Kara on July 8, 2013 at 04:38 PM

Oh I loved this so much. I have been wondering what is missing in our world that my kids can't have summers like I used to growing up. A good reminder that nothing is missing -- but I may be getting in the way ;)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 8, 2013 at 05:07 PM

thank you, kara :)

Comment by Mama on July 8, 2013 at 07:33 PM

Oh. My. Goodness. You have nailed it on the head! I cannot agree with you more. I have four kids, ages 1 to 6, and the older three have almost completely unlimited access to go outside. They want out? They go out. 'Nuff said. And I remember the days of my childhood, when my mom encouraged me and my siblings to do the same, and it was SO much fun! And we DID learn so much about ourselves. I've posted this on my twitter and facebook pages because everyone with kids needs to read this!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 8, 2013 at 09:32 PM

thank you so much! :)

Comment by Melody on July 8, 2013 at 10:23 PM

Thank you. You reminded me of my childhood summers in bathing suits and flip flops, or bare feet, getting dirty then jumping in the ocean to clean off. And all those camping trips with bugs, fire and burned food too. I remember running, biking or swimming free until the street lamps came on, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

Summer! Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 9, 2013 at 07:29 AM

thank you, melody. those are great memories to have. :)

Comment by Deirdre on July 9, 2013 at 10:05 PM

So well put, Lori! Makes me a bit sad though, as so many conversations in May and June were parents asking, "What are you having the boys do this summer?" I understand, as full-time employees outside of their home, these parents had to find something/someone for their kids all summer, but I really think that is what's at the root of the loss of freedom, much more than Minecraft and Pinterest.

Another friend recently complained that we hadn't been arranging "play dates" (isn't it funny to still call them that when your sons are 8 and 11?), but my boys have brothers and while they're happy to incorporate anyone who shows up, "planning" makes us itch in summer. We have a rough routine---swimming on days without ball games, Friday afternoons at the creek, etc.

You nailed it so well though---the best gift of summer is the freedom and the time. Aidan spent uncounted hours this week building an Iron Man suit out of styrofoam/card board/spray paint and more. Thanks to years of reading you here, I stayed back, biting my tongue when I though I saw a better way to go and enjoying when he would ask me to come see his progress.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 10, 2013 at 07:29 AM


thank you so much, deirdre — loved reading this and getting a glimpse of your summer. :)

putting anything on the calendar makes me chafe, too. :)

i want to see that iron man suit when it’s done!

Comment by Leah on July 10, 2013 at 10:51 AM

I am both thrilled and saddened to have just found your blog.

I had so often wanted to implement this kind of approach in the past, when my children were younger, but a combination of health issues and feeling overwhelmed by HOW to implement this, stymied my desire to do so.

I now have two teens and a pre-teen, and want so much to begin this. Your book just arrived from Amazon yesterday, and I have read through most of it.

I appreciate the fact that you have included suggestions for older children and teens.

I do have a few questions though that I didn't see covered in the book. The first one is very important, while the second one I think I can get a feel for with some practice if you can't answer it.

First, how do you manage to help multiple children with the project approach? If you have to be a mentor and be around to help facilitate and do all you mention, (as well as help tutor in other subjects, since we will still do traditional lessons too) then how do you get past helping one child successfully?

Is it as time-consuming as it seems to be?

Second, I would love more examples of good journaling and note-taking.I did read your sample.

Thanks so much for this website and all you are doing. I was reading that you have a Project-Based Parenting Handbook and ideas book coming out soon?

About how long will that be?

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 10, 2013 at 02:16 PM


hi leah, and thank you for your kind words. :)

how do you manage to help multiple children with the project approach? If you have to be a mentor and be around to help facilitate and do all you mention, (as well as help tutor in other subjects, since we will still do traditional lessons too) then how do you get past helping one child successfully?

first, i want to recommend that you join the free forum — — because we have a teen area and we can talk this out there & i will support you as you go! :)

but short answers here:

how do you help multiple children? much of the time they’re working under their own steam. you take time to help them when they need it, you make sure they have the resources they need, you take them places, but much of the time they are working on their own.

their self-chosen work will probably take the place of some of that traditionally planned work — if they are writing naturally for their project, for example, you might be able to let go of some of their assigned writing, and so on.

Is it as time-consuming as it seems to be?

not only is it not time-consuming for me with my teen sons, but since they take on so much responsibility for their own work (planning their own curriculum, etc.), it gives me more free time. :)

I would love more examples of good journaling and note-taking. I did read your sample.

can you be more specific about what you’d like to see? maybe we could explore this more in the forum?

I was reading that you have a Project-Based Parenting Handbook and ideas book coming out soon?

About how long will that be?

i’m not sure. :)

some of the material i’ve pulled together has already appeared on the site in various places:

The Introvert’s Guide to Building Community

How to Start a Project Group

along with quite a bit of stuff in the forum. once you’re in there you can search for topics and perhaps find more information on what interests you, and then i can help you from there. :)

Comment by Leah on July 10, 2013 at 09:01 PM

Thanks so much. I will definitely check out your forum when I can.

In the meantime, I will continue to digest your book and ideas in it! It normally takes me a few readings to really be able to take hold of the concepts and apply them!

I have really been enjoying your blog and look forward to reading more!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 10, 2013 at 09:27 PM

thank you so much — just let me know if you need anything. i am happy to help. :)

Comment by amanda on July 10, 2013 at 01:12 PM

agree. wholeheartedly. that is why i have three very large holes dug in my side yard right now (snake traps) and a baby snake now living in my house ;-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 10, 2013 at 02:02 PM

that sounds like a good summer.


Comment by Johanna on July 11, 2013 at 08:15 PM

I've had this open in my browser ever since you posted and finally read it today. I knew it was going to be good that's why I left it there. :-) This was so, so, so good! thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 11, 2013 at 09:15 PM

thank you so much, johanna! :)

Comment by Stacey B on July 11, 2013 at 10:44 PM

This is exactly it! This June my son found a skate board at a yard sale ever since then he has been spending hours skating most days. His Papa has the privileged of having the summer off and they spend their days skating, playing with clay, gardening, and generally enjoying themselves. People kept asking us what camps we were going to sign him up for and when we said we weren't going to they seemed concerned that he might be bored or worse get behind (?)

I am really curious to understand how we have shifted so much in less than a generation to this over protected paranoid version of parenting. I mean it isn't like we are being nostalgic for our grandparent's childhood this was our reality. Not to mention that the world has not in fact gotten more dangerous.

As I sit here writing this my son and husband are setting up the tent on the back porch for a rainy night camp out oh sure they are right on the alley but isn't that part of the adventure?

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 12, 2013 at 08:17 AM


it’s like the focus on grades and performance and measurable outcomes has seeped into our free time. here, little kids are signed up to take classes that ape a school environment while focusing on things like insects and spiders. a little kid could learn more about insects by playing outside in the yard — it doesn’t require a coloring sheet!

but instead of supporting and feeding the experiences they already have available (right in the backyard), parents sign them up for something organized, something where they’ll be sitting in a group and doing activities someone else planned.

is it about paranoia and over-protection? sometimes i think it’s about nervousness — that their child will be bored, that they’ll “get behind,” that they’ll miss out on something the other kids got to do. so go ahead and organize some kind of activity to calm your nerves.

but when we fill kids’ time with these adult-planned, adult-organized activities, with predigested learning, with follow-directions crafts, we steal away their opportunity to build it themselves. to have their own questions, make their own plans.

it’s great to hear from you, stacey. :) it sounds like you guys are having a *great* summer. hope the camp-out went well!

Comment by Kelly Loughman on July 12, 2013 at 11:07 PM

As a teacher who has seen students change over the last 17 years, allowing children unstructured time to explore their environment and learn to love learning for the sake of learning is the most valuable gift you can give them. I have to make everything I do in the classroom "fun and entertaining" for the kids because they can not find things fun on their own... Not to mention, they have never fostered that love of learning and natural curiosity that comes from free play! They have never explored the world around them in their own terms to develop their own questions about their surroundings. Let your kids learn how to learn on their own terms - solve problems with their friends and compromise with others. The best way that they learn how to resolve issues is if the adults back off and let the kids work it out! Free okay should be a part of every kids day - and not just during the summer!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 13, 2013 at 06:46 AM

thanks, kelly :)

Comment by Jenniferdo on July 16, 2013 at 09:49 AM

Great article. Here is another thing that has changed - families and neighborhoods. My daughter (age 8) has no kids older than her, and only a handful that are her age or close (5-7, say) within her walking radius. There is no culture of going to see who can help build the biggest hole. There are too few kids. So I sent her to a camp that has play built into it and a dozen kids to play with. Most of the kids there have two working parents (and no adult reading on the porch) and they gotta go somewhere!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 16, 2013 at 12:08 PM

yes — suburban neighborhoods can be like ghost towns!

Comment by AwmaSes on July 18, 2013 at 09:42 AM

This only applies to the privileged middle class or above. There are millions of poor children who languish all Summer.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 18, 2013 at 09:48 AM

Children need intellectual freedom during the summer and not just more adult-organized activities. The sad fact that some poor kids languish all summer doesn’t change that. Library programs, Y programs, school-sponsored summer programs — all of them need to embrace a curriculum that allows children more freedom to have their own ideas.

Comment by emeraldlane on July 19, 2013 at 06:11 AM

I was just talking to Ian, my oldest yesterday about a Lego program he went to at the library a while back. It was offered by a local business that offers Lego camps and building time at their store. They were building with gears and the first thing the instructor asked was "When was the first car built?". This was what my son remembered because he thought it was silly to ask such a question and turn the fun Lego gear building workshop into a learning opportunity. He just wanted to work with Legos and learn a few tricks about gears. I explained that adults want to turn everything a child does into a "learning" opportunity. We both agreed that sucks and to just let the kids play and discover on their own. My kids are constantly reminding me to back off and let them be, let them be free. Thanks for the reminder too, Lori :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 19, 2013 at 06:58 AM


this kind of thing is why school-attending kids were so wary at my after-school and summer program — they knew a “fun activity” usually packed an educational wallop and ended up about as fun as swallowing a dry aspirin.

once they realized it was completely open-ended and the teachers were there to help *them* do things, they brightened up like a cloud had shfited away from the sun.

so good to see you here, nancy. :) i know you guys are having a great summer!

Comment by christi10 on July 19, 2013 at 03:02 PM

I keep rereading this post because i love it so much! Camp registrations start so early in the year for summer and i always feel stressed b/c people start asking me in march what camps my boys are going to do. Just thinking about the rush to get registered and the cost of some of the camps sends me into a tither! I was always in guilt mode because my kids might do one camp each of their choosing and that's it. Everyone's doing swimteam and gymnastics and every sport known to man and my boys are out playing in the street ( we live on a cul-de-sac) with the neighbor kids or just habging out at the pool. We go to the library once a week and hit some museums if we feel like it and camp and hike, but my kids are blissfully unscheduled because i'm selfish and didn't feel like hauling them to one activity to another was time well-spent (also couldn't afford all those activities). I have always felt guilty that they weren't taking piano lessons and tennis, etc, etc. What i realize now is that my kids have no desire whatsoever to be so scheduled. If they want to do something, they tell me, but it's not a lot of stuff. They like having control of their time. One boy spends lots of time on the computer and the other spends time building ramps for scootering and making water parks in the front yard with whatever he and the other neighbor kida who happen to be around can find. The kids who are really scheduled never want to play outside or do anything when they get home and i think it's b/c they are exhausted and want to be left alone. It's just nice to enjoy my kids without any agenda. Honestly, i think they enjoy me more that way.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 19, 2013 at 07:24 PM


blissfully unscheduled” is a perfect term. :) and instead of saying you’re selfish, you could say that you’re enlightened — more adult-organized programming does not equal better opportunities for kids. 

It's just nice to enjoy my kids without any agenda. Honestly, i think they enjoy me more that way.”

i don’t think you can underestimate the gift you give yourself and your family when you schedule less — less chaos, less rushing around, less stress, more free time, more relaxed moods, more laughing, more time. when your kids look back on their summer memories, they are going to remember sitting on the front porch eating popsicles with you, not taking a class!

Comment by kmama on July 20, 2013 at 04:51 PM

Oh. This came at the right time for me. Today I told my boys to get off minecraft and do something else, because the nearly four hours of solid minecraft play was bothering me.

They asked to show me what they'd been doing, so I had a look and....they'd built a citadel complete with government buildings, a farm to supply goods to the citadel, a market place and so much more. They had a plan on paper and a was amazing.

Then I read this and thought....oh.

So they're going to have the Summer that they want to have, and I'm not going to freak out any more. Thankyou.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 20, 2013 at 04:57 PM


they're going to have the Summer that they want to have


love this — thank you so much :)



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