elevating child care

A Summer To Forget

I have an unconventional view about kids and summer that I’ve been reluctant to share, because I imagine most will disagree. Some might consider my point of view irresponsible. But since both of my teenage daughters have recently offered their unsolicited corroboration, I’m taking the plunge.  My kids have great instincts, and if they have conviction in something it must be worth sharing. 

My 15-year-old middle daughter, a sage old soul, expressed this idea brilliantly during a recent exchange with her 10-year-old brother. He has a character trait that’s admirable but baffling to all of us. He’s intensely conscientious about his school work and completes assignments well in advance of their due date. Who does that? If he shares an urgent concern about finishing a school assignment, you can bet he doesn’t need to turn it in for several weeks.  Needless to say, he didn’t get this from me. This is DNA from an alien species.

Occasionally this summer, my boy’s been stressing about the optional math review packet due when school starts, especially because we’ve had some technical difficulties downloading it for him. When he recently shared his worries, his sister retorted, “You don’t need to do it. They’ll review all the material anyway.”

“But the teacher said I’ll forget everything!”

“It’s summer. You’re supposed to forget everything,” she commanded.

I couldn’t have said it better. I believe in letting our kids’ brains turn to mush over the summer. Kids need to relax their minds, forget there is such a thing as school work, vegetate and assimilate. They need these months to shuffle and reshuffle the deck, disassemble and reorganize, access latent areas of their minds. They need to lose all track of time. Often. Children do this best when we respect their choices, especially when we honor their choice to do nothing at all.

(The obvious exception to this laissez-faire approach is passive entertainment and screen time. TV and video games might always be “first choice” and need our monitoring.)

“I don’t want to learn anything in the summer,” was my eldest daughter’s pronouncement at age 7, and she’s stuck to it. Now 19 and entering her sophomore year at a topnotch university, she’s managed throughout her life to avoid anything she perceived as academic summer enrichment.  She’s chosen Girl Scout camp, sports and ocean camps and a Christian choral camp. She’s remodeled houses for Native Americans, had a couple of  internships, hung out with friends and worked at the local juice bar, but noooo learning for her, or at least nothing that felt like learning. Just play and adventures.  

I see summer as one long extracurricular activity, and my belief about all extracurricular activities is that they belong solely to the person engaging in them.  Many have asked me how the RIE approach translates to parenting older children. My answer is trust kids to choose. This is the way older children continue to benefit from self-directed play and is essential for encouraging and nurturing intrinsic motivation

Why wouldn’t we trust our children to know what they need to do to balance the brain work that is required of them during the school year? Only our children can know this. Just like when they were babies, our kids intuitively know what areas of “self” they need to develop. Our validation of these choices is immensely empowering.

One of my most memorable moments this summer was about forgetting. I was lying on the beach next to my 19-year-old daughter. My son was floating on his back in the tranquil sea.  After spending several minutes in that stillness, he stepped out of the water and made a little sand castle. I closed my eyes and forgot. I forgot I was a teacher and a blogger. I even forgot I was a mom and wife. I was just me.

(Photos were taken by my daughter during the many summers she learned nothing at all.)

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101 Responses to “A Summer To Forget”

  1. avatar Teebs says:

    Holidays are definitely their time to recharge and have fun. My children have not learnt a thing! They have ‘not’ learnt about visiting a different country, how to build a wonderful stick fort or to follow the instructions on a Lego creation (on their own). They have ‘not’ learnt how to swim better and put their heads under water in our beautiful river or reconnect with old friends that they do not normally play with at school. They haven’t learnt how to read off of the menu at our favourite restaurant, play new card cames or climb the biggest trees (I have a few new gray hairs). My children have had the most wonderfully fun and carefree summer and they haven’t ‘learnt’ one single thing, which is just the way we like it!

  2. avatar Jen says:

    The funny thing is, the kids are probably learning and retaining more from their summer and they just don’t even realize it!!! Kids need to be kids!!!

  3. avatar Anne says:

    i am wondering what your thoughts are on trusting older kids to fchoose their own activities if that consists of video games and TV all day. If I had had the opportunity, I probably would have spent the majority of my summer hours engaged in these activities.

    • avatar janet says:

      In retrospect, do you wish you could have done that? For me, it would depend on the child and his or her age. I was very careful about limiting my children’s exposure to screens in the early years (the most sensitive for the development of learning skills) and they have all three been excellent, motivated students, so I have found that I could totally trust them to find balance as teens. My limits at that point have been around appropriateness of the material. For example, many of my children’s friends have had free rein to see PG-13 movies at age 9 and younger, and R movies at 10 or 13 or younger. I might make the rare exception for an otherwise wonderful film, but I generally say a firm no to allowing my kids to be exposed to material I don’t consider developmentally appropriate for them. I’ve had to be unpopular at times. 😉

  4. avatar Lisa Weiner says:

    Yes! I couldn’t agree more! Summer is for being bored, forgetting, daydreaming & the like. Thank you for this post, Janet.

  5. avatar Norval Dampney says:

    Love this so much, Janet. Agree completely and I’m so glad my three children (now aged 30, 27 and 25) spent their summers fiddle faddling around.

  6. avatar Laura newman says:

    I love your post & whole heartedly agree! But…what to do about all the holiday homework!

    • avatar Sheva says:

      I don’t make my kids do it. In their school it’s voluntary, not mandatory, and I mirror their interest and encourage if they want to, but don’t push them or remind them if they don’t remember it first themselves.
      Even if it was mandatory I’d figure out how to ‘forget’ to do it.

  7. avatar Shirlet says:

    I don’t disagree with your view. There is nothing to disagree. I like how your kids seem to know what they want and how with it they are. I sent my kids to summer school. 7,9,14 yrs old. Kumon tue & thur. Karate and camp. City excursions. Did we do too much? After reading your article, i’m rethinking

    • avatar janet says:

      That would be too much for me, and I definitely wouldn’t have my kids do anything they weren’t eager to do. I consider this their time, not mine.

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