Keeping it Real (and Simple) for our Kids

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.

  Stacia Tauscher

As a parent, it seems I’ve been engaged in a consistent conversation with my friends over the past couple years about over scheduling our kids.  Do I try to keep my children busy for fear they’ll get mushy and fester on our couch?  Do I keep them busy to keep me sane?  Do I keep them busy because I’m always thinking of that next best thing?  Inevitably, I always find myself returning to my own childhood experiences, trying to draw conclusions and answers.  After all, I think I turned out ok.

All of these questions came to a head last week when my daughter was due home from sleep away camp with more than half the summer left – roughly 7 weeks.  I could only see those weeks in terms of hours, hours that needed to be a flurry with activity -1178 hours.  The intimidation set in immediately.  But, so did my frustration.  Why was I putting so much pressure on myself?  Out of the entire year summer is supposed to be carefree without the stresses of school.  Summer is supposed to be a detox for my kids, a time to sigh and release, a time to regroup, redefine and relax.  But, there I was again, trying to fill it up, leaving no room, no downtime.  I feared I just couldn’t stimulate my daughter like camp (and for that matter, any after school activity).  Drilled down, I simply feared she’d be bored and unproductive at home.

When I look back, I don’t remember being jam-packed with activities the way many children are today.  In fact, when I came home from sleep away camp, there were no plans in place.  We relaxed and went to the pool club and visited with friends.  There wasn’t much structure and everyone was fine– there were really no expectations. It was the same during the school year. In elementary school, I have very vivid memories of coming home from school and playing in the cul-de-sac with my neighbors until Mom called to me for dinner.  If my parents weren’t home, I’d simply stay at a neighbor’s house and play until they came to pick me up.  I certainly wasn’t getting carted off to after-school activities every single day only to arrive minutes before dinner was served with a night’s worth of homework looming ahead.

Weekends were the same.  It was our precious time to hang as a family unit.  We never got farmed out to “classes”.  The only exception was when we played on a team.  Then the whole family would take a pilgrimage to games and practices.  Otherwise, Mom would always cook and host an informal brunches for whomever Dad invited over.  And, we’d sit at the table and casually eat and talk until the early hours of the afternoon.  We’d also go on simple errands downtown and around the neighborhood and turn them into adventures.  I remember our frequent weekend excursions with Dad to Watson’s, our local plant and garden center.  We’d walk around the green house and learn about the various plants and then we’d spend time playing on the industrial-sized lawn mowers.

My dad still enjoys guiding educational trips to the plant store...with another generation...his grand kids!

Many times I’d accompany Dad when he was on rounds at the hospital.  He’d position me at the nurses station and I’d love to watch them work, play with them and look at the charts while I drank pulpy orange juice in little plastic cups.  Then I’d get to visit Dad’s convalescing patients before we left.  These were unforgettable learning experiences.  Regular errands with Mom were equally interesting.  We’d go to the supermarket and spend time going down every aisle as we worked through her shopping list.  She’d let us handle the bins and fill the bags at check out.  We’d visit the dry cleaners and get to go behind the desk to type in our number and watch our clothes magically appear from the moving clothes hangers.

While this may read like my parents, on many occasions, carted us with them to do their errands, yes, they did.  But, they didn’t fear it.  Rather, they turned them into enjoyable learning experiences that have lasted a lifetime.  I’m certain my old-fashioned trips to the market with my mom and the raspberry picking escapades in our woods with Dad were far more effective than the karate classes I forced on my daughter in Kindergarten (when she didn’t like Karate) or the drawing classes I pushed on my son to make him “well-rounded.”

As I picked my daughter up from camp last week, I promised myself I wouldn’t blatantly ask her if she thought she was going to be bored at home – although it had been an albatross the entire car ride to the airport.  How could I possibly keep her stimulated like camp?  I wasn’t going to break out in cheer at all hours. She wasn’t going to be moving between varied activities all day long. And, she wasn’t going to be co-habitating with 10 girls in a bunk.

But, I did find a familiar comfort knowing that she’s going to be spending some basic quality time with her family creating experiences unparalleled to anything else. She’ll be cooking some MyJudytheFoodie recipes with me, in my kitchen. She’ll be taking bike rides with her little brother (and arguing with him), reading on the beach, painting in the yard -peacefully.   I had once placed very little value on these basic activities because: they aren’t structured, they aren’t taught by an expert and they aren’t ostensibly helping her get a “leg up” for 4th grade.  However, I’ve taken the time and allowed myself to slow down and recognize that she actually craves these activities and welcomes the mellow time.

You can imagine the relief that washed over me after I got my girl back from camp.  And, thankfully, because she’s not over scheduled throughout the year, she wasn’t programmed to say, “What am I doing tomorrow” or “did you sign me up for any classes.”  When I told her that we’d be spending the next day doing some errands together, she couldn’t wait.  She was actually relieved to spend some basic quality time with me (and of course, ride around stuffed inside the shopping cart too).

Our simple shopping cart game: organizing all of the items by category while you're in the cart.

 What are your thoughts about your childrens’ schedules?  Do you fear too much down time or celebrate it?  Have you taken basic family activities and turned them into fun games and learning experiences?


  1. Margarita says:

    Shari, you are a terrific mom, I aspire to be a mother like you. You are supportive and understanding and you speak to your kids and listen to what they have to say as well!

    I see such love and support in your family and it is always very kind and loving atmosphere!

  2. Great post, so I had to comment here too! My childhood was much like yours, with activities here and there, but lots of free time as well as running errands with my parents. You make a good point about these being great learning times for kids as well! We have been having a very easy going and relaxing summer ( although this week both my kids are in a camp together, so ive been enjoying a little peace ad quiet!) and the kids and I are loving it. It does help that we live in a great neighborhood where all the kids, ranging in age from 3-10, run around a play with each other ( and inevitably end up in our pool at the end of the day!) I think kids are at their most creative when they don’t have their whole life scheduled for them! Enjoy the rest of your summer 🙂

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