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What’s the use of summertime?

What’s summertime for? There’s a myth that our long summer breaks are a vestige of agricultural rhythms – but how are we to interpret that when we easily misunderstand other “founding acts” for the sake of present-day benefits? How many private industries grow out of this “gap in the public fund”? How do we continue to work (to pay for the daycare) so that we can afford the house (to sleep in) to buy our healthy food to heat up in the microwave (because the oven takes too long)? Perhaps we can accept summertime as a gift. Somehow everyone slows down, and children know this if they are outdoors in the heat and sunshine. Children know what to do with these long days – if we let them.

Because young children are born knowing how to play, they will know what to do in a backyard filled with twigs, sticks, stones, water, and shade. Unlike us, they can fill that space with their imaginary friends and companions, stories, time with a pet, or a family of fairies and gnomes. Yes, these imaginary creatures are important vehicles for our young ones who don’t yet distinguish between “fact” and “fiction” (as if we can). If we let them, our young children will fill an apparently empty space with their imaginations. But we need to get out of their way.

If we have filled their lives with stimulation: “entertainment-parenting”, screens of any sort, constant outings, etc., they will need more time to settle-down to the expectations of a “blank slate” – the backyard. If we have placed our precious one in the center of the world, responding to every request and statement, that too will take time to unwind. If we have few other children to invite over into our backyards, maybe just one or two a week would do – social time with others, but unstructured. How much time to clear the system of overstimulation? At least a month. At that point a young child will not want to come indoors, will be so self-entertaining that you’ll be able to write your masterpiece, will be an active participant in a world of her or his making and less willing to sit in front of a screen. Within a predictable summer routine of time together in the morning, at lunch and at dinner, our children will thrive on less.

Summertime is for our backyard, for lying under a tree and watching the breezes, for listening to the bustle of birds and rodents, and envisioning their homes inside trees, under the ground, and in the branches. What does mama bird yell at her babies? Where does that hole in the ground lead to? Maybe I can build an underground home too. Perhaps there’s a family of moles building more rooms, connecting to a town, collecting for the winter, playing together? There are few limits on how children will imagine the lives of animals in their yards (unless they’ve been exposed to the lies of Disney). These internal narratives will nourish their literary souls and entertain you at the dinner table.

Summertime is for slower time, thoughtful time, time together as families, the backyard.