Since I grew up in a tiny rural town in Illinois (population 100 on a good day), one might think my opportunities for adventure and entertainment were limited. In fact, it was just the opposite. True, there was no movie theatre, swimming pool, bowling alley, shopping mall, city park, or organized sports. Instead, there was the wide, wide world – trees, fields, ponds, pastures, creeks, gullies, ditches, hills and miles and miles of gravel roads.
I was most fortunate to have a bike and a pair of roller skates (that clamped to my shoes and required a key for tightening) that helped me navigate my world. Those two low-tech means of transportation took me just about everywhere I could dream of going. They were the wheels beneath my wings!
Each day was a new beginning, and I was ready to “do it all” – whatever I decided. Sometimes it was a walk to our town’s only gas station to ogle candy bars in the glass case; other times I would strap a lunch to my bike and head to the nearby woods, my journal and binoculars in hand. No matter where I spent my time, how I spent my time was always delightful because I was on my own, doing what interested me. I knew I was happy, but I didn’t realize until much later how those happy experiences gave me valuable skills I would need as an adult.
I worry about kids nowadays not having the opportunities for that same kind of independence and sweet freedom. So much of children’s lives is orchestrated, planned and directed by and with adults. And it seems most everything we have our kids do involves the spending of money - for uniforms, lessons, equipment and whatever else we as adults deem as “necessary”.
Call me old; call me old-fashioned; I think we’re cheating our kids of some of life’s most valuable, let alone, pleasurable experiences by being so involved in their daily activities. Children need time to be children - away from adults. They need time to plan, create, be bored, try, fail, try again, laugh, cry, make decisions, and yes, play on their own. Those experiences enable our kids to become fully functioning, independent, confident, competent adults.
So, what do we grown-ups need to do? First, I think we need to stop and think about what we’re really doing and why. Our intentions are usually good. However, the results of our intentions are often not as meaningful or ultimately successful as we would think. We could serve our children better by stepping back and away more often. We need to let our children play without us and other grownups in the picture. By doing so, we enable our children to become dreamers, problem solvers and leaders. Isn’t that what we really want? And isn’t that what our children really deserve?
So, this summer, this glorious summer, let’s take a big deep adult breath and “let go” more often than not when it comes to our kids’ activities. Let’s let our kids’ summer truly be their summer. Not only will they thank us, someday, the world will too! Happy Summer!
Children's Librarian at Neill Public Library
6/28/14, Moscow-Pullman Daily News