We humans are rhythmic creatures. At least that’s how we’re meant to be. It’s why Rhythm is one of the seven Parenting for Peace principles. It is a gift for our children and ourselves to embrace life’s ebbing and flowing. Summertime offers us a luscious opportunity for slowing the pace of life.
“As biologists have learned in the past decade,” writes author Jennifer Ackerman, “time permeates the flesh of all living things — and for one powerful reason: We evolved on a rotating planet.” She observes the many ways in which we carry inside us a model of the cosmos. Our entire being is steeped in various rhythms: respiration, circulation, digestion and elimination just to name a few.
So, no wonder we find rhythmicity so nourishing. The young child most especially thrives on rhythmic routine, consistency and predictability. It weaves a sense of security into the fiber of his very cells as they are busy building brain and organ tissue. Ideally, rhythm permeates the child’s daily, weekly and even seasonal life. Meals and bedtimes are consistent and regular. Activities at home as well as outings take on the predictability of ritual, which the child can count on and keep a sort of internal beat to: “This is when we eat, this is when we nap, this is when we have play time… Tuesdays we go to the park, Wednesdays we go to the Farmer’s Market, Sunday we visit Grandma… and summer is beach time!”
School-aged children and teens also find rhythm comforting, though it comes in different forms. The common denominator, though, is usually the same: home and family. In our ever-more-speedy, 24/7 world, the welcome relief of slowing the pace of life is found at home, with family.
Slowing the Pace of Life in Summer
I think we all suffer from the tendency to fill up our free time with whatever doesn’t feel finished. For me, this goes all the way back to my earliest days of motherhood: when everyone counseled, “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” I instead would make valiant attempts to catch up on … everything! I should’ve gotten the message right then that that is a losing proposition. Life simply doesn’t work in that linear way.
In terms of how we do this in summer, think summer school … academic camps … acceleration intensives … tutoring, enrichment and summer college programs. Tired yet? Don’t get me wrong — none of these things are wrong or bad. It’s a question of balance, and of remembering (which is hard in our never-stop-achieving culture) that we do crave rhythmicity to life, and we tend to suffer when it’s pedal-to-the-metal all the time.
Summer brings with it many natural cues to slow down: the warmth, the longer days (more time, so no need to do things as fast), the luscious grass or warm sand that beckons: Lie down! And it isn’t coincidence that the traditional long school break occurs in summer: it began at the beginning of compulsory education, when families needed children’s help with the harvest.
Slowing the Pace of Life to Grow the Brain
We can think of the summer break as a time for a different kind of harvest — a time for children to invisibly reap what has been sown through the school year. I’m always amazed at how intricately Rudolf Steiner (founder of Waldorf education) seemed to recognize the stages of brain development, more than a hundred years before our current neuroscientific imaging and research. He saw that it served a child’s deep learning to be intensively exposed to a subject — such as in a Waldorf curriculum’s main lesson block of two hours each morning for three or six weeks — and then for that material to be allowed to “sleep” out of the child’s conscious attention. I witnessed countless times how when that subject — be it math or botany or whatever — came back around months or even years later, there was a depth and “there”ness to the student’s grasp of the new learning.
Sociologist, life coach and author Martha Beck puts a fun, fascinating spin on how slowing down in summer can contribute to more gray matter. She taps discoveries about the workings of myelin, the brain matter that coats our nerves (that is, our information-carrying cells) like an insulation wrapping, allowing them to function more effectively. Her quotations piqued my interest to the point that I used Amazon’s “Look inside!” feature to read several pages of Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code.
Summertime is the perfect time to harness his findings, which in a nutshell are this: long sessions of repetitive practice (of anything from chess to clarinet to algebra to basketball) are not what builds greatness in an endeavor. Rather, it’s regular shorter, concentrated sessions, slowing down the practice to an almost glacial pace. Depth of focus is key. So this summer vacation, maybe let your school-aged child’s own affinities, her passion, draw her to diving deep (and slow) into one particular thing over the summer. Deep practice on that will become the bass-beat of her summer rhythm, outside of which she can then feel free and unencumbered by other “must do”s.
What Does Slowing the Pace of Life Look Like??
What is this thing I speak of, “Slowing the pace of life”? Indeed, these days it sounds as exotic as a Bali cottage perched on pylons in the middle of turquoise blue. (Now that’s what I’m talking about with summer slow down … or any season for that matter!) It may sound counter-intuitive, but I think it helps to actually schedule slow time. Make a weekly schedule for the fridge and on it use your red Sharpie to carve out huge swaths of time for the beach … the park … the poo l… the backyard. Turn the volume on that “I must accomplish” voice in your head way down — to virtually inaudible.
If you’re like I was earlier in my mothering journey, you might be perplexed to the point of paralysis by this concept. I would have found it helpful to see what others have done to slow down in summer, or just to slow down in general. (Here’s a great hack: check out the wonderful ideas in the comments section of The Playful Family author Shawn Ledington Fink’s summer slowdown contest blog.)
But maybe the merest suggestion to consider slowing the pace of life is all you need this summer to feel inspired to just do it (or rather, just not do it)! Mmmmmmm…
 Ackerman, Jennifer. Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007, pg. 8.
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