I fall into some sort of middle place that is a hybrid of the two camps. It's not because I've carefully thought it through and reached a calculated decision. No, my summer style is much like the rest of my parenting style: I start off with an idea of what I think I should be like, try to make it happen, and end up with something that bears the mere essence of what I was going for.
Parents who are all about a structured summer like to keep kids on a schedule and to have the weeks, days, and hours of school-lessness planned out and filled up. Motivations for this vary, from a fear of having bored kids, to a fear of pulling one's own hair out; from dealing with scrappy kids every day, to a desire to enrich a child's life by giving them experiences.
Related: Summer Boredom Busters: 50 Screen-Free Activities for Kids
There are variations of this. There are parents who have their kids stick to a certain routine, usually a looser version of their school-year schedule.
- Most weeks are booked into camps, likely a well-rounded selection that touches on a combination of a child's interests as well as the 'musts' like swimming, and maybe a session or two in an educational program.
- Some parents run their own camp of sorts. They plan outings once or twice a week - maybe to local parks, museums, and other children-oriented places - a movie at the theater, play dates and 'hangouts' (as my tween calls them because, "play dates, mom?") and let their kids know what the plan is each day or week.
These children know their schedule because it's written on the family calendar.
Wild and Free Summer
These are the children who are living like it's the 1950s:
- Wake up.
- Eat breakfast.
- Go outside and play: spy games, tree climbing, ball tossing, sprinkler running, bike riding, bubble blowing, and water guns.
- Come for lunch when they hear their name called.
- Run wild and free again until late afternoon, knocking on neighbor friends' doors, setting up lemonade stands, and collecting bugs.
- When they're good and dirty, scraped up and tired, they return home, get thrown in the bath, and watch a television show until dinner time.
- The entire day is punctuated by cries of "I'm bored! There's nothing to do!"
Related: Why Summer Boredom Is Good For Our Kids
What are the parent(s) doing during the day when the kids are running free and wild? They might be parents who can't afford the financial cost of scheduled activities, or work-from-home entrepreneurs who are desperately trying to fit in 12 hours of work between feeding their kids, tossing out 'fun' ideas like water play and scavenger hunts whilst they sit at their laptop (yeah, that's me), or just parents who feel exhausted by being a full-on, every-minute parent because they need some time to be just them (also me).
For those who love the idea of their children being less restricted, they relish the idea of free-range life lessons that can only be learned by letting imaginations and bodies run wild. These parents also feel guilty when their children cry boredom, but think it's good for kids to learn how to entertain themselves. These parents' feelings of inadequacy come because they worry they are not giving their children enough structured, fun activities and experiences.
Because we're parents, odds are that whichever style we've adopted, we question if we're doing the right thing. Whichever style we gravitate towards, we wonder if we should be leaning more towards the other style.
The truth is, we probably all fall into a little bit of each category - some structure, some wild and free - and the balance that we've found, works for us.