I enjoy doing projects with kids. I especially enjoy doing projects with kids I love. And so, when I write “Family Fun” suggestions each month, they are full of activities and projects for families to do together. But the truth is, I never expect families to do most of them—I offer a selection so that perhaps folks will find one that is a match for them. Recently I saw a Facebook posting for a “realistic bucket list” for summer, reminding readers that goals like “make ice cream in a bag” are fun, but just plain “eat ice cream” is fine, too.
The truth is, children’s days can be over planned and over scheduled, with little time for the imaginative play that supports their creativity. When I think about the summer memories that still bring me joy, they were not complicated, elaborate, or expensive. So, building on the bucket list, I’m going to spend the next five posts exploring minimalist suggestions for a more creative summer.
Minimalist suggestion #1: Let children explore the world.
It was not so many years ago that children were shooed out into the summer afternoon with directions to “go play” until dinner. We explored nearby woods and fields, watched the ants in the back yard, walked down the street to visit the neighbors, or biked to the closest store to drink from the coldest water fountain in town. Today, I’m afraid, news stories of horrors from all parts of the country have made parents afraid to let children out of their sight—and where’s the adventure there?
I’m actually not convinced the world is more dangerous these days—just that instant communication ensures we hear more about the dangers. Either way, children need to learn to navigate the world and sort reasonable from non-reasonable risk taking. So help them learn. Teach safety precautions (stick together, don’t talk to strangers, tell us where you are going), and let children have age-appropriate adventures. Obviously, toddlers should never be out of sight of adults, but older elementary and middle school children should be old enough for other options.
Consider what those might be in your neighborhood. Not long ago I read about a group of parents who created something of an “adventure group” for their 9-10 year old children. When the group got together, the children were allowed to roam within a particular radius (maybe 5 blocks), as long as they stayed together, only crossed at particular intersections, and returned in an hour. That might not be the right routine for your family, but something is. Perhaps exploring means visiting designated neighbors alone or exploring the woods accompanied by an older friend, but not a parent. Perhaps it means time in a park, with supervision far enough away to not feel intrusive. Especially in places we enjoy glorious summer days, exploring in places with grass and bugs and tree branches for swinging brings both joy and the chance for young people to discover their inner naturalist.
But field or city, exploring gives children a chance to be open to the world, make discoveries, make plans, and solve problems. Coming home with an adventure to report is an essential part of growing up independent and lays the groundwork for creativity. So plan carefully, prepare to be safe, and then help your family explore. It’s what summer memories are made of!