When I was in high school, I was involved in more activities than my kids are in now. I participated in all different types of extracurriculars like piano lessons, the debate club, and the tennis team. My summers were just as busy because I worked twelve hour shifts as a lifeguard. I admit it—I liked being so active.
My kids have inherited my enthusiasm for being busy. I have an 11-year-old and 14-year-old twins and their activity schedule keeps them, and me, busy. There are days when I spend hours either driving them around, waiting in the car, or watching them at their latest sporting event.
I’ve never pressured my kids into signing up for their activities. They choose to participate in so many extracurriculars because they also like being active.
But sometimes it’s too much. My youngest daughter was involved in so many different interests I told her she needed to cut some things from her schedule because she was exhausted and stressed out.
Luckily, summer is on the horizon! I recently read an article about the value of a self-directed summer that reinforced what I learned last year.
Less scheduling and more freedom to choose their day-to-day activities lead to kids who are less stressed.
And that’s essentially the kind of summer we had last year.
In previous summers, my kids participated in a few different day camps that mimicked their school day routine without the after school activities. So they stayed busy, but not quite as busy as when school was in sessions. Things changed last summer. My twins had aged out of most of the youth camps they had previously attended and their younger sister wasn’t interested in going to camp without them.
I panicked a little bit, wondering how I was going to keep them occupied for two months when we were all used to living a very scheduled lifestyle. While I did sign them up for a three-week camp, it only lasted four hours a day and was a big change from their usual highly scheduled routine. For the first time since my kids started attending summer camp as preschoolers, we didn’t have anything scheduled for most of the summer.
I was certain they would drive me crazy telling me how bored they were. But they didn’t.
And I can honestly say last summer was one of the most relaxing summers I can remember since my kids were born.
No, my kids didn’t spend their days glued to their electronic devices. In fact, their screen usage was minimal and they rarely said, “I’m bored.” Even better, I didn’t spend hours in my car, like an unpaid Uber driver, carting my kids around to their latest endeavors.
So what did they do? My teenage daughter planted a garden for the first time and grew strawberries, raspberries, and watermelons. She encountered some setbacks, like birds eating the fruit and plants dying from not enough water, but she spent time learning how to improve her garden.
We also spent a lot of time going to the beach, hiking in a nearby national park, and playing tennis. Not only was I less stressed, I saved money by not paying for camps and other expensive activities. And I feel like I got to know my kids better by spending quality time with them instead of being their chauffeur or sideline fan.
When my kids returned to school last fall, they picked right back up where they’d left off with all of their activities. It’s been a busy school year and now I’m counting down the days until the last day of school. I can’t wait until we can return to the unscheduled, relaxed, chauffeur-free days of summer.