Keeping Loose

While summer is still on the horizon, parents are already busy making plans. They're filling the summer with activities for their kids. It's like those three months are a vast, uncharted desert of boredom and parents must map the oases. Otherwise, their children will be grumpier than a pack of lazy camels.

To be honest, we do the same in our family. The calendar is already dotted with activities: summer camp, Vacation Bible School, an odd camping trip or two. (And with us, all camping trips are a bit odd.) But there's a limit. We feel strongly that there must be space for kids to be free to be kids.

As I've said before, creativity works best inside a loose framework. Have too much structure and kids lose the fun of having time to exploring their own ideas. Have too little and often there's a lethargy that sets in; a wide-open landscape of choices can be overwhelming. Too tightly organized days can feel like school all over again. But in a completely uneventful schedule, ideas can evaporate under the wilting sun.

How do we get a balance?

Encourage your children to set goals for the summer. All year long, they've probably been daydreaming about what they'd do if they had more time. Before summer comes, help them put those down on paper. Are there books they want to read? A skill they want to learn? Some place they'd like to explore? Perhaps there's a super-huge Lego spaceship they want to build or a cookie recipe they'd like to try.

This could get a bit tricky for you as a parent. They might have goals you don't support. Like eating one's weight in ice cream sandwiches. Or thickening the video-controller calluses on their thumbs. Or nightly cartoon marathons. Feel free to steer them toward a list of goals with which you can both be happy. After all, you're a key player in this. Your enthusiasm as they share their explorations will be very motivating to them.

How many goals should they set? Try three to five. Just enough to create a sense of anticipation without becoming a burden.

Keep that framework loose.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter