Mitch Albom on Summer

This was in Parade Magazine and was sent to me by my friend Michelle Amidon from USA Hockey:

Go ahead, kids. Lie in the grass. Study the clouds. Daydream. Be lazy. You have our permission.

I feel sorry for todays kids. Summer comes, theyre finally free from schooland bang! Band camp. Science seminars. Internships.

Instead of downtime, its get-up-and-go time. Chorus travel, archaeological digs, dance tours. My nephew from Michigan flew to Georgetown University for a summer medical program, replete with cadavers. He was 16.

He’s hardly alone. Some kids fill their summers with so many prep courses that theyre ready to graduate from college by the time they get there. Its all very admirable, but heres a question: Why so busy?

I can make the case for doing nothing all summer. Thats right. Nothing. I know it wont advance your kids career objectives or improve their SAT scores.

But it might be good for them.

When I think of my childhood summers, I remember lying in the grass, hands behind my head, feeling the blades dig into my fingers. I studied the clouds. I joked with my friends. None of us wore watches.

Weekdays were indistinguishable from weekends. Id wake up when my eyes opened, read comic books over bowls of -cereal, go outside with my baseball glove (just in case a game broke out), and find something to do on my bike, make things in the garage. Was it lazy? By todays standards, maybe. But there was a freedom that todays kids dont enjoy. We sat on curbs. We daydreamed. Think about the word. Daydream. It means your imagination wanders while your eyes are open.

What kid has time for that today? Preteens are on travel soccer teams. They fly to faraway cities. Play tournaments. Isnt that what pro players do?

Likewise, camps chew up the summer months, but theyre no longer just softball and swimming. There are fashion camps. Circus camps. Science camps. Achievement is emphasized.

Even kids at home find their free time under scrutiny. Some children are made to adhere to playdates as if keeping a doctors appointment. (By the way, the closest I ever came to a playdate was when my mother opened the door on summer mornings and said, Go. Dont come back until supper.)

We need to lighten it up. Sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Sure, camp can be fun, and travel ball is exciting, but if we cram in activities from the last day of school to the first, were ignoring an important fact: The way kids work during the academic yearhonestly, youd think homework was a full-time joba mental break may be needed. These are young minds, young bodies. Replenishing the juices by kicking back is not a bad idea. And if not in childhood, then when?

Now, I know what youre thinking: If we dont enroll our kids in an activity, all theyll do is text. Or watch TV (and text) or talk on the phone (and text).

Well, you could prevent that. You could take away the cell phone, the iPod, the Nintendo. Then see if you can get your kid to do four things in a day:

1. Have a face-to-face conversation with a friend.

2. Read something.

3. Build something.

4. Get wet. A pool. A hose. A sprinkler. Whatever.

Thats really enough. Before you can blink, its the school year again, where every day is jammed with sports, AP classes, student government, and field trips.

Thats fine for September. But if September is no different from June, July, and August, then were doing something wrong. And our kids are missing something precious.

Mitch Albom
Best-selling author Mitch Albom is a Detroit Free Press colu



6 Responses to “Mitch Albom on Summer”

  1. mboyle1959 Says:

    So true. Parenting is hard work. My wife is a stay at home mom luckily and just as luckily I get to go to work.

  2. One or two camps is great, but this is an interesting (and unfortunate) evolution at its extreme. I think “social economic status” only determines whether they go to a Harvard camp for science or a YMCA camp down the street. At the end of the day, I still see kids shipped off, and much is due to parenting become a lost art … the lack of parenting (and therefore leadership) is one of our society’s most serious epidemics. When mom and dad aren’t home, the kids have to be sent off to camp because that’s much less effort than spending time with them; or it’s required because mom and dad both work to pay for day care and the five bed room house, so who is home during the summers to watch them. (Hence, the emergence of “after school” programs, aka – extended day care on school grounds.) I mean, come on, camp is easier than attempting to entertain them more than the xbox the kid received for his 3rd birthday does, right?

  3. mboyle1959 Says:

    Very true. However when I was a kid even the rich did not view summer as “get ahead” time.

  4. mboyle1959 Says:

    She won’t be. Unfortunately you will put her in camp too. The key will be to pick better camps. Trust me. The best thing for us is that we take our kids to the lake every weekend we can. They swim, ski, tube, fish etc. We watch old movies on a VCR and go to bed at 9. I love it.

  5. My husband & I were driving through a development last summer on a beautiful day…not one child outside playing or riding a bike. Not one! It was weird and almost creepy. Kids don’t have free play anymore and it’s a disturbing trend. When my child is old enough to have summers off from school, I’m afraid she might be the only one who’s Not in some sort of camp.

    Thanks for sharing the article.

  6. I think these types of over schedule summers are dependent on social economic status. I work with many high school students from lower social economic classes and they are not participants in any of the above beside sports participation. I doubt the average american can fly their kid across their nation for an enrichment programs. Whether or not you agree with these over scheduled summers, I think this column represents more of the class divide in educational opportunities based on financial circumstance.

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