The Old-Fashioned Summer Challenge

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Welcome to summer! Even though we homeschool, I don’t do school year-round. My kids have a summer break from June 1 to August 31. They spend all summer unscheduled and unplugged, doing our Summer Challenge.

Today my boys started building a tree-house and my oldest daughter had her first sewing lesson. Vintage scouting books for activities, and plenty of good vintage books to read on rainy afternoons. Time for watching clouds, doing arts and crafts, sitting in a tree reading and eating apples, fishing, kayaking, hiking, playing chess and Trivial Pursuit, building Legos. Time to be kids.

Old-Fashioned Summer Challenge: Norman Rockwell, "No Swimming" 1921
Sometimes, summertime is a time for bad decisions . . .

What Do Your Kids Do All Day?

Mostly, they play. Play is the work of childhood. Even until they are teenagers, they play. Sometimes they play with blocks and animals, or dollhouses, making up stories and imagining and sometimes they dress-up and act out their own stories, or things they have read. They might decide to play in the dirt, or make silly soup. Sometimes, they build Legos (especially on rainy days). Sometimes, they play board games. Their father takes them to the lake or the mountains on some days.

They still do chores. They have to read and log 2-3 new books a week. We all eat dinner as a family. And I have time for character training, homeschool planning, and vintage housewife projects. The older children have lists of things they can learn and do. And if anyone says, “Mom, I’m BORED,” well, there’s always a bathroom to be cleaned or a floor to be mopped.

Old-Fashioned Summer Challenge: N. C. Wyeth, "Two Boys in a Punt" 1915
When you’re a kid, summer means getting wet . . . and dirty.

Why Do You Let Your Kids Be Bored?

I want my children to know how to entertain themselves. To know how to enjoy being outside. I want them to be self-teaching. And yes, I want them to know boredom. I am an old-fashioned parent. So, I want children who are loved and disciplined. I want children who have good manners, and can play outside by themselves for hours. And, I want children who do their chores, then run off to practice archery or read for hours on long summer days.

Boredom encourages creativity. (And supervision discourages dangerous creativity, if you have boys like mine!) Your child can have an old-fashioned summer, even if they can’t ride their bikes all over the city like you might have. (My husband did!) If you can, be the house where all the kids gather for hanging out and old-fashioned homemade popsicles on hot afternoons. Try to get your kids to spend at least 4 hours outside every day. If your kids are old enough, get the American Girls’ Handy Book, the American Boys’ Handy Book, or the 1911 Boy Scout Manual. They are the original dangerous child books.

Old-Fashioned Summer Challenge: Margaret Tarrant, "The Magic Pool"
With enough practice, your children might imagine their own “Magic Pool.”

Why So Much Time Outside?

Nature has a profound impact on children. It provides sensory and immune system stimuli. It encourages anti-stress responses in the nervous system. And it is fascinating. Looking at bugs with a magnifying glass or watching clouds grow into storms restores a sense of real time to children. Carrying rocks or picking up sticks restores an understanding of weight. Being in nature reintegrates the body and the senses. Light reflected from the sky fights depression, and fresh air fights germs. 1000 Hours Outside is a great place to start if you want more on why nature is so good for kids.

Why So Much Unscheduled Time?

Because unscheduled time is a learning activity! Too many children grow up and leave home with no idea of what to do if every minute isn’t pre-planned for them. They don’t know how to handle the discomfort of being bored. When was the last time you let yourself be bored? What about letting your children be bored? Boredom leads to creativity, precisely because it is uncomfortable. If you stunt that creative response in your children by always handing them a screen or device to prevent boredom, then when they reach adulthood, they will not be adapted to that feeling, and they will have a much harder time learning to deal with it. It is the things we are exposed to and become comfortable with in childhood that we are most able to live with as adults.

Old-Fashioned Summer Challenge: British WWII Home front Poster
Find new things to do, instead of turning to screen-based entertainment indoors.

Try the Old-Fashioned Summer Challenge!

Children need old-fashioned summers. They need old-fashioned parenting and old-fashioned families. They need old-fashioned learning and play. Let’s get back to the basics. If you have to schedule anything, schedule a family camping trip, or a day at the lake. If you need to plan, plan a list of chores that you can assign to your children if they complain of boredom. (Trust me, it REALLY discourages complaining!) I challenge you to try at least a month of unplugged, unscheduled summer (even if you can’t face a whole 13-week summer!). And watch the benefits for your kids. The Old-fashioned Summer Challenge might be the reset you and your kids need to get back to school refreshed this fall.

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