Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ain't No Cure For The Summertime Blues

The end of summer vacation is approaching. In a way, this is a good thing as it coincides with the yearly end of my sanity and patience.

I have actually managed to keep the bickering and boredom to a minimum this summer. It may have preserved some of my faculties, added a few days to my life and resulted in fewer gray hairs. I wonder, however, what has it done improve the quality of my kids' free time.

Summer vacation today is not the same as the carefree, sunny days of my childhood when children went out to play after breakfast and you only saw them at mealtimes and bedtime. Even though it is a vacation from school, today's breaks are not necessarily a vacation from learning. Since many education experts have warned about the "brain drain" that occurs during summer vacation, I have always felt compelled to keep their minds engaged during the long school breaks.

It used to be we did workbooks each day. This was about as fun for my children as watching paint dry. This summer we tried a different approach. Following Sean's stellar performace during the first year of middle school (we are still thanking the powers that be that he actually passed everything), he is enrolled in a learning center this summer for math and took a chemistry class at our local planetarium.

We also decided that Shannon should take a "test run" for some classes she will be taking online this next school year through Michigan Virtual High School. She decided to try learning Latin.

Their chore list has also grown this summer to include lots of yard work and even more household chores. They also both volunteered during our church vacation bible school. Shannon has also picked up a couple of new babysitting clients.

Athough I make a huge effort to keep them busy, like most parents today I also spend the far too much time prying them away from cell phones, computers and video game controllers.

The days when gangs of children roamed the neighborhood on summer days are long gone. Only two of Shannon's friends live within walking or biking distance from our house. None of Sean's friends are nearby. Telling them to "go outside and find someone to play with" has never worked at our house unless you could befriend a squirrel.

When they were younger, I could send them out to play on the swingset, sandbox or other variety of outdoor toys that littered our backyard. This would generally occupy them for a long period of time. Although we now have more "grown-up" toys like a pool and a trampoline, this will engage them if they alone for about 10 minutes.

I find it alarming that they are willing to spend hours texting and communicating on Facebook, but are reluctant to invite friends over and actually hold conversations face to face. If I have learned anything this summer,it is that technology is starting to take a toll on personal relationships.

In a way I feel bad trying to structure their vacation time so much. My parents never gave me hours worth of chores, insisted I do volunteer work or made me do math problems over the summer. Sometimes, I feel like the Adolph Hitler of summer vacations.

But as I think back to those school breaks of my childhood, I think my four siblings and I spent more time bickering during the summer than playing together. My poor mother probably locked the doors once we went outside in the mornings just to keep her sanity intact.

I try to remember that summer is not only a time to unwind and relax, but also a time to learn and grow through new responsiblilites and opportunities. And we always make sure to make time for "the fun stuff" like scout camp, spending the afternoon at a local beach or going to the movies.

Perhaps I am not doing them a disservice by insisting on a balance between fun and responsibility. After all, they both seem to have grown and matured a little this summer. They may complain about the workloads, but in the end I am sure they are grateful for the structure in their lives.

I, too am grateful that the household has seem to run more efficiently and the choruses of "I'm bored" have lessened this summer. I am even happier that I have not lost too many brain cells refereeing arguments over whose turn it is to play the Avatar game on the Wii.

At my age, I don't have that many brain cells left to lose. And I can certainly think of better ways to lose them.

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