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In Defense of Doing as Little as Possible This Summer

In the last week of my son's first-grade school year, my fellow parents discussed an impressive array of summer plans: science camps, sports camps, camping trips, art co-ops, horseback riding, surfing and much more. While these ideas are all fantastic, I reflected on our summer slate in contrast: sleeping in, picnics in the backyard, watching the birds chase the squirrels in our garden, turning the living room couches into forts under which to daydream and read, pool time and many more unscheduled moments that would surprise us. What I look forward to most about summer is our chance finally, after a busy year, to do as little as possible. Here are a handful of reasons why you might want to consider doing the same:

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1. It goes so fast

I kept wondering why summer felt so long when I was young, and goes so fast now that I'm an adult, and then I realized: The busier you are, the faster time moves. I want to give my son the same kind of experiences I had as a child: lazy stretches of unscheduled time that lead to expanded imagination and a chance to let young bodies and minds find their own rhythms. All parents quickly learn that kids grow up way too fast, why not slow down to savor it for a couple months out of the year?

2. Boredom is necessary to creativity

Numerous studies point out that what we call "boredom" when kids are not being entertained by you, technology or their friends, is actually a crucial process in which their brains expand their neurological resources and power up imagination. As a child, my long summer days of "boredom" gave birth to notebooks full of stories and hours of reading that expanded my mind and deepened my compassion. It's important to me that my son have the same opportunity.

The beauty of an unscheduled summer is that no one has to hurry up for anything.

3. Nature is the best playground

If you feel the urge to "get out"—don't look for a scheduled activity, just take your kids to the nearest natural setting: a hike in the woods, a swim in the lake, a picnic at the park. And watch them engage with their own inner worlds. Nature is a powerful, multi-sensory experience for kids, a classroom in the outdoors that we often don't have enough time to let them explore during the school year.

4. Children need downtime

While most children have vastly more energy than their parents, children still need downtime. School forces them out of their own natural rhythms, and summer is an opportunity for them to rediscover them. My son has told me numerous times how much he hates to rush. "Hurry up" are his least favorite words in the English language. So the beauty of an unscheduled summer is that no one has to hurry up for anything.

5. You need to chill out, too

Even though my husband still works full-time, and my freelance business doesn't slow down much, summer has a way of blowing through and forcing both of us to find small ways to chill out, too. We relax all expectations—the house doesn't stay as clean; meals don't happen at exactly the same time, and sometimes dinner is ice cream or sandwiches on the back lawn at 8 p.m. Summer brings a fluid energy to our lives that can create a sense of space we don't experience the rest of the year. (Not to mention, the hammock gets way more use).

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Of course, eventually, as a work-at-home parent, I do have to find things for my son to do, at which point I will turn to the day camps and day trips like my fellow moms, but for as long as possible, I like to allow this non-pressured shift toward being instead of doing, which is good for everyone.

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