One of the hallmarks of a Country School education is time for free play during the course of every school day. Research has shown that recess improves attention, boosts social skills, nurtures creativity, and develops problem solving abilities. If children are to grow and develop optimally, they need time to unwind, to be free from structure, to be outdoors, and to experience what child development expert David Elkind calls “the culture of childhood… the songs, riddles, jibes, incantations,” and games that kids engage in when left to their own devices.
Summer offers important opportunities for immersion in that “culture of childhood.” While some structured time can certainly be positive, children’s summer days and weeks should also surely include freedom from too much parental programming and oversight. Although parents today need to be more concerned about safety than parents did while I was growing up, the key to making the most of what summer offers is to shape a balance between adult-structured activities and unstructured, outdoor play, preferably with other kids. Elkind writes in a March 2010New York Timesop-ed piece, children today are likely to become “more aware of threats to the global environment than they are of the natural world in their own backyards.” Researchers say one reason there is more bullying, discrimination, and teasing today has to do with kids not having the chance to “settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others.” They also used to learn that “friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.”
Summer on the Eastern Shore should provide the best of all worlds. There are lots of great and fruitful ways for children to spend some structured time, and one just has to step away from a screen and go outside in order to experience lessons only the natural world can provide. We as adults need to let go a bit, we need to let our kids mess around, and we need to allow them to get bored. When kids wrestle with what to do and how to conduct themselves amongst their peer group, they often are led to some of the greatest gifts and learning that summer can provide.
I hope that you and your family have a wonderful summer.