Originally posted in the Naples Herald in my Life with Moxie Column
In the days before air conditioning, the summer months created sweltering cities and buildings that few could tolerate. Wealthy and middle class families (mostly mother’s and children with staff) were heading to the country while many agricultural families were tending to farms. At the time, in NYC, for instance, school was run 248 days out of the year but wasn’t mandatory. Kids came when they could. By the turn of the century, there weren’t enough children attending during the summer to justify it, so a new edition of the school calendar was made and it has not really changed since. Comparatively, Asia still has children attend for 250 days, while in the insane heat of the Middle East, summer break averages three-plus months from June to October.
Summers look very different today — mostly, with the caveat being the more money you have, the less different it looks. The modern day edition of the historic ladies who leisure are still escaping. They head to more optimal locations with the tots and help in tow, either stateside or abroad, to family summer homes or on extended vacations, with husbands joining as they can and older children going away to camps that the family has been attending for generations. For the families that have both parents working year round, summer holds the possibility of being incredibly challenging and expensive. Many parents are often scrambling to find safe, fun and affordable programs that accommodate their working schedules. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum of ability to indulge in summer, there is one core element to focus on, play.
It is understood that children experience enormous levels of learning from playing, as do adults. In the late 1800’s, Henry Curtis, a leading play advocate, began promoting the play of summer, where unstructured time affords us the opportunity to do things we have a hard time working into the rest of the year, such as scouting (i.e. boy/girl scouts), camping, gardening, woodworking, etc. He specifically stated these moments are where lifelong skills are learned and time together is enjoyed. These unstructured, or gently guided experiences, not only still apply today, but hold even more benefit than before. We are becoming tragically disconnected from nature — nearly fearful of being out of our 72 degree, disinfected and secured homes. We are offensively addicted to technology to the point of complete disconnection from even each other.
Think back more recently to the summers of the '60s and '70s when kids were kicked out of the house in the morning and told to return by dinnertime. We would get on our bikes, ride until we saw another kid, and whether we knew them before or not, we’d likely play with them until the sun started setting. Those who had the privilege of living on or near undeveloped mountains or fields with streams had the ultimate childhood privilege.
Pure adventuring, making up stories and playing out lives of fictional characters, being surprised and scared by a snake crossing our path and then realizing how cool that was. We would climb to the top of trees to read a book a world away or build a fort with felled trees. We would sit on the edge of a creek trying to catch salamanders and predict the weather from the sound of the wind in the trees. We would go into caves that no one knew about (other than to 100 kids before us) with flashlights to create the ultimate hideout. We learned to navigate ourselves into the trees and ultimately finding our way back home full of this new world of experiences we just created and exhausted from all the effort we put into it. It sounds almost romanticized because the children of today can’t even imagine doing that, nor would most parents today be willing to allow it.
We were learning from experience because it was a necessity and none of us realized we were learning – we were just playing and then we knew, because it happened. There is extraordinary power that only comes from this type of learning. There is confidence, courage, fearlessness, stamina, mastery and commitment because it took work to do it well, to go farther, to be more creative, to run faster, to problem-solve fixing the bike, to cooperate and negotiate to build the fort. We were tired and smarter because we did hard things.
Today, children and adults alike have come to a place where we find safety and comfort sitting alone with technology. Where we fear the wild (dangerous, dirty, could get hurt/die, get rabies. etc.), and are over-whelmed by what we don’t know. We resist learning new things because they're too hard, too much effort or not worth it. We must think differently this summer. It’s the perfect time to take back the privilege of having the freedom to do it in a way you will remember.
This summer I challenge you to dedicate your time to adventuring, exploring, discovering something new. Set up a tent in your back yard or journey to a national park and listen to all the animals that are so busy at night. Yes, you’ll be nervous. Yes, you can get bit by bugs or see bears or snakes and you could die. Actually, it's no more risky than getting on the road to go to the grocery store. Try to find local day trips to take. Go kayaking or mountain biking through forest trails. Take a train, pan for gold, look for fossils, go tubing in a river, swim in a lake, build a fort with only recycled materials. And if you can, travel. Go far away. To where people don’t look like you, eat like you, dress like you and speak a different language. Only then, in a moment when you are each smiling trying to understand each other, will you come to realize just how similar we all are and what this crazy adventure called summer is really about.
Have ideas you’d like to add to the list? Need more suggestions? Let me know!
Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company www.lifewithmoxie.com and Host of Life with Moxie Radio, Saturday’s at 1pm on 98.9 WGUF in Southwest Florida. You can reach her at Julie@lifewithmoxie.com
Passionate Living by Design, That’s Life with Moxie