Activities

Why you should underschedule your kids' summer

No camp, no problem. The case for having no plans at all.

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Photo Illustration: Ruby Taylor

Every summer, my wife and I book our three boys, all teens now, into an endless series of day camps. Music, windsurfing, science, art, adventure, kayaking, tennis—name a sport or recreational activity, and chances are, one of our boys has been to a day camp devoted to it.

But last summer, we decided to “consciously uncouple” from all of this back-to-back camp action. Partly because of the expense, which is unholy, and partly to hearken back to our far-off youth: Remember “make your own fun” and “be home by dark”?

I won’t lie: Our experiment in underscheduling got off to a rocky start. Times have changed, and our boys’ default mode is to lie like jellyfish in pyjamas in front of various screens, indoors. But once certain boundaries were established, some surprising things happened. My youngest took up gardening (!) and even built a planter of his own design, using hand tools. My oldest got a job (!!). My middle child took up reading (!!!) out of sheer lack of alternatives.

My conclusion? Boredom is underrated and can lead to great things. (Einstein, bored out of his mind as a patent clerk, launched the first of his “thought experiments” that would change the way the way we viewed the universe forever.)

I’ve also come to believe that all of this overscheduling of our kids’ lives will ultimately hamper their ability to arrange things for themselves—which is the very definition of adult life, is it not?

Underscheduling is not for everyone, I know. It helps that I work from home and can supervise. If you do decide to try it, here are some tips:

• Set strict parameters for screen time. Easier said than done, I realize. You may have to confiscate hand-held devices.

• Brace yourself for complaints. Kids these days are used to being amused 24-7. Bear the barrage with stoicism. Power through it. Trust that they will eventually find a way to fill the time.

• Be prepared to provide suggestions. Under-scheduling doesn’t mean completely abandoning them. Offer ideas and be ready to supervise or participate.

• Encourage the kids to make friends. All of their BFFs may be in camps, so they might have to make some new ones.

A version of this article appeared in our July/August 2015 issue with the headline “Try it: The underscheduled summer”, p. 92.

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