I Can Do That*

08 Jun

Summer is almost here and soon the children will be set free.  Lockers and cubbyholes will be cleaned out and juice box stained mortarboards discarded.  Those with (state recognized) diplomas will bid a final adieu to attendance, directives issued by bells, homeroom and gym class.  They are skipping into the sun off to great adventures.

But what of those children between juice box and Starbucks?  What does the summer hold for them?  No doubt there is a population spending their summer as free-range children.  They spring forth from the house after a hearty breakfast and are not seen again until their next feeding.  They scamp, scurry, swim, and explore with other children.  There are evenings of lightening bug hunting (and teary mornings when the bugs are discovered on the bottom of the jar, decidedly dead and unilluminated.)  There are lawn sprinklers and ice cream trucks and chalked sidewalks.  Then there’s reality.  Even if there are real live children somewhere, hopefully named; Molly, Stewart, Daisy and Marvin, having this halcyon summer, most children are not.  The majority of children are simply not free-range.

Their summer days, by design, or necessity (of finance or parental mental health) are structured.  There are children who respond very positively to structure of course.  A camp that allocates hours and days to prescribed activities can be heaven for some children.  For them it is comforting to awake thinking; “It’s Tuesday it must be lanyard day.”  For other children, they flourish best in the wild.  (It’s the difference between a cultivated orchid and a wildflower.)  These children need the uncertainty of an unscheduled day to find their footing.   They can be wildly physical children who love nothing more than to whirling dervish their way into an exhausted heap of sweat and dirt at day’s end.  They can also be dreamy, quiet children, whose idea of perfection is a quiet spot and a stack of Nancy Drews.  Hopefully every child gets what he or she really does need to be happy and strong.

Somewhere between names being written in underwear, and swimming goggles being unearthed (why were they in the broken bread machine?) there is an opportunity to shake things up a bit (even if it’s in the car on the way to the mall to get that style of shorts that ‘everyone is wearing and I can’t go to camp without them or I might as well just give up any hope of ever having any friends ever in my whole life, would that make you happy?!’)  There are approximately 8 weeks in a child’s summer (I know, in our addled sentimental grown minds we think of it as sprawling, languid months, but it’s not.)  What if every child learned 8 tasks of adult life this summer?  Before the cries of “isn’t the summer reading list enough chore for my child?” let me assure you that kids think adult stuff is interesting/fun (unless we’ve been moaning and carrying on about it in their presence for years.)

There is a life skill lesson appropriate for any age.  Pre-schoolers love the chance to fold laundry or sort light from dark.  Six-to-twelve year-olds can be involved in every aspect of getting food into the house and onto the table.  If there’s a family car, the younger can learn about keeping it clean, and the older can learn about keeping it going.  Thirteen-to-eighteen year-olds can learn just about anything; how bills get paid, how insurance works, how local politics impact the family, what parents really do for a living.  This last life lesson should not be confused with ‘take a child to work day’ that in many workplaces has been turned into “work as amusement park” day.

Understanding more about how the world works and what being adult really means helps a child make informed decisions as they grow.  Learning to do something (i.e., balance a checkbook, make a potato salad, change the oil) is exactly how self-esteem is built.  Swimming medals and ‘color war’ certificates make a child happy.  But knowing you can do something that is a necessary part of being an adult makes the world more exciting and less daunting for a child.

A Chorus Line (1975) – Edward Kleban & Marvin Hamlisch


Posted by on June 8, 2012 in Childhood


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4 responses to “I Can Do That*

  1. Julia Miwa

    June 8, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Good food for thought as school lets out next week. It is funny how many things kids just never get to do until you make a decision to teach them. A couple of weeks ago I taught three third graders how to light matches. None of them had done it before. Very exciting.

    • brendatobias

      June 8, 2012 at 8:55 am

      That is awesome! I still remember learning to strike a match (a strange lesson considering how I often I was told not to do it!) I remember some class (I can’t remember if I was the child or the adult in this scenario!) taught children how to read a bus schedule. I remember thinking; “you mean to tell me there are kids who’ve never taken a bus?!” We tend to take so many ‘learned behaviors” for granted (or at least I do.)

      • Julia Miwa

        June 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

        In December I took a bunch of middle schoolers on an evening outing in Boston and several of them had never ridden the commuter rail, never used the ticket machine, etc. You never really think about there being a first time for all of that.

        • brendatobias

          June 8, 2012 at 9:17 am

          I’m guessing some of them will remember that the rest of their lives. Even in middle-age they will recall the teacher who taught them how to use the ticket machine of their childhood (I’m guessing by then we’ll be using eye scans!) I suppose it’s bittersweet to consider that sometimes it’s not the lesson plans we labor over that imprint forever, but the unplanned lessons.


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