As another summer looms before us, we may not have a precise plan about how to spend the next two months. Of course, there are camps, summer classes, sports and childcare arrangements for parents who work. There are doctors appointments to prepare children for the upcoming school year, braces to be tightened and new wardrobes to assemble. Perhaps there will be a vacation within the vacation — seeing new sights or catching up with distant relations. Perhaps there are vague ideas about museums and historical venues, or intentions to get a firm start on some long-deferred books. (Many children, of course, will have their reading assignments in hand.)
Is that what summer is all about? Could we take a moment to consider what will set this time apart so that we can approach the new school year with a different mindset? Granted, there are some non-negotiable items, but how can we prioritize those things that will truly refresh and restore us for the coming year?
If we make the whole person our yardstick, it would benefit us to discern the challenges particular to each member of our circle. While education itself is meant to form the person, now we can look more closely at the spiritual and psychological elements that make us human, especially the unique characteristics of those we love. Now, especially, with a few more hours of leisure, perhaps mothers could make a study of those individual needs that may have gotten lost in the crush.
While family outings are fun for bonding and a change of scenery, perhaps parents could look for opportunities to single out each child for a few hours each week, perhaps a lunch or a cultural event that would appeal primarily to that child. Large families, especially, run the risk of traveling as groups — which can be great fun and filled with a dynamic all their own, yet it’s usually during one-on-one encounters that a child reveals what’s on his mind.
Another temptation is to schedule outings or pastimes that will occupy the hours that school would otherwise fill, so that there is less idleness or boredom. But the thing is that idleness and boredom are not entirely bad — in fact they can give rise to deep thoughts and sustained wonder. Do children still have opportunities to lie in the grass and watch the clouds? Do they have a chance to consider what and whom they miss when school ends — and why? Do they take time to build and read and enjoy unconstructed play?
I know you don’t want to spoil them. There’s the yard work, the housework, the myriad chores and a variety of responsibilities which cannot be overlooked. But this brings me to the most difficult suggestion of all: could they work and play and pass their days without gadgets? Is this possible any more?
The greatest obstacle to human interaction in this generation is our retreat into the world of screens. Nothing can make conversation dryer or affection more forced than the distracting technologies that entertain and fragment us. If the parents’ movies and music are dull for the children, and the older children’s choices inappropriate for the little ones, and the little ones’ pastimes are tedious for everyone else, then what’s left of our family communion?