Rather than fill my kids’ eight short weeks of vacation with extracurricular activities to keep them busy, I’m going to keep the calendar as empty as possible, leaving room for adventure, spontaneity, and even boredom.
“So what have you signed the boys up for this Summer?” I’ve been asked this question several times by well-meaning friends who have already planned out every week of their kids’ Summer holidays. Art camp, soccer, rugby, swimming lessons, literacy camp, museum camp, YMCA day care, karate, and Vacation Bible School are all popular options among my fellow parents. In fact, there are more options for activities than I could ever fit into the two months my sons are out of school.
I reply, “Nothing,” because I haven’t made plans yet, nor am I in any rush to do so. There’s something wonderfully appealing about having eight weeks unscheduled and being open to whatever happens. I’m in no hurry to fill the calendar with obligations and fork over the requisite money to keep my kids entertained by other people.
A growing number of parents share my reluctance to overburden the family’s free time. The “slow parenting” movement is gaining traction in opposition to the chronic “fast forward” mode that drives so many North American families nowadays. At a time when child-rearing feels more like “a cross between a competitive sport and product-development” (New York Times), it feels really good just to say “no” and detach from the rat race.
The philosophy behind slow parenting is exactly what it sounds like — that kids need time and space to explore the world on their own terms; that they learn to entertain themselves, play outdoors, and enjoy hanging out with their families; and that they receive sufficient downtime to process what’s going on in their lives.
Says Carrie Contey, cofounder of Slow Family Living: “In early development, kids are still wiring. They need to have moments of doing and moments of being for integration to happen. If they don’t take space for integration, that leads to meltdowns and overtiredness.”
A slow-parenting approach also enables parents to choose what’s best for themselves. I would not be a happy mother if I had to spend every weekend driving all over Ontario to hockey tournaments or figure-skating competitions, or staying out late for swimming or gymnastics classes. There are things that I need to be a good parent, such as quiet evenings and lazy weekends at home to recharge; and the skills that my children would potentially gain from participating in multiple extracurricular activities do not outweigh the stress it would add to the family dynamic. That is why we currently have one child taking violin lessons (from me) and nothing else. It’s all we can handle happily at this point.
According to a New York Times Motherlode blog interview with author Carl Honoré, “slow parents” know how to keep the family schedule under control:
“They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy. Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are, rather than who we want them to be.”
Which is why I probably won’t sign my kids up for anything this Summer, except a (free) week of VBS with their friends. The rest of the time, we’ll be in the backyard sandbox or down at the Lake Huron beach. Perhaps we’ll go fruit picking and make jam, check out local garage sales, plant a vegetable garden, have a tea party or a barbecue with friends. We’ll be relaxed, happy, open to spontaneity — no schedule or conditions attached — and it will be glorious.