Summer Unplugged: Getting Back to the Basics

Jodi Dee

Most of us remember our childhood summers with a warm nostalgia; roasting marshmallows on a clear night by an open fire or running around catching fireflies to hold in a glass jar. The environment was our entertainment and earth was our playground. Summers were simple.

During my childhood summers, we rarely turned on the television other than for the 5 o’clock news, or the occasional Saturday night party, where all the children in the neighborhood came over for popcorn to watch a movie. The popcorn was made in a big vat, not in a microwave. We could smell the butter boiling and waited hungrily for the popping to start. The parents would stay to socialize, drink, and laugh.

We didn’t have smart phones constantly buzzing in our pockets, iPads, iPods, or computers. When we were bored, there was little to distract us other than our younger siblings’ teasing. We had to be bored. We had to create fun. We had to use our imaginations. Our time was spent outside, playing or riding our bicycles up and down the street, racing, or trying to win some made up challenge (who was faster or who could ride with no hands the longest).

We would play hide-and-seek past dark until the call would come, “It’s time for bed!” It may not have been midnight, but after a long day of playing outside in the sun, never sitting down, it sure felt like it. We were ready for sleep. Our bodies were utterly exhausted, but in a way that satisfied the soul and mollified the energy of a child...until the next day.

Unfortunately, childhood seems much more complicated and busier than it was in the past. Between sports clinics, playdates, parties, summer school programs, and more, it seems impossible to have a quiet day at the beach. Add technology to the mix, and the way summertime used to feel seems like a distant memory from another lifetime.

In today’s world of instant gratification and constant mental stimulation, children do not know how to be bored. But boredom is the empty space of creation and imagination. When everything comes easy, when questions are answered instantly, children often do not even know they can figure it out themselves.

Summers should be a time of rest; a time of quiet rejuvenation when children can reset, take time to be present and be a child.

Bring your child the experience of your childhood, even if only for a week. Bring them back to basics! By the end of the summer they will have a new appreciation for life.

Rules for Getting Back to the Basics:

-Unplug! Shut off cell phones, iPads, iPods, or computers. No electronic devices allowed (or limit the time each day to 2 hours or less). That means Mom and Dad, too!

-Make a pact not to bring any devices on destination vacations, other than a phone for emergencies.

-Play board games at night like Monopoly, Pictionary or Chess. Keep a deck of cards on hand, these are easy to carry and can be played anywhere.

-Do mind stimulating activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or Brain Quests.

-Have sleepovers with friends and relatives and no movies or electronics. Have them return to basics with you.

-Limit TV or movies to once a week, Mom and Dad too!

-Make popcorn in a pot with lots of real butter and salt.

-Make campfires! Cook hotdogs on a stick. Make s’mores...the gooier the better!

-Talk to each other! Create lists of questions to answer. (This sounds simple but you would be amazed, especially with teenagers, that conversation is not easy). Have them make a list of questions they want to know about you, when you were young, your favorite memories, etc.

-Cook meals together. Have each child pick a recipe and be responsible for all the ingredients and preparing the entire meal once a week. Try to have one meal together every day.

-Try a new activity: borrow friends’ paddleboard, kayaks, or canoes. (We forget we used to share everything. We don’t need to buy everything our children want. Don’t be afraid to ask and borrow from neighbors or friends.)

-Bring bikes! Walk or bike to places when able, rather than drive.

-Read books or articles together! Our parents used to read the newspaper and share current events with us and what was happening in the world. Conversation is the greatest way children learn language.

-Play! Get a Wiffle ball and bat. Find a court and play tennis or basketball together, even if you never have. Set up a volleyball net or tetherball (these are pretty cheap and easy to install).

-Require at least 3-4 hours outside every day (for everyone), even if it is just sitting on the lawn with paper and colored pencils, a book, or a pen to journal.

-Make lunches together, plan a picnic.

-Go for a simple walk around the neighborhood.

-Visit an elderly neighbor, bring them something you cooked together. Ask if they need help mowing the lawn. We knew everyone in our neighborhood growing up, because we were always outside. Meet them, they are part of your community.

-Hike a state forest or mountain! In this area, there are countless hikes of varying levels of ability: Wachusett, Monadnock, Wattatick, Purgatory, Douglas State Forest, Leadmine Mountain Trail, etc.

-Make lemonade and set up a lemonade stand.

-Have a yard sale. Clean out old toys and clothes together. Have the children price and run the sale. Take the profits, donate to a charity or go get an ice cream cone. Remember the one year rule (if not used of worn in a year, donate)

-Visit an ice cream stand! Often.

-Sit out and watch the stars on a warm summer night, look for a shooting star to make a wish.

-Sleep out in sleeping bags or tents in your backyard.

-Find a farm to pick your own blueberries, strawberries, and other fresh fruits and vegetables.

-Visit a farm stand. Hand pick vegetables to cook with.

-Find a campsite that has a lake. Fish, swim, kayak.

-Sit on the beach with books or magazines (no electronic devices or music allowed!) Bring buckets and shovels (metal work shovels are great, you can dig deep holes and have plenty of sand for structures or castles) Explore the rocks and seashore, find sea creatures and shells.

-Get wet! Take out a hose on a hot day and spray each other! Make up a game with the water, see if the person who’s turn it is can get you. Grab buckets, water guns, water balloons and form teams. Or, fill up a water table or buckets for smaller children and let them explore (throw in measuring cups, spoons, or medicine dispensers.

Or, just do nothing!

We are so used to moving quickly and doing everything, we often forget the basics are what our children need the most. Summers are a great time to unwind and unplug… so do it together!

Mom of three Jodi Dee has more than 30 years' experience in Early Childhood Education and business. She has a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Education from Clark University. A columnist, blogger and children's book author, she recently launched to promote education and early learning.