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A real summer vacation

Just as a head’s up, I’m going to do some complaining. It’s possible that you’ll even be one of the parents I’m complaining about here, so I’m apologizing up front, but I’m going to complain anyway.

There are no kids to play with during the summer anymore.

I don’t just mean that lots of kids are away on vacation or attending summer camp or going on fishing trips. I’m all for that stuff. That’s good old fashioned summer fun right there. Don’t ever let me stop you from taking your kid on an RV tour of Western Canada, a canoe trip in any of our national parks, or even just a weekend at Grandma’s house.

To me, that stuff is what summers are made of. Go ahead. Have all the fun in the world. We’ll miss you while you’re gone, but we’ll have lots of fun and memories to share when we get back together. You can tell us about when you almost hit a bear on the highway, and we’ll tell you about how we spray painted grandpa’s barn, before actually, exactly, precisely getting his permission. Fantastic.

No, that’s not what I mean when I say there aren’y kids to play with. What I mean is that even when kids are actually around the city, they’re not able to go and play anymore. Most of them, even kids into their teens, are shipped off to one kind of day camp or another all summer long, what my eldest described (quite accurately I thought) as school without schoolwork. They do art classes or basketball camp or swimming lessons or whatever else, all day, every day.

That’s not to say that any of those things are terrible in themselves. Assuming that the kids are well matched with the activities, I’m sure everyone is having fun. And if it was only for a week or two a summer, I wouldn’t complain. But so many kids spend their entire summers in these programs, going from one to another, from the moment that school ends in June, to the moment it begins again in September, with breaks only just long enough to go on vacation with the family.

When do kids get time just to play anymore? When do they get a chance to call up their friends and go bike around the neighbourhood, or build a fort in somebody’s backyard, or shoot hoops in the school yard, or shoot at each other with homemade bows and arrows (a personal favourite in my neighbourhood as a kid)? When do they get a chance to tear apart old electronics, or read books in the shade of a tree, or play water guns, or run lemonade stands?

I’m not trying to guilt trip you. I know, as a working parent, that it’s easiest just to find the kids a school substitute for those few months when there’s no proper school. I’m not blaming you for wanting your kids in a safe, supervised place while you’re toiling away at whatever you do to put food on the table. I’m just suggesting that there might be some other options available.

Could a grandparent come look after the kids for a couple weeks? Is there a teenager in the neighbourhood who could do the job, maybe even for less than a day camp program? Could you arrange to swap child supervision time with other parents you know, where you look after theirs when you have some time off and thry do the same for you in return? Are your kids responsible enough that they could have a buddy system with a friend and do things on their own, like go to the splash pad or the library?

Those kind of options might be harder to arrange, I know. They may also push you a little out of your comfort zone. The benefit, though, will be that your kids will actually get a chance to play, to have a real summer vacation, just like you used to.