Making the case for a summer unplugged

July 18, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

It occurred to me the other day that the speed in which we live really changes our perspective on the world around us. We were in the car, and I wanted to point out to my kids the neighborhood where I delivered papers as a boy. The houses rolled by too fast to share the stories from my memories associated with one customer or another.

As a boy, I rolled through that neighborhood on my bike or on foot. I knew families that lived there, the name on every mailbox, every crack in the sidewalk, and every house with a mean dog. The green house in the middle of the block had a “secret” path behind the garage that provided a shortcut through the backyards to the next block over, and the second tree from the corner had a big slit in the trunk where we kids could hide our “contraband.” (It was a simpler time. I’m talking comic books, jackknives and other banned toys, and nothing illegal)

Maybe some kids still view the world at this slower pace, but if the studies I read are true, most of them spend a lot of their time inside with an electronic device of some kind. My observations are that the neighborhoods and playgrounds in my town are strangely quiet, nothing like the summer days I remember as a kid.

As a busy adult, I mourn for lost space in my day. I wonder if today’s plugged-in kids even know what it’s like to just do nothing for an afternoon.

A couple of weeks ago, we offered our readers the Parent Today Seeds of Learning calendar to help parents prepare young children for pre-K or kindergarten. We aimed to fill the days with activities, fun suggestions and book recommendations, but several days ended up with blank spaces. From a graphic design perspective, we argued, the eye needs a place to rest as it scans the page.

I think we need to apply that approach to our lives in general. I prescribe a “do nothing” day for parents and their kids, moving only as fast as your desires require. It’s OK to be still for a while, to sit quietly wait for hummingbirds to appear at the flowers in the garden, or to lie under a tree and listen to rain patter through the leaves. It’s about doing just what you want to do – read a book, take a walk – and no more. If you just can’t stand the feeling that you are not accomplishing something with the time, pick a simple fun project to share with your kids – like building a birdhouse from scratch – but direct them in the work and be completely satisfied with the results, no matter how it turns out.

The point is to slow down. People will quickly say “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time.” We all have time, it’s just how we choose to use it. And sometimes we should use it to build a little margin back into our over-scheduled lives.

I blame our addiction to technology. Tools designed to make life simpler can easily monopolize our days. Things meant to ease our burdens and streamline our chores make it possible to do more of everything faster and faster. However, the tools themselves are neutral. The choices we make diminish our lives. Technology has the power to distract us from the relationships and living that should be our priorities.

I sometimes think the best thing that can happen in the summer is a power outage. The lights go off, air conditioners stop, and the TVs and computers go blank. The day suddenly becomes quieter, calmer, slower. People come outside and visit with their neighbors over the backyard fence. Families take walks, or sit on their front porch together and play games that don’t require a flat screen and controller.

I’ve just turned my kids on to a new music act – one that I’ve enjoyed for a very long time – who wrote a song that perfectly captures the spirit of those summer days left blank on your calendar.

“Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last…”1

Copyright laws prevent me from sharing the whole song, but you can look it up. Better yet. Just sit back and listen.

Tom Antis has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since January 2008. Although technology creeps into their lives, he and his family support a simpler lifestyle – growing their own food, making dinner from scratch, playing non-electric games and sitting late into the night watching fireflies on the lawn.

1 “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” Copyright 1966 by SIMON & GARFUNKEL

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