In a few more weeks, many children will hear the school bell ring for the last time indicating that school is officially over and that summer vacation has finally begun! What many children don’t realize is that summer vacation is anything BUT a vacation…it is time for them to really get serious and focus on their work! As responsible parents, it is imperative that we remember to give our children every opportunity to grow and reach their full potential by making sure we provide them with the time they need to do their work. No child should go through a summer vacation without working! What we as parents often forget though, is that a child’s play time IS his/her work time!
I remember my days as a child in my neighborhood. There were no school bells to indicate the passing of time. The only sound that was indicative of time was the firehouse’s six o’clock whistle, which one could hear throughout the town. Oh sure, most of us who felt exceptionally smart, were able to put two and two together to associate “lunchtime” to when Leave It To Beaver was on television. Yet I still am not sure whether the show was actually on at 12:00 noon.
Leave It To Beaver was the only show that was deemed worthy enough to break up our wiffle ball game. It was during that special half-hour that we would eat lunch, go potty and then engage in our work—watching Leave It To Beaver. (Jeff, the official wiffle ball statistician was multi-talented for he would also use that time to work up the half-time stats. Needless to say, Jeff took his sports seriously.)
Lunchtime with the Cleaver family was often excruciating work that tested our attention span and our linguistic skills. All of us knew the importance of paying close attention to the antics of Beaver, Wally and Eddie if we were to honorably contribute to the Leave It To Beaver conversation that would ensue once the wiffle ball teams reconvened on the playing field. You certainly wanted to be articulate when discussing whether Eddie was truly serious or really lying when he told Mrs. Cleaver that she had on a pretty dress.
Summer was also our opportunity to learn about the environment. There were those times when the Ryan’s wiffle ball field doubled as a front lawn. It was also during those times when we really had our work cut out for us since we were always faced with some problem solving lessons. Our most difficult problems focused on solids, liquids, gasses, volume and mass, not to mention physics, trajectory and bunch of other science stuff that one had to deal with when engaging in a real good water balloon fight. We always took pride in the fact that we knew just the right amount of water to put in a balloon so that it wouldn’t explode while filling…only upon impact.
Our focus on science and our ability to be resourceful continued into the evening as we rummaged through shelves and cupboards to find the perfect receptacles for catching lightning bugs. To this day I still contend that the creation of a hypothesis to explain the ability for these creatures to illuminate the evening gave us our academic foundation for developing and implementing the scientific process. The number of lightning bugs left flying in our jars, as opposed to dead in the morning, also lent itself to some kind of scientific inquiry.
Math was one of the other important subjects to be covered in depth every summer. Bicycle races were an integral component to these math lessons. The bicycle races would often have its venue in front of my house. Two people would sit on their bikes. The bikes would be facing opposite directions and their back wheels would be touching. The person designated as “timer” would say, “On your mark…Get set…GO!” and with that, each bike would take off in the opposite direction and proceed to go “around the block.” The timer would begin a stare-down contest with the secondhand of his/her watch. The block just so happened to be as close to a perfect race-track circle any self respecting kid could ask for. Estimation is understandably an important math skill. By the second week of the summer we all had a good understanding of just how valuable this skill could be. As one of the bike racers, you got to the point where you could gauge how you were doing in the bike race by where you passed your rival in the block. If you were the bike going down the hill towards the Gormley’s house, then you would want to make sure you at least passed the Blatnick’s house before waving to your rival. Of course if you were going in the opposite direction, you were sure of being declared the winner if you made it to the Mazzenoble’s house before blowing past your opponent.
Then of course there were the rainy days. Many of our days were filled with make believe, fantasy and the development of our social skills. I still have the picture of me in my mother’s floral robe, with a toilet paper corsage sitting next to Donnie, with his toilet paper buttoneer as we played “going to the prom.” It was actually a double date because my brother, Richard, went with Donnie’s sister, Patty. (Patty was able to find another pretty robe of my mother’s.) The irony of that story is that to this day I still am in touch with Donnie and continue to give him grief for not going with me to our real high school prom eleven years after our first prom experience.
Another popular thing we did on rainy days was play “store.” Store developed our consumer awareness and it gave us experience with money skills. It was during this special work-time that some of our negotiating skills became developed. One of the highlights of “store” was being able to use the cash register and do a one-hand sweep to push products along the conveyer belt that also we had to imagine could move. Through careful negotiations we all got equal chance to be the shopper, bagger, and the “person who gets to use the cash register.”
Our neighborhood was often under construction. Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Legos and Erector sets were just a few of the construction mediums we worked with. Of course Eric would never veer from the Legos. In fact, he wouldn’t even leave the Legos on sunny days. I distinctly remember repeating myself and hearing everyone repeat themselves by saying, “Eric, c’mon and do something else besides Legos!” Eric would calmly say, “No thanks.” and continue to perseverate on his Lego structure. He really liked to work on those Legos! The fact that Eric played “24-7” with the Legos actually seemed to bother us more than it did Eric.
The years went on and we all got a little older but the summers were still our sacred time to be industrious. Our work one summer consisted of converting the Ryan’s garage into a Haunted House—with spider webs and eyeballs. You see, that was the summer that we as kids in the neighborhood decided to put on a carnival and invite everyone in the block. It was our mission that summer to save the world, especially children less fortunate than us, with the money that we would raise from the admission to our carnival. The whole neighborhood came out for that event! Not only did we have our featured Haunted House, but we also created some of the most fun “home grown” carnival games you could imagine. We even had some activities that included things that were able to highlight skills developed from previous summers… like water balloons! One of the highlights of that carnival was the “cake walk.” All our Moms, (remember, it was the 60’s), baked and decorated cakes to be given away when the music stopped playing. We actually collected an honorable amount of money and felt proud of our contribution not only to other children, but also to the world in general. We really knew that we were doing something good!
Well, we are all grown up now. As you can see, none of us spent our early summers in carpools going from one team sport to another. We even took summer breaks from our regularly scheduled music and dance lessons. None of us were taking French classes. None of us even took swimming lessons. We only had one goal and that was to PLAY. It’s a good thing that no one ever called it work or we might not have had so much fun while we learned about ourselves, others and the world.
Oh yeah…just to follow-up…Donnie is now “Don” and in the banking industry. (We never did go to a prom together but I was invited to his wedding.) Patty is now “Patricia” and involved in providing counseling and services to help others reach their full potential. My brother Richard, who NEVER let anyone call him anything but Richard, is creative with music and quite sharp with finances and numbers. After winning the cakewalk at our carnival, Jeff Blatnick went on to win the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal in Greco-Roman wrestling. (They named a street in our neighborhood after him. Ironically, that part of the street now named after Jeff, was part of our bicycle race-track!) And then there is Eric, the one who did nothing but play with Legos. I remember getting the call from my Mom telling me to go purchase the current issue of Architectural Digest. Why? Eric, who became a prominent architect, was featured in that magazine! …and people thought he was just playing with Legos!!!!
As for me well, I am still trying to save the world one bit at a time. Right now, I’m on a mission advocating for kids to make sure that parents and adults realize the value and importance of letting children play. I’m trying to encourage parents to give summer vacation back to the kids! Children need their summer vacation so they can focus on what really matters -- their work. In other words, they need that time to play!