By Dr. Karen Struble

“Summer afternoon – Summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Henry James

Historically one of the best things about childhood has been the delicious experience of having lots and lots of free time, especially on summer afternoons. Sadly, for many of today’s kids, free time has become a luxury they cannot afford, at least not often enough. They’re too busy running (or rather, being driven) from one structured activity to another in a frantic attempt to keep from missing out.

Now I’m not against summer camps or theme parks, but I worry when I see children keeping calendars that rival their parents’planners for lack of white space. Whatever happened to Wordsworth’s “sweet childish days, that were as long as twenty days are now”? Don’t we long to have them back? And don’t we want our children to grow up knowing what Wordsworth & James were talking about?

Granted, today’s world is different from the world of the old poets. In many communities, kids need close supervision to keep them safe, plus plenty of structure to keep them from being glued to electronics. Without adult-led activities, or the TV/computer/Gameboy combo, what’s a child to do?


When my own kids were small, one of our favorite songs was called, “I Love to Play Outside,” by Norm Levy & Herb Pederson. This little ditty captures the joy a child can experience when his day isn’t completely pre-packaged by well-meaning adults:

“I love to play outside/ Where there are trees for me to climb/ And places I can hide/ And dinosaurs to ride/ Run barefoot through the green grass/ Lie on my back and look at the sky/ I love to play outside”.

If you want your child to have memories like these, try going against the flow by cultivating boredom– at least for one summer afternoon.