Summer activities for kids: A sprinkler as fun as Little Gym?

Summer activities for kids can get as booked solid as the rest of the year. Why not create your own summer memories – with a sprinkler, and not necessarily a Little Gym reservation.

Joyce Marshall/Star-Telegram/AP
Don't overbook kids' summer schedules, but instead leave time to create your own fun, like playing in the sprinklers. Audrey Clyma, 6, enjoys a "wheelbarrow" ride through a sprinkler to cool off during a break from farm school in Forth Worth, Tex. earlier this month.

My mother sprayed spurts of water in the air, and my two older brothers and I ran through it. We squealed and giggled.

This, for us at around ages 4, 6, and 9, was summer. Sometimes, Mom provided the entertainment. Other times, we had to devise our own fun. Other than two weeks on a lake with our parents, we spent the bulk of the summer at home playing with friends. None of us went to camp until age 11 or 12.

Those were the summers of my childhood, from the late 1960s into the late 1970s. Now, I’m a 40-something mother of a 4-year-old. We live in a suburban Boston neighborhood. When summer comes, the lawns look much the same as they do during the school year – often devoid of children.

Unlike my parents, I have countless camps, lessons, and programs at my disposal for my son. This morning, I took my son for a free trial class at a nearby Little Gym franchise. I was finally using a coupon he received at a friend’s birthday party. During my one hour there, pressure was on to sign up for the summer. The idea was tempting – only for a fleeting moment. What I do now will influence his memories of summer. What do I want him to remember?

Before the trial class ended, a Little Gym staff member came up to me and the other parents sitting in plastic chairs sipping tea and coffee as we watched our children through glass windows. Led by three instructors, the children jumped, rolled, climbed, and played hide and seek. They smiled and laughed. The staffer begin her summer class pitch.

Taking classes in the summer creates continuity. “It’s good socialization,” she said. Plus, they can go for a week or more in a camp program. She included a selling point also on the company’s web site: “It’s the perfect break for kids and parents during the long summer months.”

Hmm, signing up for a class is a break? Since when? To me, chauffeuring my son to one class or another is the very kind of hurry-up culture I want to avoid. I am a fan of the philosophy of Dr. David Elkind, author of "The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon." We don’t need to plan every minute of our children’s day, whether it’s January or June.

If I signed Simon up for the 10-week summer class, we would have to go there every week all summer. Summer has just started, and I’m already worrying that I have left little wiggle room for spontaneity. The next three weeks, Simon has morning swim lessons at our community pool. One of those days, we can linger and play for hours. The other two, we have to move quickly to get him clothed and to day-care, which he attends three days a week all year. Socialization with other children? No worries there.

Not to mention, we are going to two daytime children’s musicals with friends on Fridays – one of our two free days a week. During the time we have together this summer, I want to resist the temptation to create a crammed schedule. I fear I may have already failed.

Simon had a blast this morning in the Little Gym class. Summer just seems the wrong time for it, and I’m not sure about the fall, either. As soon as we got home from the class, Simon reminded me of how wonderful a moment can be when we let our children take us by the hand instead of the other way around.

“Can we take out the sprinkler?” he asked. I nodded.

We put on bathing suits and sun screen, then put a sprinkler in the front lawn. The water sprayed high, waving back and forth. Simon ran around it as if he were playing dodge ball.

“Run through it with me, Mom,” he said, pleading. He took my hand, and we ran through, blinking our eyes against the spray. He giggled and asked to do it again and again. At one point, I picked up the sprinkler and pretended to spray him with it. He squealed and asked for a repeat.

“I have a better idea,” I said. I attached the spray nozzle to the hose and played the game my mother used to play with my brothers and me.

What do I want my son to remember most this summer? The fun we created on our own.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Linda Wertheimer blogs at Jewish Muse.

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