We have a weekly family movie night, with homemade pizza.
I was excited to see The Sandlot streaming last week and introduced my kids to it. It was an instant hit, especially with my 6-year-old son who played T-ball this season.
I thought about how summers were different then, and even when I was younger – in the 80s. I was given free reins of the neighborhood. I didn’t come home except for dinner and when the streetlights came on.
There were no extra summer school lessons, special tutoring for testing, summer reading programs, scheduled play dates, classes, camps, or anything to occupy our time. We played outside until school started up again.
We were seldom bored.
We created our own games. We made our own fun. We learned about ourselves and each other. We worked together to build relationships, along with ramps, tree forts, bridges. We discovered and experimented. We got hurt, inside and out.
Too many of today’s kids are sheltered, over-scheduled, shuttled around to lessons, classes, tutoring…in a never-ending rat race towards success. And they’re extremely unhappy. They don’t know how to play, how to be children. They’ve never been allowed the freedom to be.
Why does summer have to be stressful – for parents and kids?
I encourage my children to run free and explore.
I’m thankful we live in Europe, where this is safer and even expected for my kids to roam the village and nearby wooded trails.
The world is a lot smaller to us now than it was even 20-30 years ago.
But to kids? The neighborhood park is their world:
A piece of paradise a half block wide and a whole summer long.
10 Ways to Have a Sandlot Summer
1. Get outside.
Don’t stay cooped up indoors during summer!
Limit screentime and set limits on how much indoor time there can be. The sun and fresh air are good for growing kids. We have our homemade bug spray and sunscreen. They pack some sandwiches and spend the day at the village park or walking in the woods. Go camping!
Mom: Run around, scrape your knees, get dirty.
Climb trees, hop fences.
Get into trouble, for crying out loud.
Not too much, but some. You have my permission.
How many mothers do you know who say something like that to their sons?
2. Be includers.
Don’t be a bully…and don’t stand by and watch as others are bullied or excluded. Be kind and help others. Teach them how to play your games. Work together. Learn together. You just might make a lifetime friend.
The Babe: Everybody gets one chance to do something great. Most people never take the chance, either because they’re too scared, or they don’t recognize it when it spits on their shoes.
3. Play for the fun of it.
There doesn’t have to be a test or competition for everything. Play just for fun. We’ve forgotten what playing should be by making everything work.
Benny: Man, this is baseball. You’d better stop thinking. Just have fun. I mean, if you were having fun, you would’ve caught that ball.
4. Learn something new.
We’ve been playing ping pong on the tables at the park. It’s fun and we’re often doubled over with giggles and miss the ball. Learn something. It doesn’t have to cost a thing. Practice cartwheels or master the monkey bars. Ask the elderly neighbor for a story about when he was younger. We homeschool year-round, but we take frequent breaks and take advantage of travel and nice weather to play. We’re learning languages and history and art all the time. Never stop learning.
Smalls: He taught me to play baseball,and he became my best friend.
5. Break the rules.
It’s ok to get into mischief. It’s how we learn. If the boys had never lost their ball over the fence, they would have missed out on amazing experiences of meeting the real Hercules and Mr. Mertle. Don’t harm yourself or others. I’m not suggesting to fake drowning to get a kiss from the lifeguard! Weigh the consequences and be ready to accept it.
Smalls: And we did the dumbest thing anyone of us could ever have imagined.
6. Practice responsibility.
If you make a mistake, own up to it. Be responsible for your words and actions. Take the consequences. Learn from it. Don’t blame others.
Smalls: Even though Bill loved the Murderer’s Row ball, he was still plenty mad about me having swiped his Babe Ruth autographed ball and ruining it. So I didn’t feel too bad when he grounded me for a week…instead of the rest of my life.
7. Create something.
Go beyond the cutesy worthless Pinterest arts and crafts. Build something. Sew doll clothes or pajama shorts or a pillowcase. Build a tree fort or bridge over the creek. Get a model of a boat or airplane.
Smalls: I collected every piece of erector set I had,and it finally became…science against nature.
8. Help others.
If you know someone in need, don’t turn away. Help them however you can. Maintain relationships and work together. Practice kindness.
Smalls: You don’t have to do this.
Benny: Yeah, I do, Smalls. I have to do this.
9. Learn the truth.
Don’t rely on rumors. Get to the heart of the matter and learn the truth. Mr. Mertle and Hercules were mysterious and frightening, but ended up being the greatest.
Mr. Mertle: You guys come by once a week and talk baseball with me, we’ll call it an even trade.
10. Keep in touch.
Don’t lose track of your friends. With today’s technology, there’s no excuse. Drop a message or email to tell your friends you still think of them. Share a funny memory or story. Tell your kids to remember these are the best days of their lives.
Smalls: We all lived in the neighborhood for a couple of more years-mostly through junior high school-and every summer was great. But none of them ever came close to that first one. When one guy would move away, we never replaced him on the team with anyone else. We just kept the game going like he was still there…I kept in touch with those guys over the years.
I encourage you to play with your kids. Teach them what’s really important.
Give your kids a magical and stress-free summer – without schedules, pressures, or Pinterest.