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Summers create best childhood memories

As this paper makes its way to you, I’ll be enjoying the Canada Day weekend in Montreal. At this very moment, I might be sitting in the yard belonging to my longtime neighbours, taking in the view of the home where I spent my entire childhood. I’ll certainly be enjoying in the sights of that suburban neighbourhood, visiting with old friends, summer easily being the most nostalgic time.

I won’t have to go far to summon my childhood years. There are, of course, the neighbours’ homes: most of those people have moved away, but the houses remain. There’s the recreation facility – playgrounds, pools, sports fields, community centre – just across the road. A small park out back where the poplar trees still stand despite many purloined branches fashioned into makeshift bows and arrows – not really a great choice of wood, in retrospect. A path that runs right behind the house, perfect for kids on foot and bikes.

Nearby, there’s a natural area – now shrinking due to development – where we’d pick wild berries, eating them on the spot. The wetlands provided toads and tadpoles.

Walking through those areas will bring back the pace of very casual, unstructured summers. Something I’ve not enjoyed for many years. Something many kids don’t experience at all today.

With school out this week, you’ll probably see kids placed into structured programs, such as day camps and bible schools. All-day recreational activities abound. Let’s hope, however, that there remain plenty of opportunities for kids to be kids, to enjoy what summer vacation is all about.

It seems to me many adults have forgotten the simple joy of pure, unvarnished fun that comes with being a kid in summertime. Plenty of time to do whatever you want … or nothing at all.

I know I’ve lost touch with the simple pleasures. Summer seems to slip by in an instant. As winter drags on, I can’t wait for the hot stuff to arrive. The next thing you know, it’s Labour Day, with all the downside that entails.

I love the heat of midsummer, but in some ways I dread its arrival. A warm May – not in the cards this year – elevates the spirits. June signals summer’s arrival. For some reason, however, I experience a twinge of regret when the calendar flips to July, as it did this week. July is great, but it leads to August.

And we know what comes next.

Undoubtedly, there’s some kind of psychological issue associated with anticipating the end of something even as it’s just getting underway.

Such thoughts never occurred to me when I was a kid. Time was different then. Not so fast. And each day was to be enjoyed, not filled with obligations. The weeks didn’t streak by as they do now.

When you’re a kid out having fun, the day can fly by. But the summer lasts forever. As adults, the day can drag on, particularly those hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But the weeks and months are here and then gone.

As a kid, your summers are environmentally friendly and good for you, body and spirit.

Think about it, summers – at least as I knew them – were spent being active outdoors. At that time, we were literarily in touch with the earth – and we had the grass stains on our knees to prove it.

Lest I be accused of falling into the things-were-much-better-when-I-was-a-kid trap, I’m not alone in my assessment. There’s a bit of a movement to let kids be kids, to break out of the over-protective mode – see this week’s piece on the parking issues at John Mahood PS – and to stop micromanaging children’s lives.

Groups such as Free-Range Kids in New York come to mind.

Scottish-born Canadian writer Carl Honoré chronicles the worldwide phenomenon of childhood micromanagement in his book “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting,” in which he suggests we need to slow down, allowing kids to do their own thing.

“Childhood is always evolving and it has always been defined by adults. But we seem to have reached a point now where childhood is being warped more than ever before by adult fantasies and fears, anxieties and agendas. Every aspect of childhood – education, safety, discipline, sports, play, etc – is now set up to suit grown-ups rather than children. We are living in a culture that tells us that childhood is too precious to be left to children and children are too precious to be left alone,” he writes.

As children, my friends and I were usually left to our own devices, and we managed to do just fine, please and thank you. That’s not to say there’s no room for structure from time to time – if that’s what the kids want.

For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with letting them find their own ways: it will probably lead to the best memories when they get old enough to be nostalgic about their childhood.

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