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Lois M. Collins: Kids' summer 'bucket list' can foster real growth

Published: Tuesday, May 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Summer break is just around the corner, and so are excited kids' summer bucket lists.

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My oldest daughter is excited by the fact that school's almost over. Saturday, working beside me in our winter-neglected yard, she kept up a steady stream of conversation about the plans she and her sister have for this summer. It is probably their last real summer break, before they try to find real jobs and start seriously transitioning into adult responsibility.

The girls and a small group of special friends have created a summer bucket list on which they wrote down anything that will be enhanced by the fact that they'll be doing it with people they love. They have more ideas than they will have time; the list includes everything from a day at the amusement park to a weekly jaunt to the public library. On Trax — because that's part of the adventure.

It also takes into account that some friends will spend a fair amount of time babysitting siblings and all of them are expected to do chores and go with their families different places. And there are some summer jobs, camp obligations and other activities buried in the list, too, including travel out of the area.

I'm looking forward to their summer vacation, for both the joy and the chaos I know it will introduce into our lives.

I find myself hoping that the many children and teens whiling away some of their hours in pursuit of pleasure are greeted by adults who wish them well and who can remember what it was like to spend months longing for summer vacation, then jumping in as wholeheartedly as if it were a warm swimming pool.

For some reason, in the last couple of decades, it seems as a society we're a little less enthusiastic about youths, especially when they reach their teens. I've noticed a tendency to treat them like they're drug rehabilitation programs — we think you're a great idea, but we don't want you in our neighborhood and certainly not close by. We like things like skating parks in theory more than we do when they're across the street. Even some of my friends act like all kids are thugs and if you leave them alone, kids just get in trouble. I actually think older kids need unsupervised time to develop some skills, though I do want my kids to check in.

Pure playtime is as important for a developing brain, I think, as the classes from which they'll be taking a break. Sure, I know that they'll need to do some reviewing so they don't lose the things they learned during the school year. But I think physical activities like riding a bike or playing a game of basketball at the park are as essential to a good life — and to healthy brain development — as academic pursuits.

My youngest daughter will spend a good part of her summer reading for pleasure. While she learns a lot from the books she's assigned and the critical analysis she does in school, it is in picking up a book because she likes the synopsis and immersing herself in the story line inside that she becomes an eager lifelong reader and discovers ideas about what she'd like to do with her life or strategies for handling situations that aren't hers, at least yet.

This summer, as the kids work their way down their bucket list, there may even be a couple of tiffs and a few disappointments as one friend or another doesn't follow through on plans. They may have to reschedule or rethink their approach to getting somewhere. They will almost certainly have to accommodate schedules that involve not just their friends, but families' plans and chores.

All of those things — flexibility, responsibility, accountability, reconciliation, etc. — are real-life skills that will serve them well as they become adults in mature relationships and in the work force.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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