The concept of childhood is a relatively recent one in the past 100 years or so. With a few exceptions since the industrialized era, we’ve created a cultural expectation that children under the age of 15 should indulge in long periods of leisure time without much responsibility, schedule, or hard work. We now raise our children to spend their summers exploring, experiencing and getting lost in thought, more than laboring in drudgery. In general, apart from some perfunctory chores like unloading the dishwasher, running some loads of laundry, making beds and caring for the family pet, kids don’t spend their summertime working to feed hungry mouths. In the Highlands, however, summertime is spent feeding hungry minds.
If I went door-to-door in my neighborhood and asked what kinds of activities parents lined up for their kids the past few months, there would be reports of pool memberships, vacations with the grandparents, and Science Camp. I would find an assortment of leisure activities paired with educational activities. In place of mucking stalls or picking crops on a farm, kids are learning HTML and marine biology. Twelve-year-olds are more likely to be found logging on to an online Spanish course instead of chopping logs for firewood. Highland parents seem to waste no time finding activities that bring fun and learning together in ways that will hopefully benefit their children’s development and future. We all know our darlings are capable of whiling away the summer toggling between Xbox and Netflix (pushing every parent’s buttons in the meantime), and wasting every brain cell lodged between their ears. Some would say our culture has had enough of long luxurious childhood summers and would prefer to return to an era of minimal idle time. Some would claim that we have overindulged several generations of children who grew up to be lazy and unprepared young adults. Will it be that within the next generation our youth will exchange repose for recitals, leisure for learning, and fun for photosynthesis workshops?
I’m not convinced either extreme is the way to raise kids. Complete and constant engagement in academic pursuits can be stressful and is suitable for a minority of agile minds. Let’s go with a farming analogy. In working with crops, farmers periodically set aside their fields for fallow time to regenerate the soil’s nutrients, so the next season they will bounce back with abundance. Let’s say our minds work the same way as these fields. If we push them too hard our “crops” become weaker and less abundant. If our children are given no time to relax, they may experience “crop” burn-out. Studies show that great creativity comes under circumstances where the mind is peaceful and not randominzed in multitasking. We all do our best thinking in the shower after all, right? It would be nice to spend the entire summer in a state of creative receptiveness — as if we were in a two-month-long shower — but that is easier said than done. Being engaged in creative thought is a discipline unto itself and requires diligent practice. The other extreme of allowing our kids to do absolutely nothing over the course of summer seems erroneous too. After all, when we leave a field fallow for too long, it gets overrun by weeds and stubborn to return to planting condition. This fall when our students return to school, our teachers will know which “fields” were had been worked too hard season after season, and which ones were choked with brambles from lack of attention.
One of the most disputed topics amongst Highlanders is childrearing and how to best prepare our children for a productive future where they can positively contribute to society. Very few parents want their children rising at 5am, working their fingers to the bone all day just so they can collapse in bed exhausted and awake the next morning to do it all over again. Yet most parents know that leaving kids to their own devices means they’ll be on some electronic device all day “doing nothing”. Whether engaged in computer camps or backpacking, geology or GeoCaching, Highlanders typically put a lot of time and thought into their own approach to childhood. This September, will your children look back at summer having tilled their fields with vigor, or let them run rampant and become overgrown?