During the first day of summer, I was reminded about freedom found in June.
While running through Charlotte’s Eastover neighborhood, I went by four kids playing in their front yard. There they were, four kids, a tennis ball and their imaginations. Rather than staying inside and playing Grand Turismo (a Playstation game) these kids invented their own game. The goal was easy: who can throw the ball over the house? The challenge that stood before them was a three-story monster, whose gutters would swallow any mistake. And there was only one rule: do not hit a window.
Then about four houses down, I saw another sign of summer vacation—a ten year-old in swim trunks and goggles pushing the trashcan to the street. I could hardly believe it, not only had the kid really been swimming, but he was also doing chores. It was an encouraging sight to see these kids spending their first free afternoon outdoors; they were using their imaginations, playing games, and doing chores.
But then I realized that there were probably a hundred other kids hidden in their family rooms with their hands glued to a game controller or television remote. Most likely, these other kids were mapping out their daily lineup of the Price is Right, Judge Judy and the Fresh Prince. As I continued on my run, I wondered how my parents had gotten me away from our Atari and outdoors.
Then I remember, it was quite simple: I was handed a football, a bicycle, or even Legos and told to go play outside. If I protested too much they unplugged the tv and locked the Atari away. But for me video simulated games could never compete with the freedom of the outdoors and my imagination. From the free-throw line in my backyard, I was able to win many last second championships for Duke. At the park, my cousin and I would try to capture squirrels as new pets. Finally at the end of evening, I would crash in my bed ready for the next day’s adventure.
Chores were also an important part of my summer. Allowances were not given; they were earned. So when I was 11, I tried to start a neighborhood yard service. I printed up flyers and put them up. The publicity was immense, but I never received a single call the entire summer. At age 11, I learned one important entrepreneurial skill: advertising. Of course, advertising that a rambunctious 11 year-old would show up with sharp hedge trimmers and a gas-powered lawn mower might not have been the best idea.
My run this afternoon reminded me how simple it is to get kids to play. Give them a tennis ball, open the front door and once they go outside lock the door behind them. It may take them a few minutes for their eyes to adjust to the natural light, they may look for power cord outlet or battery case on the tennis ball, but eventually they will remember how to play. Then they will recall the rules of summer: No responsibilities, no homework, nothing but freedom, their imagination and endless afternoon of fun.