Every summer the countdown begins. Students begin marking off the days until summer holidays. Teachers are definitely keeping a tally and parents know it’s just a matter of time. The focus on a countdown seems in marked contrast to what could arguably be the absolute best thing about summer – the lack of a schedule. Whether you are traveling abroad for the three months of school break or working your way through the heat of the summer here in Kuwait, there’s no denying the relief that comes when that last school bell rings.

Summer provides all of us a chance to recharge. Even if we work during the summer, we can still enjoy the slight reduction in traffic on the roads and the overall slowed down pace of life. If we’re lucky enough to be able to travel, then the greatest gift comes in the form of ‘free time’. Time that doesn’t require an alarm clock or a To Do list or a schedule of pickups, drop offs and punch ins.

Free time is one of the most precious and treasured parts of childhood. For many modern societies, it has been lost among the push to ‘succeed’ and the ever growing pressure on parents to involve their children from an early age in extracurricular activities.

Extracurricular activities are good and in fact have been proven in some cases to prevent children from engaging in dangerous or self-destructive behavior, especially once they reach high school. Summer camps are also a fabulous opportunity for kids to spend time with peers, enjoy a range of activities including sports and games that they typically wouldn’t do during the school year.

But these should not be the sole focus of summer.

Both adults and children need ‘free time’. Even NASA includes free time and playtime in the schedule for its astronauts who live on the International Space Station, explaining that free time and fun are essential ingredients for quality of life.

For most of us, and especially those with kids, our greatest periods of free time happen when we are children and again during the summer when our kids are school age. The three months or so of summer create a window for creativity, an opportunity for relaxed play, for exploration and for fun.

For kids, summer represents freedom from the demands of the school year. It may mean less interaction with peers of the same age group in a classroom setting and more engagement with children of all different ages. Summer free time also allows children the opportunity to be bored and thus to learn to entertain themselves, to stoke their own creativity. Summer free time allows them the chance to choose the books they want to read, the games they want to play and the activities they want to engage in. In short, it’s a chance for them to develop independence.

Most of us remember our summer holidays from childhood as the best time of our lives. We remember the trips we took and the games we played and even those slow, lazy summer afternoons when we didn’t do much more than read a book or play.

The heat of Kuwait can be incredibly oppressive and those of us who stay here in the summer often feel that our kids are trapped indoors and unable to enjoy the full summer. But trust me, the kids only care that they are ‘free’ and as long as we respect that freedom to just be, even an indoor summer can be wonderful.

By Jamie Etheridge