“Rejoice as summer should…chase away sorrows by living.” ― Melissa Marr
The other night I was taking a walk when I came upon a man pushing a lawn mower across his overgrown grass. My pace slowed as I watched tiny blades of grass dance over his yard. I breathed in deeply and smiled.
It is the smell of fresh lawn trimmings and gasoline.
It is the sound of crickets and thunderstorms.
It is the taste of homemade vanilla ice cream.
It is the feeling of hot cement under bare feet.
It is more than a season and more than a memory. It is my favorite, most alive feeling, and it can be awakened with one smell, one taste, or one remembrance from my childhood summers.
Because when I was a kid, summer was an all-senses experience.
I cut the grass blasting tunes on my Walkman, waving to my dad as he supervised me mow the steep hill in back. I sported chlorine-scented hair and Love’s Baby Soft perfume. I wrote notes to my best friend in bubble-letter script and mailed them because that was second best to passing them in class. I babysat and carried a blue-eyed toddler on my hip treating her like the beloved child I someday hoped to have. I beat the fuzzy yellow tennis ball against the garage door in rhythmic succession. There was always one long car trip with my family—sweaty legs that stuck to the seat and ice cold soda from the cooler in back.
Now here I stand on an uneven sidewalk admiring a stranger’s lawn mower lines wondering what my children’s summer associations will be.
I fear for the extinction of nighttime hide-and-go-seek and tadpole catching in a shallow creek. It doesn't take scientific data to tell me that an All-Senses Summer is greatly threatened by electronic screens, over-scheduling, endless duties and distractions—both on my children’s part and mine.
As the man tending his lawn gave me a friendly wave, I forced a smile wondering how I could save the season of watermelon-stained smiles from permanent extinction.
A few days later, I had a scare on the Internet. Although the issue resolved quickly and safely for me, it might have been different for my child in a room by herself despite Internet filtering software and parental controls. My husband and I had gotten lax about allowing our children to use screens in all areas of the house—but no more. We reiterated the dangers of the Internet and designated a high-traffic area of our house to keep their devices. That is where the electronics would stay and where they would always be used.
Let’s just say, we instantly saw more of the children.
Let’s just say, time spent on the devices was shorter.
Let’s just say, I became more aware of my own device usage.
Let’s just say, there was heightened interest in engaging with each other.
Let’s just say, something wonderful happened.
The first ever sister jam session happened. Sewing doll pillows happened. Princess Camp planning for little girls in our neighborhood happened. Laundry folding while conversing about puberty happened (not my favorite, but highly important). Desktop organization and bathroom counter clearing happened. Mother’s Helper flier creation and distribution happened. A lemonade stand happened. Seed planting and car washing happened.
Why this surge of creative, hands on, all-senses engagement?
Maybe it was because sitting on the hardwood floor to use the device just wasn’t as appealing as the former comfy chair.
Maybe it was because I understood the importance and the necessity of saying yes to messy activities and out-of-the-box ideas.
Maybe it was because having devices in the family room reduced device time and increased conversation, connection, and awareness for everyone in the family.
Or maybe it was because I saw my children clearly and realized our summer seasons together are dwindling.
With my almost 12-year-old older daughter, I can feel them physically slipping through my fingers.
It hit me on the night of a gathering I hosted for the women I’d met through the LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER production. My daughter spent the previous day helping me prepare food and clean the patio so I encouraged her to go to the movies with her sister and dad. I was secretly hoping she’d go because I thought having her underfoot might be a distraction. But because my child was quite adamant that she wanted to help serve, I invited her to stay.
My daughter began making lemon water in a drink dispenser she bought at Target. It didn't really go with the décor, but I kept quiet. She tied an apron around her waist and began slicing lemons for the water.
“Mmmmm … I love the smell of lemons,” she said looking so grown, my almost middle schooler.
My daughter did a wonderful job serving beverages to my friends and seemed to enjoy listening to the interesting conversations going on around her. When I addressed the group about being one another’s “missing pieces”, I noticed my daughter didn’t look away when I got choked up. She smiled encouragingly at me from the back of the room as I regained my composure.
When the last guest left the party, my daughter motioned to the container. “Look, Mama! My lemon water was the most popular drink!”
“I am so glad you were here with me,” I said smiling. “Thank you for choosing to be here.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” she said.
As my daughter collected the shriveled lemons stuck to the bottom of the container, the most wonderful thought came to mind: Her hands will smell of lemons. And perhaps someday that scent will awaken this memory in her soul.
As my daughter stood in the middle of my life and I stood in the middle of her growing memory bank, I knew I’d just received the answer to what had been troubling me. The key to cultivating an All-Senses Summer is much simpler than I previously thought. The key is this:
We must invite each other to the common areas of our lives. We must not stay closed up, separated, and disconnected. We must say yes to our loved ones’ contribution, even if it’s messy, even if it doesn’t match, even if they might see us cry.
They will only look like this for a season.
They will only live under our roof for a spell.
But what they do here and now will live on much longer.
In one smell … one taste … one touch … they can relive a moment when someone invited them into the sacred spaces of life.
And that one invitation alone could make for a meaningful and memorable summer.
Recommended Resources (Please don’t skip over this!)
- One of the most intriguing posts on the Internet about empowering children to cultivate healthy technology use and non-screen hobbies is called, “How I Limited My Kids Screen Time by Offering Unlimited Screen Time.” The concept is based on personal momentum. As a freelance writer, the author finds that if she begins her day in productive manner, it is likely she will spend her day that way. She found this to be true for her children as well. She writes, “Because they are youth existing in the 20teens, they are drawn like moths to glowing rectangular screens as soon as they wake up, and given their druthers, would spend the entire day glued to the Interwebs, killing zombies or mining diamonds or whatever.” The author came up with a unique solution she calls the “Momentum Optimization Project” or “The List” which is an agenda of tasks her children must accomplish each day before they have unlimited screen time. You can see how some of the tasks on “The List” would lend themselves to lengthy, non-screen endeavors that are quite enjoyable. I highly encourage you to check out the original post here or the summertime edition of The List here.
- In addition, there is a free printable of a “No Screen Time Until …” list found at Your Modern Family. I adapted it to fit our family’s needs and interests (pictured below). Although my oldest daughter initially wanted to feed the list to the cat, both girls have taken to the daily agenda and quite a few All-Senses Experiences have already been made since summer vacation began a few days ago. I used the awesome “20 Questions to Ask Kids” to create a list of writing prompts and searched “reading log” on Google to find a reading log that provided space to write a bit about what was read (see photo below). Everything they need is kept in a folder (see picture below) along with the “No Screentime Until …” agenda that has a M-F check-off list.
- Six Ways to Keep Your Teenagers Safe Online discusses some of the effective strategies mentioned in this post to safeguard our families. How Do I Keep My Children Safe Online: What the Security Experts Tell Their Kids is another informative article about talking to kids about Internet dangers and strategies to protect them.
Thanks for being part of The Hands Free Revolution — letting go of distraction, perfection, and pressure to live more and love more in the time we are given! For more inspiration, strategies, and life-changing habits you can adopt today, please see my books!
Thank you for this post. I have been reading your blog for a long time now but rarely make a comment. We have 5 children and a computer savvy daddy in our home so screen time can be somewhat of an issue at times. This post came at just the right time as I try to plan summer for my 3 kindergartens and 2 early teens. I too had very hands on summers. I grew up on a farm in the country. We are now city dwellers and it is hard to give our kids the same wonderfull experiences I had. I love the idea of “no unlimited screen time until:” with lots of thought provoking and hands on experiences. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for sharing the resources you found helpful.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for your comment, Anne! This means a great deal to me! Sometimes I have experiences that I feel could be helpful to others but then doubt sets in and I wonder if I should have kept it to myself. In your loving message, you have confirmed that this was an experience to share! I am grateful to have you walking beside me with such kind words. My inner critic can be loud somedays. 🙁
Anne, you’re life sounds similar to mine. My husband is all about technology and loves it–it’s one of the ways he connects to our kids–so it can be tricky figuring out how to balance the screen time around here. I also grew up on a small farm with tons of free time to do nothing outside all day. But we live in a condo, without a yard, right now. Which is challenging because getting outside means we have to go somewhere and the kids need to be supervised. Good luck on your journey this summer.
Kerry Foreman says
I remember getting those bubble lettered notes in the mail and still have some somewhere! This was a great read, and I couldn’t relate more!
Rachel Stafford says
HA!! I love that you knew exactly what I was talking about! Only the best kinds of friends actually KEEP those letters for many, many years! Love you, Ker-Bear.
Thank you so much for this post. I love all of your words, but this one in particular could not have come at a better time. The issue of too much internet and screen time has been on my heart the past month – loudly! – and I devoured this post and the ideas it held. It might just give me the courage to have an unplugged summer…or unplugged summer weekdays….or wired but not wireless summer. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing – improvement still counts. Thank you for this reminder yet again.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Julie! I am so touched to know how this post resonated with you and inspired you. Please come back and share your experiences sometime. I see a beautiful, Hands Free summer ahead for you and your family!
Great timing on this one! With summer vacation just around the corner I long for my child to have an “all-senses” summer as you and I did. Thank you for the encouragement, suggestions, and wisdom of someone who has gone through this. Our 6 year-old is becoming more and more interested in electronic devices and I’m ready to take on the challenge of teaching him balance in this area of life!
Your description of summer was perfect. Suddenly, I was transformed to my teenage self and recalling all the wonderful memories. And yes, screen free is the way to go. I need to make sure I’m a positive role model. 🙂
Love your blog. Each post is a jewel in my week! Thank you!
Thank you so much for this post! I feel as though my kids are great about being outside, but when we have friends over in the summer, all they want to do is play inside! We have a pool, a trampoline and even a zipline and yet these kids all say they are bored until they plant themselves in front of the tv! So frustrating! 🙁 Perhaps I should send this article to their mothers, haha! 🙂
Thanks so much for the reminder of what summer is supposed to be like! I will download the Net Nanny on the home PC immediately! Do you know if there is anything for iPhones and iPads? I was told you have to uninstall Safari, but they do use it for good too, so I’m not sure I want to do that. You also recently wrote about a book that parents and/or kids should read regarding social media – can you remind me what that was again? My girls are about your girls ages and both just got electronics for the first time this year and I am struggling with these exact issues. They want Instagram accounts and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It seems so much for 10 and 12 year olds to navigate. Do you mind if I ask how handle social media with your two?
Galit Breen’s book “Kindness Wins” is the book on social media.
Thank you, Bridget!
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Stacey – yes, with iPhones and iPads, we use the Apple parental controls. Here is a good guide on how to do that. http://netsecurity.about.com/od/frequentlyaskedquestions/a/How-To-Setup-Parental-Controls-On-An-Ipad-Ipod-Touch-Or-Iphone.htm
My older daughter can still use the Internet to search, but since we have age restrictions on the material she can see, there are restrictions that pop up. My older daughter asked about getting an Instagram account because most of her friends have one. I said, “Not yet.” I told her that there is nothing beneficial for her on there and it will only distract her from the things she needs to focus on. There is a lot of drama that goes on with the girls her age and Instagram — a lot of emphasis on appearance and superficial things that I would rather her not get caught up in at age 12. When I explained to her how hurtful it can be, she decided it was too early for that, as well. Although some people might disagree about explaining things to kids when we say no, I do try to explain. I try to explain how it is my job to protect her and luckily, she respects my opinion right now and listens to what I have to say. I know that may not last forever though. I try to be reasonable with her requests when it comes to technology. She does a lot on the computer with creating things like a summer camp for little girls in our neighborhood. I try to support her creative endeavors while also protecting her from the downfalls of the Internet. You will really like Galit Breen’s book, Kindness Wins.
Thank you so much, Rachel!
Tammy B says
Oh how I wish I would have done a checklist like this for my two boys when they were younger. Screen time can be such a problem in our house, especially the computer. But as of Saturday they will both have graduated from high school and are not interested in lemonade stands, hanging outside with friends or going to the park anymore. My oldest works full time and when he gets home he just wants to chill for a few hours before bed. My youngest would stay in his pjs all day and play on-line games with his friends. So frustrating. I think that we were fortunate to not have the technology that seems to be taking over peoples lives today.
Rachael Potter says
I actually pinned this & printed it out, what a GREAT idea!!!
Hi Rachel: Thank you we needed this! Just in time for summer.
What a timely and important reminder with summer just around the corner (although it’s important during the school year as well). Thank you! I too remember summer days spent mostly outside and simple things like standing under the shade of a big tree or listening to a creek and the taste of (wild) raspberries remind me of that time. I want my son to have those types of memories and we always try to start our days out with activities outside or at the park weather permitting.
The list mentioned in your resources really appeals to me. I think that this will be helpful for all of us.
As a long time reader of your blog I want to thank you for sharing your experiences, they are always meaningful to me.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing, Dionne! I love hearing your memories and I am so glad the list looks like it might be helpful to you!
I am such a huge fan of your writing. I have your book from the library and I feel like you know just how to make tears come into my eyes at least once on every page!! 🙂 When you talked about the Love’s Baby Soft and the tennis ball against the garage door, you completely summed up my summer as a kid. I would sit with a pile of books and read all day, play by myself, babysit, ride my bike, catch fireflies and imagine and grow. I want to give my children that, too. This came at such a perfect time as I am sitting down to plan summer with my four little boys! Thank you!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Jen! I love that we have so many common memories. Thank you for the kind words about my writing. It means everything to me!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Jen. I am so touched by your beautiful comment.
My daughter’s only 3 now but I struggle to limit her screen time. I work full-time and often need to have her distracted for me to get some work done in the house. I’ve been trying to be better about this but perhaps the solution might be to invite her in with what work I’m doing even if it ends up being messy.
Thanks for this post!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing, Swapna! When my girls were 3, they LOVED to be included in my duties. I think whenever it is possible, it is a beautiful way to bond with our children and teach them.
This is wonderful. Thank you. As my oldest turns 11, the idea that our summers are dwindling hits square in the heart. But I smile because we have such adventures planned – back on the east coast to the very place I grew up. The boys will see the same sights and smell the same smells in my mother’s garden and catch fireflies and get muddy. Things are different in our summers here in the sweltering desert, but it has its own appeal. With all that, I’m looking forward to this summer more than any other. What a gift to create and share experiences and store up memories together.
… and the resources are excellent. Love that chart and plan to use it. Pretty fab. Thank you for your posts. I wish you the best for your season.
Rachel Stafford says
I am smiling with you, Christine. I love your summer plans, my friend. Sounds quite meaningful.
Alison Snow says
You are always able to bring me to tears – in a good way – what a beautiful reminder to keep connecting with our loved ones 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
Thanks for letting me know, Alison. I am grateful for that encouragement.
Of all the seasons summer does seem to have the most scent-related memories. I still can’t smell Coppertone suntan lotion without thinking of my grandmother’s beach on Cape Cod. I can still hear the waves and feel the sun. Thanks for reminding me of all that.
Rachel Stafford says
Lovely, Laurie! Thank you for contributing!
Ashley Steimer-King says
Thank you for this post!
I’m so curious what exactly you mean when you say you “designated a high-traffic area of our house to keep their devices.” Could you tell us more? Maybe in a future post?
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Ashley – the devices are kept in the kitchen/family room–in our house, that is one big open area. It is the area either my husband or I most commonly are. One of the most common strategies for keeping kids safe on the Internet is having them use screens in common areas of the house so their activities are not in secret. Thanks for asking for clarification!
Sandy Blackard says
I love your phrase “All-Senses Summer.” Such an inspiring goal for all of us! I’ll pass that along to the parents I teach, along with your simple boundary of using electronic devices only in high-traffic or communal areas like the family room. Using them in the midst of the family provides the element of supervision and allows children’s natural drive toward curiosity, live connection and physical activity to draw them back into real world without a word from you. Brilliant!
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Sandy! It is always a joy to hear your thoughts and perspective.
When I think of all my senses summers, I think about catching fire flies. My friends and I would put the flies in a container with holes on top so the bugs could breathe. At the end of the night, we would count who had most and then set them free. All the while our parents would sit on the steps and chat. I can also remember the smellls and the orange glow of the street light. Good times!
I love these lines. Great stuff: We must invite each other to the common areas of our lives. We must not stay closed up, separated, and disconnected. We must say yes to our loved ones’ contribution, even if it’s messy, even if it doesn’t match, even if they might see us cry.
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for sharing your summer memories, Larry! I have a similar firefly memory. Good times, in deed!
Rachael Potter says
another great article! I quit Facebook in December, I leave my phone in the car whenever I go somewhere (such as donuts on Friday morning, the mall/movies, library, park, etc) with the kids that is interactive. Honestly it’s been liberating. can’t wait to start camping in a about a week here the family is feeling closer & closer!
You are so right, the senses that we experience stay with us forever- the heavenly smell of beautiful blooms, the lovely sight of my little 18 months old lady delighting herself by popping bubbles, the beautiful sense of togetherness or belonging that I feel every single time while having a cuddle with my my daughter or my mum, the delicious taste of the ice-cream made by my mum, the list could go on…
Remembered the song “my favourite things” from the sound of music. It’s remembering these little favourite things that keeps me going when the times are tough and your post is a great reminder of practicing mindfulness in all the little things we do.
I try to read your post first thing in the morning, it really makes my day 🙂
Shannon B says
I just want to thank you for taking the time to write these blogs. I am so glad I came across your blog. Very inspiring. I don’t have too many good memories of my summers growing up, but it’s something I want different for my son. I’m blessed that he loves being outdoors, hiking, fishing, and camping and I pray that these will always be good memories for him. Thanks again, and I look forward to checking out the references you provided.
This. So much goodness in here!! Thank you for sharing it, writing it, and being inspiring. We are a mostly-screen-time-free family already, but I have it on my heart that this summer will really be that way, unless we are having a family movie night or game time. I love all your ideas, and the story you shared about your daughter and her lemon water. My daughter is approaching that age, and I love seeing through your story how we can so easily invite our girls into a beautiful experience of life when they are willing, even if we aren’t sure it’s what *we* want *right then*.
John S Green says
Allowing your daughter to make the lemonade from scratch in her way, serve it and be a part of the party is what real parenting is all about! Lemons and watermelon fingers and lips are summer memories.
REALLY appreciate this topic and most of all, you sharing your resources and photo examples. Thank you! So helpful to SEE examples of lists, etc you and others have created. Saves me from totally re-inventing the wheel. So grateful!!
Kirsten Rose says
Very powerful article, thank you. Brought back some wonderful memories of my childhood summers.
This has come at just the right time for me, thank you for sharing this. I grew up in New Zealand in a suburb chocka block with other families, and I had the most carefree summers you could imagine. Every house had a 1/4 acre section, there were 3 parks within walking distance, and everybody knew everybody ! It was not a well do do suburb, it was hard working families trying to get ahead, but I think the lack of excess money gave us so much more than a room full of toys could have. It was not at all unusual for neighbourhood kids to turn up in the morning and invite you to the beach with their family for the day. In the mornings I had to tidy my room, help with breakfast dishes ( by hand of course) and do one job ( usually vacuum the stairs ugh!) and then I was ‘allowed’ out to play. By the time I had done these things no less than 3-4 neighbourhood kids had already knocked on the door, timidly asking my Mum ” Is Melanie allowed to play today?” ” Just as soon as she is finished with her jobs” would come the long suffering reply from my Mum. That first moment stepping outside at last was indescribable! and the best thing was that the only real direction was ” Be home when the sun starts to go down” of course I always showed up at lunchtime, ravenous ! before heading out again. The excitement building over the carefully laid plans already sorted before we all took off home for lunch.
Fast forward 30 years and I have my own 3 children and am living in Canada. The oldest is bordering on teenhood, and they can’t wait to get their jobs done also, so they can get on their iPads 🙁 There are squabbles over who’s turn it is on the big iMac. At this point our basic rule is computer time first thing in the mornings, then when I call for breakfast, it is over for the day. It works well as it means they don’t spend the day moping around hoping time will pass so its ‘technology time’ at long last. This makes me so sad. They only have an hour a day, and they are great kids who have plenty of interests but that screen time wins every time. I would love to see the day where I don’t have to feel like the bad guy, so I am going to give the ‘unlimited’ method a go.
Thank you for the article. I love it. I think I need a “no screen time until…” List for myself. 🙂
This made me tear up mostly because I have so many memories that are drawn back by certain scents. It made me wonder how it will be for my children. It is a fight worth fighting to save childhood from the “scentless” screen! Great post!
This is so important Rachel, thank you. I did have to laugh last night when my 9yo daughter asked “mummy, can I have a little bit of screen time” (we are quite restricting with it normally anyway) “or do I have to go outside because it is such a nice day and we ought to be enjoying it”. LOL. Mine have recently discovered riding their bikes around our garden now that the youngest is off stabilisers. It is ruining the grass but, hey, they are loving it.
Amy Neal says
This made me cry hot tears of happy, remembering my summers. I have so many tender memories of summer and they are ALL tied up in my sensory memory. Every year I recommit to allowing messes, allowing noise, and embracing the whole thing so that my kids will have that. I don’t want the Netflix logo to be their dominant memory of summer! Thanks for this gorgeous piece of writing to help me remember….two more days till school’s out!
Such a great message. Kids need to spend more time being kids, doing things, and experience actual life and less time looking at screens. We try to travel a lot over the summer to make the most out of our time off and keep the kids learning and having fun actively with us.
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