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Lazy days of summer are a thing of the past

When did kids stop getting to be kids? When I was little, my siblings and I would go outside and play for hours. We used to make obstacle courses out of our swing set and forts out of our picnic table. We used to invent games on the spot.

On Christmas, my cousins and I were sent to the basement so that our parents could have grown-up time. No problem. We transformed my grandparents' basement into a supermarket, using their cupboards as shelves and stock, and an ironing board as the checkout counter. We played house and dress-up with old Halloween costumes. We made up dances, which I still remember, and performed for each other. We weren't banished to the basement, we were taught to entertain ourselves. And we became more creative because of it.

During family dinners, we often reminisce about funny and embarrassing memories from our childhoods. My mom often asks the same questions: Did I do a good job raising you? Did you ever feel that you missed out? The fact that we are now in our 20s and choose to spend time with her should say a great deal. I know I'm biased, but I can honestly say my parents did a great job raising us.

Why? Because they let us be kids. Their expectations for us were understated, yet genuine. They didn't throw us into sports at age 5, pushing us to be professional athletes. My sister and I weren't put into dance classes and expected to be world-famous ballerinas.

We were able to choose our own paths, all of us doing sports at one time or another, getting involved in school activities before pursuing our own paths, our own individual talents, our own futures. And through all this time my parents didn't push, but supported. They didn't bully, they encouraged.

While parents today are sending their kids to overpriced rock star camps, space camps or computer camps to shape their destinies and meet new friends, we built friendships by hanging out with neighborhood kids, playing kickball, baseball or SPUD. Do kids even know what SPUD is anymore?

When did simply going outside and playing stop being good enough? Now everything has to be planned down to the last minute, strictly structured and overseen by licensed, professional instructors. Where's the character building when your whole childhood is strictly planned by other people?

My parents may not have had a lot of money when we were little, but what they lacked in wealth they made up for in love and support. Kids don't need rock star camps, theater camps or sports camps. They need a chance to be kids. They need a chance to actually experience the "lazy days of summer."

Today kids are faced with schedules that even adults in their prime shouldn't try to take on. After six-plus hours in school, they're hustled off to dance class, music lessons and sports practices. Gone are the days when children chose one activity for the week. Now they're trained daily to be musicians, athletes, dancers and scholars. Eighteen-year-olds can barely focus with schedules like that, how are 10-year-olds supposed to?

I think my parents did a great thing simply telling us to go outside and play. And since they raised four happy, healthy, well-rounded, creative adults, I'd say they had the right idea.

Katharine Kirchmeyer, a resident of West Seneca, is grateful to her parents for her wonderful childhood.

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