"Welcome to summer!" proclaimed the large banner that I painted and hung on the garage door
to greet my children when they returned home from their last day of school. Throw in some
homemade tropical popsicles (tropsicles?) and a Hula Hoop party (think the props game from
"Whose Line is it Anyway?"), and we had ourselves a lovely summer kickoff celebration.
Now how many days until school starts?
Here's my little confession: I used to fear summer. It's a big change, for kids and parents, to go
from the structure of school to the freedom of summer. But I have learned not only to embrace it,
but to love it.
Summer is more than the taste of sticky sweet popsicles dripping down a tightly gripped hand,
more than the sound of crickets chirping a rhythm as the sun sets and leaves lingering warmth on
the evening breeze, more than a break from backpacks and homework and days spent in the
classroom. It's a freedom, a feeling, an opportunity to return to a more simple time.
As a young girl, I remember summer with its family vacations, trips to the library and time spent
at our family cabin on a beautiful lake in northern Minnesota. But what I remember most is
countless days that played out as such: waking up; eating breakfast; and being turned loose
outside - my juvenile memory even recalls mom locking the door as to prevent us from coming
back inside, though the truthfulness of this evades me; mom throwing a sack lunch out the door
for our daily picnic with the neighborhood kids; an afternoon of outside play (in the interest of
full disclosure, living on a country road at the edge of a national forest certainly provided for
many play opportunities and adventures); coming in for dinner; then back outside for an evening
of playing kick the can and badminton until the sun slipped behind the densely-treed forest and
the mosquitoes came out like a swarm of B-52s and we were forced inside.
And then we woke up the next day and pressed "repeat."
Granted, things are a bit different now. When my 9-year-old wants to ride his bike around the
neighborhood, I make him check in every five minutes. I am working on letting go and
extending this to maybe six or seven minutes.
When I send my kiddos to school, I am handing over much of their time to the teachers, to
decide how it should be spent. When school lets out, the teachers hand the children's time right
back to me. And I have to choose how to spend it. Some of their time, I keep for myself. Some, I
give to them to spend. Other moments of time, we give away to others.
In his well-known and often-referenced October 2007 General Conference talk, "Good, Better,
Best," Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, "Some of our most important choices concern family
activities... In choosing how we spend time as a family, we should be careful not to exhaust our
available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best.
A friend took his young family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to
memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good
summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of
it. 'The thing I liked best this summer,' the boy replied, 'was the night you and I lay on the lawn
and looked at the stars and talked.'"
Elder Oaks also warned about "the overscheduling of children," and stated that "children's free
time has declined by 12 hours per week, and unstructured outdoor activities have fallen by 50
This was in 2007. I can only imagine those numbers have changed even more.
What better time to increase unstructured outdoor activities than summer? This is what I have in
mind when I give my children some of their time to spend. They might spend it setting up play
tents in the backyard, or watching a snail move slowly across the deck, leaving behind a trail of
slime. They might spend it playing board games in the shade under a tree, or adding to their
For the time we give to others, we are part of an amazing group of local moms and kids called
Club SOS (Summer of Service). We meet together once a week throughout June and July and
perform acts of service around the community. We've done such things as wash police cars; sing
patriotic songs to senior citizens; weed, clean and mulch local parks; decorate meal bags for the
terminally ill; compile and send care packages to military personnel, and more. This will be our
fourth Summer of Service, and I love that my kiddos have come to know that it wouldn't be
summer without doing service for others.
Don't get me wrong. When the school year rolls around again I am ready to resume the schedule
and activities that come with its return. But I no longer spend my time wishing away the glorious
days of summer. And I certainly have no idea how many days are left until school starts.
Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in
journalism from the University of Minnesota.
As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in
landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.
Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home
mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel
(6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).
In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of
Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader