Kathy Donaghy: 'Maybe I'll live to regret it but this summer I'm saying no to back-to-back summer camps'

Maybe I’ll live to regret it but this is the summer I’m saying no to back-to-back summer camps and letting my kids figure out their own entertainment while school’s out.

One of my two sons is doing the Cúl Camp at the local GAA club this week and after that the summer is rolling out without a single scheduled event in sight.

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Working from home means I’m not faced with an immediate childcare crisis once school gets out but that doesn’t mean I can afford to down tools and act as entertainer for the summer months either. Deadlines still have to be met and the work still has to be done.

In previous years I have booked the kids, Dallan (10) and Oirghiall (7), into all kinds of summer camps, from swimming to dancing, but it felt like a kind of tyranny to be driving to events when they were off school.

Like many parents I feel like large chunks of my life are spent in the car ferrying my children to and from activities. Because they have different interests very few of their activities overlap and it’s not unusual for my husband and I to be on the road five days a week. I often spend my weekends at the side of a football field, a swimming pool or a running track.

And I love it. Seeing my kids kick a ball, swim in a pool or compete in athletics events is great. It’s great for their health and it makes them feel good. When my eldest son said he couldn’t choose between drama and swimming because he loved them both, we found a way he could do both on different days. It just meant another outing after school.

But the summer is a chance to take it easier, to switch off and to kick the schedule into September, not just for the kids but for my husband and I too. While the first thing the kids did when they came home from their last day at school was to fling the schoolbags into the corner, I felt like flinging the car keys into the garden hedge in my own salute to freedom.

Time is the most precious commodity when you’re busy. And sometimes that means time to do nothing, go nowhere and see nobody. It seems like the blink of an eye since my eldest son started school. Now he’s going into fifth class and I ask myself where is time going? I want to take the summer to slow down, to hang out together more and to just be home.

Perhaps we’ve decided against the camps this year because it finally feels like our kids have reached an age where they can fend for themselves a bit more. Because we live in the country they can safely be outside playing in the garden, on their bikes or go-karts or in the woods behind the house without me having to wonder where they’ve wandered off to. Without sounding slovenly they’re also at an age where they can fix themselves a snack if they’re hungry.

But as much as anything else I am trying to recreate for my children that sense I had as a child where days stretched out as far as the mind’s eye could see, where there was nothing to do but play, read, make camps and create imaginary worlds.

The biggest battle I might have with all of this is keeping them off devices but we have ground rules around when they have screen time, and for the most part they know the deal and seldom ask for more.

Perhaps I’m totally wrong and I need to be a bit more ‘Tiger Mom’ and sign them up to more “enrichment camps” as they’re called in the US. But this summer we’re going to wing it and see what happens.

One of the wonderful things about living in this part of the world is that we’re surrounded by nature. In summer Inishowen is breathtaking. We’ll camp on the beach and swim in the sea and take our lunch up to the woods. We’ll take day trips to meet up with friends from school and hang out with our cousins. But mostly we’ll keep it simple.

This might be too Enid Blyton-sounding for some but we made hard choices to leave jobs and lives in Dublin to come and live in one of the most remote parts of the island. I grew up here so I know how the wild beauty of this place fills you up no matter where life takes you, and I want my kids to have that too.

In the US parents get warnings about the “summer slide”, about how kids slip academically when they’re not at school. And while it may be sensible to make sure they read a bit over the summer, this kind of thinking honestly sets my teeth on edge.

So in our house I’m going to let my kids slide into summer. We’re going to slip to the beach every chance we can. We’ll stay up late and eat ice-cream and watch movies. We’ll abandon the bedtime rules and skip the schedule and just be happy doing as little as we can together until September.

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