All Work and No Play

Why Summertime Diversions are as Important as Your Child's Schoolwork 

 By Kathryn Smith, Ph.D.

As a child, the elation I felt during the last bus ride of the school year was simply unmatched. Don’t get me wrong; I actually loved school, but the prospect of summer always dazzled me more than any other time of year (perhaps matched in my childhood imagination only by Christmas). In summer, the swimming pool beckoned as long hours in the hot, bright southwestern sun were punctuated with bouts of play in the water.

My daily schedule looked something like this – wake up, find breakfast, go to swim team practice, stay at the pool after practice, play in the water, get out to eat, play in the water, get out to eat, play some more, then walk home.  

...all these hours in the sunshine were as important as any schoolwork, since they were a training ground for understanding the importance of leisure. 

From a parental point of view, such a carefree existence might have seemed wasteful or dangerous at worst – idle hands… the devil’s workshop? However, the liberal arts tradition might suggest that all these hours in the sunshine were as important as any schoolwork, since they were a training ground for understanding the importance of leisure.

Why is "leisure" important?

I use the term “leisure” purposefully. Its meaning may be widely misunderstood either as a privilege of the upper class or as indulgent laziness. However, it may be best understood as the freedom to cultivate two essential human qualities – creativity and contemplation.

Such long stretches of time like summer break challenged me to confront the struggle of how to be comfortable in solitude with my own thoughts, and there is perhaps no more difficult lesson to learn than how to be at home with oneself.

In the midst of all the wonderful memories of my childhood summers, I was undoubtedly bored and restless some of those times. How I responded to this restlessness and boredom was to invent play – to create games and work that occupied my imagination. I came up with schemes for making money by selling homemade goods or fabricating lemonade stands. I wandered the neighborhood with friends making up and believing stories about haunted, abandoned houses. Sometimes, I constructed makeshift forts in the hollowed out sides of desert arroyos.

My own restlessness and boredom spurred an inner creativity that would never have been possible if I had fully scheduled days of activities or obligations. What’s more, these times also allowed for cultivating what might be described as a spirit of contemplation, a receptivity to the world – longer times to think, to observe, to wonder. Long walks home stimulated a questioning mind that sought understanding of the world’s wonders.

Arete–A harmony of work and play.

Learning how to expand one’s thinking in the unbounded space of leisure is rooted in the classical tradition of the West, which is what we study during the Arete program.

I consider these activities – creative thinking, observing, wondering – to be the foundation of Arete, a summer program for high school students at the University of Dallas. Learning how to expand one’s thinking in the unbounded space of leisure is rooted in the classical tradition of the West, which is what we study during the Arete program. Students who attend are surprised to find others who share their passion for thinking about the big questions... who are essentially seekers of knowledge.

Our days in Arete are true to the proper spirit of leisure and include both times of study, as well as times of rest and reflection, and even a good amount of play. Yes, it’s true that Arete is an academic program, but one fashioned according to the liberal arts tradition which teaches us all how to prosper as human beings.

Do you have a student who loves to think, read and write? Send them on a two-week summer excursion to cultivate the art of leisure and contemplation at the University of Dallas. Learn more.


kathryn smithKathryn Smith, Ph.D., grew up in the desert Southwest near El Paso, Texas, and studied literature and English at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. Currently, Smith teaches literature at the University of Dallas and directs the two Arete summer programs at UD for book-loving high school students. Have a student who loves to think, read and write? Register by June 20 for Arete >>

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