The concept of summer vacation - like most everything - has changed dramatically over the years. While nowadays children’s summers can be nearly as busy as the school year, and involve many of the same activities, they often used to be full of long days with lots of free time.
Unless the children were working, that is.
Sherri Kawazoye took a few moments from a bridge game at the Los Altos Senior Center to reminisce about growing up on a vegetable farm in Colorado. Summer camps didn’t enter the picture.
"From the time we were infants, we would help around (the farm)," she said. "I would say by the time we were 6 or 7, we would pull weeds and things. … By the time I was a teenager, I would be able to drive a 2-ton truck and they would load on crops. When we first started, we would have carts and horses, and we would drive the horse."
There was time for fun, though. Growing up with six brothers, one sister and seven cousins, she had lots of playmates.
"As a child, work is kind of play because you don’t take it seriously," Kawazoye said. "But play we did. … As soon as we quit working, we’d be playing kick the can or climbing the trees or whatever. We never had any bicycles or anything."
The next generation
The childhood of Kawazoye’s three daughters was quite different.
"They grew up here in Los Altos," she said, where they attended Almond School and Los Altos High and went to camps put on by the recreation center, as well as on various school trips.
In thinking about her grandchildren, she finds modern life a bit too busy, with ballet, summer camp and other activities filling the days.
"(With my children), I would have them take one sports activity that was organized, and one creative. So if they took piano lessons, I did not let them take ballet or whatever - one of each," she said. "And the rest of the time was free play. They would play in the backyard, with very (few) toys. We had fruit trees in the back, and they would climb the trees and pick fruits, and just play with each other. They used to bring all their friends down, and they would just have free play - that’s the way I raised them."
The almost-lost luxury of free time
Three women fresh from a Los Altos Senior Program tai chi class also spoke of the changes between their childhood summers and those of their grandchildren.
"My daughter-in-law, who works, programs (the kids’ time)," Karen Radwin said. "I have one daughter who doesn’t work, and she specifically doesn’t program the kids. … They want their kids to be kids."
According to Radwin, the common tendency to keep kids occupied is often not a matter of choice.
"When you’re working, your choice is a babysitter or a camp," she said.
Radwin’s children spent two to four weeks at summer camp and also went on family vacations. Her own childhood was similar, attending Y Camp for two weeks every summer and visiting family.
"But we just played mostly," she said.
Carole Katz recalled the peaceful summers of her youth.
"I was home, my mother was home, I was out playing in the street," she said. "I grew up in the Midwest - everything was safe. We played outside our house, we walked everywhere."
Joan Karlin noted a difference between the two coasts, saying that for approximately eight weeks of the summer, her East Coast grandchild is in day camp, "with a spectrum of activities that’s just part of the schedule."
Katz and Radwin said their grandchildren’s camp themes vary from science to math, theater to art, and though they’re mostly subjects the kids show an interest in, sometimes they might prefer to just do nothing for a while.
"My grandson has sometimes said, 'I don’t want to go to camp again,'" Katz said. "I think he would like to just be a kid - just hang."
Karlin remembered the abundant free time of her childhood, which she put to good use.
"We spent a lot of time reading," she said. "So a big thing in the summer was going to the library and getting library books, and signing up and getting so many stars depending on how many books you read. There weren’t assigned books - that happened in college, but we never had it in high school that you had a book to read over the summer. But I think we read a lot more. It was just fine to sit in your bedroom or on the back stairs and read a book." k