Brave Parenting Guide to Old School Summers


Screens have desecrated one of the most cherished parts of childhood: summer.

As some of the last parents who grew up with an analog summer, we believe it is important to keep the screen-free spirit alive today by implementing ‘Old School Summer’ activities.

Now, why do you need a guide for this?
Because screens are what kids want as they are convinced (cognitively hijacked to believe) that video games, scrolling, and streaming media are the best options. And, let’s be honest, screens make it easy for parents.

We all know, however, that what makes kids ‘happy’ is not what is good for them. Now, we just need to put that knowledge into action.

With just a little bit of legwork, every parent can turn down the media and technology temperature in their home and embrace some Old School Summer simplicity.

A couple of points to set you up for success:

  • Let it be known that you are not a cruise ship director, entertainment coordinator, event planner, or camp director. Summer is the time when autonomy is encouraged. Children should be able to choose their own adventure – a critical part of the Old School Summer.
  • Your screen time should also decrease. Your kids shouldn’t be outside running in the sprinkler while you sit inside scrolling social media. Reengage with a hobby you once enjoyed (before the smartphone) or start that home project you’ve been delaying – do anything but be on your phone!
  • Remember that scraped knees, sunburns, and boredom are actually okay. In fact, they are better than any brain-numbing media alternative.
  • Old School Summers never included documenting every moment in pictures and videos. Just let the children play!


#1 Old School Summer: Outdoor Play

Nature is often the best teacher. This is where kids learn the natural consequences that come with exploration and experimentation. Whether it be in your backyard, at a park, or in the neighborhood – allow your kids to free play.

Free play is what child development experts describe as the most beneficial form of play for children. This is defined as “an activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends.”

According to Jonathan Haidt and his book The Anxious Generation, physical play outdoors and with children of mixed ages is the most healthy, natural, and beneficial play for kids

If parents today are serious about combatting the anxiety epidemic, the very best place to start is as simple as Old School outdoor free play.

#2 Old School Summer: Indoor Play

While outdoor play is great, indoor play is necessary. Instead of screens, the default should be to board games or card games (especially between siblings or neighbors – remember you are not their entertainment). Better yet, consider Old School games like Battleship, Twister, Connect 4, Checkers, or Chess.

Other great options for Old School indoor play are friendship bracelets, Rubik’s Cube, etch-a-sketch, Legos, and artwork.

Pull out blankets and let them build a fort. Give them your leftover Amazon boxes and some markers, and see what they create. Let them take over the kitchen and dining area of the home and pretend to operate a restaurant.

Messes can be cleaned up, but a child will never get to relive their 8-year-old summer.

#3 Old School Summer: Letters & Newspapers

Now that you’ve got the outdoor and indoor playing nailed let’s take the Old School up a notch with a pen pal. Remember those?

Find a friend or a relative who is willing to participate in a weekly letter exchange. Grandparents are an easy choice, but cousins or even classmates who live across town are great options. Then, it is super simple: have your child write a letter, address the envelope, put it in the mailbox, and wait for the written letter reply to show up in the mailbox.

This establishes patient communication in an asynchronous manner. Compared to text messages, the desire to immediately reply with a written letter is healthy and good! It also practices writing, reading, and communication skills for the Old School win!

But the Old School fun doesn’t stop there. How about the Old School habit of getting the news from newspapers? Consider buying a local newspaper once a week and teaching your kids how to read it. Scan the headlines and follow the cover story that continues on page A9.

Ask your kids: What kind of news stories are reported? What worldview is underlying this story? Where do you see God’s story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration?

And, of course, don’t forget the comics section! This is classic Old School humor and entertainment.

#4 Old School Summer: DVDs

To embrace Old School Summer life fully, streaming media has got to go. No Netflix, Prime, Hulu, or YouTube. Instead, when screen time is needed or earned, revert back to DVDs. (Check out our podcast: The Case for the DVD Player)

DVD players and movies are still available for purchase if you are young enough not to still own them. But this Old School adventure shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Talk to your neighbors and friends (especially any Gen Xers) and gather up a library of DVDs to share with each other. Check out your local library to see if they have DVDs to borrow, yard sales, or even a Half-Priced book store.

The key benefits of DVDs are the lack of autoplay and algorithmic-suggested content. The child is entertained by a story with the plot wrapped up in 90 minutes. No episodes to binge.

Even more, DVD movie content can be easier to review and discern than the constantly updated borage of streaming shows. Chances are, you’ve seen most of the DVD movies and can evaluate them for appropriate content.

#5 Old School Summer: Radio

This last category is one that can slip through our consciousness. In the days of streaming music and Spotify playlists, the way we listen to music has shifted to be very individualistic and feelings-driven. Headphones and earbuds are inherently isolating.

Embracing an Old School Summer with music doesn’t have to mean that you bust out the cassette tapes – although you could. It could be as simple as choosing to listen to traditional radio stations while in the car or playing music out loud throughout the house.

In case you’ve been deceived, let us remind you that forcing kids to listen to the music you like is not oppressive. If you have a playlist you love, play it on a Bluetooth speaker as though it was the radio. That means no skipping around to find the song that fits the mood of the minute. This is key.

Playing music throughout the house is a great way to add the often desired ‘background noise’ in lieu of the television. If possible, we recommend music through a speaker versus music through the television.

Final expert tips

It can be tempting to jump online to print coloring sheets or allow a YouTube video so kids can, for example, learn to play chess. Is the internet the most convenient way? Yes. But the better Old School option is to buy a $1 coloring book and check out a “How to Play Chess” book at the library. Choose the way that allows for slightly more friction to build virtues like patience, self-control, and problem-solving.

Old School Summer means avoiding activities that are inherently isolating. There isn’t anything wrong with spending time alone, but screens (+ headphones), whether inside or outside, are setting the stage for teenage and young adult isolation, fear, and anxiety.

Now, go get it! Your Old School Summer awaits!

Picture of Kelly Newcom

Kelly Newcom

Kelly is the author of the book, Managing Media Creating Character, and the founder and executive editor of Brave Parenting. She is a mother of 7 foster-adopted children. Kelly is passionate to help others bravely parent counter to culture and societal norms. She believes parenting is Kingdom work and must be done with the courage and bravery of a warrior of God.

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