Today I was hard on myself. As I evil-eyed a pile of second-grade workbooks, most of them unfinished, I chastised myself for not making my son get through them this summer.

Oh, we’d started out strong in June – two or more pages out of each book plus a lesson on ABC Mouse every weekday. I even had a good schedule going for my three-year-old with preschool books too, and I’d stocked up on “prizes” from the dollar store that the boys could win after completing enough pages.

Within about five weeks, we’d all run out of steam. Fights were had, prizes got boring, brains were fried (mostly Mommy’s), viruses hit that threw us all off schedule, and basic survival with three kids (one being a baby) took precedence over pencil, paper, and books.

Basically life happened.

Now, with the oldest going back to school, I’m grumpy because I feel like I failed at this getting-ahead education thing.

Hold up…Get over yourself, woman!

I have to remind myself that just because my kids didn’t sit and “study” every day doesn’t mean they weren’t learning. They were just learning differently. Maybe even better.

So what did they do all summer and why does it matter?

1 | They spent time outdoors

This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way for kids to learn all kinds of stuff! You can only do so much sitting at a desk staring at pages. Stepping outside leads to a whole new world of real, experiential learning.

They chased butterflies, kept beetles in bug jars, dug for worms to feed our chickens, played with caterpillars, and had a blast catching lightning bugs (who knew a three-year-old would be so good at that?). They dug in the dirt and played in the mud (and learned to follow Mommy’s rules of such messy activities – well, almost).

I even heard the oldest teaching his brother how to count with rocks (that is before they started throwing them, which ended in tears and a bit of blood…and more learning to follow rules!).

Many of us will recall spending lots of time outside as kids. Are your own kids getting their daily dose of nature? Truth is, most kids are lacking in unstructured, outdoor play-time, turning instead to too-much screen time. This has led to an increase in behavioral and attention disorders, not to mention increased obesity and worse overall health.

Nature-deficit disorder is a fitting term for this situation.

Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” explains that this “leads to diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” So it’s easy to see that the simple act of getting outside has a huge positive impact on physical, mental, and emotional development – not to mention kids are actively learning about the world around them. Science class reinvented!

I feel extremely blessed to have a good amount of land for my kids to explore, but even if you don’t have much space, you still have options. There are plenty of adventures to be had in a backyard, park, public school field, or on vacation. You can also go for walks around town or on trails (good for you too!) or simply hang out on the porch for some fresh air.

If your kid went to summer camp, you’re gold. Add in social skill building for the win!

2 | They were super active

Those little bodies need to move!

All that outside time meant lots of water play with slip n’ slides, water balloons, kiddie pools, and squirt guns. They were also able to get in some great swim time, thanks to the amazing hubby who set up an above-ground pool. Worthy investment!

The older one learned to ride his “real” bike and actually, finally, loves it. We went for walks (sometimes with running involved), which is good for all of us! They burned off energy and had a ton of fun on the trampoline. (Believe me, that is a real workout.) They climbed trees. (Okay, Mom was not too excited about this one. Enter more rules about not going to high.)

Of course, we all know that exercise is important for physical growth, fitness, and health with many benefits to the body, but it also carries some major brain benefits. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between physical activity and better academic scores. The more active they are, the better kids do in school.

It’s really not too surprising considering exercise is proven to create changes in brain structure and activity that increase cognitive ability, boost mood, clear brain fog, and improve memory. It doesn’t have to be a structured workout. They get plenty of cardiovascular and strengthening moves in with all the hopping, running around, squatting, stooping, bending, pushing, and lifting that kids naturally do.

3 | They got bored

Yes, this is a good thing. Boredom is not the enemy.

In today’s world, we think we need to immediately come to the rescue with iPads, games, and ready-made crafts and activities when someone says the dreaded b-word.

When the b-word arises, tell them, “Okay, you can help me clean…or go find something to do.” Believe me, they will find something to do. Plus, this is an important habit they will need the rest of their lives.

(Side note: Depending on age, though, you might need to make it clear what kind of things are okay. We are still working on understanding there is no taking things without permission, destroying anything, or teasing siblings. More rules, oh my!)

Boredom has some amazing benefits. It fosters creativity, improves mental health, and boosts motivation. Bonus: It helps parents too since they don’t feel obligated to constantly entertain (phew.) Now I just smile when I hear those two little words, because it’s an opportunity for them to go learn something on their own.

In short, there’s no reason to feel guilty for an academically “wasted” summer.

You know what surprised me? By the end of the summer, my anti-reading seven-year-old started reading books more on his own…for fun…because I wasn’t “making” him.

They learn so much more than you realize. So how about when next summer comes around, just relax a bit and let life (and learning) happen!

How did your kids spend the summer? Share below!