Boomers Enjoyed Unstructured Summer Play

If there is one thing Mister Boomer misses terribly from his early boomer days, it is having a summer off from school. As an adult, responsibilities to family and work take precedent, so time in the summer (or lack thereof) becomes more precious as he ages. Decades later, as he ponders those wonderful summer days, he realizes what he misses is not only the time out of the classroom, but the sheer freedom of it all. A week away from the work desk cannot hold a candle to two-plus months of unstructured play.

Once the last school bell had rung, children were free from the commands of teachers. Parents not only allowed this freedom, but encouraged it. In fact, most boomers will tell you their parents did not know what their kids did during the day. As long as they were home for dinner, parents did not want to know about their children’s summer activities unless they came home bleeding, or escorted by a police officer.

We were free to keep ourselves busy. Sometimes that meant inventing games, other times it was exploring, while others, still, it meant a time to be mischievous. The point was, children were left to their own devices to work things out. In Mister Boomer’s case, the neighborhood group included kids from age 7 to 14. Though the older kids often took the lead in deciding what to do, the entire group was able to voice their opinions or offer suggestions. In this group dynamic, it was not unusual for strange games or competitions to appear, with rules being concocted on the fly. It also meant that on occasion, there might be some blood, usually because of some foolhardy attempt at one thing or another, more than fighting.

Virtually every child development study these days points to a lessening in the amount of unstructured play time compared to that of our boomer days. Consequently, the debate over structured play versus unstructured play has been going on for decades since the boomer generation. Every boomer grandparent is aware of the often grueling schedule their grandchildren keep during the summer, being ushered from one practice to another, one structured activity to another. Mister Boomer makes no claims to the authoritative reasoning behind such discussions, other than the fact he grew up as a boomer.

In 2016, Michael Patte, professor of teaching and learning and a child life specialist, released a white paper called, From Pick Up Games to Play Dates –- The Decline of Child-Initiated, Unstructured Play and the Rise of Backseat Children. The good professor summarizes the reasons for the decline in unstructured play as:

• Safety concerns
• Increased time spent at school
• Desire by parents for childhood to be a time of resume building for college
• Increase of structured play activities

He goes on to say that unstructured play is key to proper balance in childhood development. Unstructured play assists in:

• Social competency
• Self-discipline
• Aggression control
• Problem solving
• Conflict resolution

Surely we boomers were not conscious of such teaching moments, but Mister B feels that when you think back, you will recall times when that is exactly what was occurring in the fields, playgrounds and streets of our youth during summer vacations.

Boomers in the 1960s and ’70s advocated for more freedom of all types for everyone. Self-expression was a big part of that freedom. Could that desire have been rooted in the way we were allowed to spend our summer vacations — in total and complete unstructured play?

Do you think about unstructured play these days, and the freedom you had as a kid during summer months, boomers?

Magazines Were Boomers’ Windows on the World

It may be hard for today’s generation to believe that before the advent of the Internet, boomers got the bulk of their information about everything from pop culture to international affairs through newspapers and magazines. Newspapers were as necessary as the delivery from the milkman, but it was magazines that truly captured the hearts and minds of boomer families. Television programming began to cut into the circulation of magazines, but Mister Boomer is pretty sure if you ask any boomer, he or she will tell you that their family subscribed to several magazines that were promptly delivered to their mailbox.

There was a magazine for every possible constituency, gender and age. Many had already been active for decades, while others got their start in the Boomer Era. For boys, there was Boy’s Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America (since 1911). As they grew to be teens, they might share dad’s copy of Popular Mechanics (since 1902). Burgeoning car enthusiasts had Hot Rod, first published in 1948, making it a true boomer publication. Road & Track joined the fun in 1952, having been sporadically published between 1947 to ’49.

Young girls read Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine. Fashion tips could be procured from Seventeen as girls became teens.

The fathers of boomers had a series of magazines aimed solely at the male market. Among the most popular were Esquire (first published in 1933), the aforementioned Popular Mechanics and Playboy (first published in 1953). There were also a host of other men’s magazine that included racy photos of women (for the time). Some may have piqued the interest of boomer boys when they discovered where their fathers kept their archive (but not Mister B or Brother Boomer; their father did not subscribe to any of them). Many of the magazines, such as Esquire, featured fiction by some of the up-and-coming writers of the day, including Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, among others.

Boomer mothers had a treasure trove of magazines designed just for them. Centered around family life, child rearing, cooking and house organizing, these included McCall’s (1897-2000), Good Housekeeping (since 1891), Family Circle (since 1932), Better Homes & Gardens (1925) and Ladies’ Home Journal (1891).

Then there were the magazines shared by the whole family. These were either general interest, photo-heavy magazines like Life (1936-72), Look (1937-71) and National Geographic (1888), or news magazines like Time (1923), Newsweek (1933) and U.S. News & World Report (1933). Many families added Consumer Reports (1936), the first magazine to offer unbiased product testing, a handy resource in the age of boomer consumerism.

If there was a single magazine that bridged the gap among boomers of all ages, it would have to be Reader’s Digest (1920). Designed with 30 articles per issues, so people could read one a day, the magazine became the best-selling publication in the country for decades. Many boomers will recall their parents enjoying the columns, “Humor in Uniform” or “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Many boomers will also recall that their friends and relatives, if not their own parents, kept the current issue in the bathroom for “library” reading.

Mister Boomer’s family subscribed to many magazines through the years. Mister B’s mother was partial to Good Housekeeping and McCall’s while his father enjoyed Life and Look, as well as Reader’s Digest. Brother Boomer got a Newsweek subscription when he was in high school. Mister Boomer and his sister did not subscribe to monthly magazines, but bought them on occasion. Mister B paged through Life and Look, and often used the photos for art projects for school, but his favorite was Mad, which he purchased sporadically between 1962 and ’68. His sister liked the celebrity photos of the Beatles, Bobby Sherman and Richard Chamberlain that she could get in Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, when the mood struck her to purchase them.

How about you, boomers? What magazines did you and your family subscribe to?