People never were intended to work during the summer. Plants are supposed to work during the summer. People are supposed to play. Unfortunately, only three kinds of people understand this basic truth: travel agents, members of Congress and children.

Travel agents want you to go away, play and spend your money. Members of Congress want to go away themselves, play and spend your money. Children just want to play.

This simple truth comes as lemon juice in the wound to all those stuffy adults who believe an idle child in summer means we've slipped another mind behind Japan.

Not every child on a summer street corner is hatching a drug buy, nor is every kid leaning against the trunk of a tree in a chemical haze. Some of these youths are thinking those long, long thoughts that may lead nowhere at all. At least they are free from the chains of Summer Algebra-thon, three weeks in Fort Worth learning to twirl, or a week helping at the community hospital while considering: "Is This the Summer You Choose Orthopedics?"

There's nothing wrong with any of these last few activities, except for the poor kid whose parents have decided that the child will attend each function consecutively until summer runs out. Some adults think a child's time must be channeled, boxed and documented, which is pathetic, since there is a great deal to be said for childhood indolence.

For openers, it gives children the chance to appreciate what wasting time is all about, a process that will come in handy later in life when they finally realize that not all jobs make adults as busy as they pretend to be.

It also gives children the opportunity to watch things and try to figure them out, even if it's how siding stays on a house or whether there's a way to count dust bits revolving in a tube of sunlight.

Childhood indolence is a breather from responsibility and it may never come again. Snagging cherries from the neighbor's tree or shooting dragonflies off a clothesline with a squirt gun seem to be worthier memories than recalling the day you learned how to exit from WordPerfect at PC Summer Camp.

Indolence is cheap. It doesn't cost much to do nothing. Indolence also is easy. Making highways for ants in the dirt with a stick makes more sense than paying $100 an hour to learn how to relax as an adult. That raises another point about indolence: It's therapeutic. Whether from a meadow or a rooftop, watching pearl and pewter storm clouds gather has a big lead over mandatory bassoon lessons.

Sooner or later, the indolent child becomes the restless child anyway, the kid who wants to play a made-up game that doesn't require numbered uniforms paid for by the local lumber yard. Remember?

Remember Three Flies? You need at least two kids, but three or four is better. One kid throws the ball up in the air and hits it. The person who catches three flies gets to take a turn hitting the ball. You also get to bat if you field a ground ball, then roll the ball back and hit the bat laying on the ground.

Remember Five Steps? Takes two kids. One punts a football. If the other kid catches the punt in the air, the kid gets to take five steps and punt it back. If the ball goes over the opponent's head, the kicker wins.

What about H-O-R-S-E? It takes a basketball and two players, although just one can play since all that's involved is duplication. You take a shot. If you hit it, your companion has to hit the identical shot. If your friend misses, give her an "H." Five misses, five letters, you lose.

Give a kid a ball and a wall and he'll think up plenty of games to pass the summer days away. Stick ball. Wiffle ball. We played something we just called "fast pitching." A kid drew a strike zone on the school steps, and threw a tennis ball hard as he could. Another kid stood there and tried to hit it. Complicated stuff.

Kick the can. All it takes is a bike and a can, and you get to spend most of the evening ruining your shins.

The point is, adults have all kinds of ideas about how kids can spend the summer. It's the kids who normally have the best ideas about how to save it. There are, after all, a lot of things worse than just goofing off.

Jim Stasny goofed off in Wisconsin last week.