Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Summer fun?

on August 25, 2012

My family and I have just returned from our summer holiday. For the second year running, we chose to spend our week away in what is possibly the most rain-soaked region of England: the Lake District. (It’s also one of the most stunningly beautiful, which is one of the reasons we go, coupled with the fact that it’s within 3 hours’ drive from where we live which means we don’t lose a day’s holiday to travelling either end).

Bad weather is common in the UK at any time of year and I can’t blame people who choose to take their holiday abroad in the hope of better weather. But few people go away for the full 6 weeks of the traditional school break, and it’s the thought of wet weather which strikes terror into the heart of many parents as the end of July approaches and the school-free weeks loom ahead. “What are we going to do with them?” we hear from various corners of the school yard. “How can we stop them from being bored – especially if it rains?”

Now, I hope I don’t come across as smug when I say that this has never been a concern for me. I look forward to the school holidays and relish the prospect of some time with my girls (I’ve been known to feel secretly pleased if they wake up ill and can’t go to school too!).  Some of this is because I’m inherently lazy and prefer not to have to drag myself out on the school run twice a day – especially if it is raining – but mostly it’s because I love having them around and almost never find that they require extra entertainment that I can’t provide. I’d love to say I’m one of those “hands-on” mums who bake, craft and paint with their children, but really I don’t enjoy craft that much, I can’t abide the feel of paint on my hands and, whilst I do bake with the girls on occasions, I much prefer having my kitchen to myself.

The bottom line is that my children play.

They play with Playmobil. They play with their dolls and teddies. They pull duvets and pillows off beds and cushions off sofas (when they’re allowed) and make dens and boats and nests. They run around our small patch of garden and ride bikes and scooters up and down the pavement at the front. The Butterfly has an endearing habit of turning everything she does into a game by narrating it under her breath, creating a story with herself as the central character (endearing? Self-absorbed? Maybe a bit of both!).  They spend time occupying themselves in different ways and then we all come back together for a meal or a game or something, and we usually enjoy the holidays with very little falling out.

Now, I’m not saying that they only ever indulge in what people think of as “healthy” or “old-fashioned” fun – they also watch DVDs and iPlayer and play DS games.  But they don’t require the constant entertainment dreaded by so many parents, whether they’re at home during the holidays or away on a break elsewhere.  We are lucky that our children enjoy reading as much as we do (although that “luck” is probably partly heredity, partly conditioning, so you could say we’ve created our own luck to a certain extent) and that very wet days can be spent indoors with a book – we did this last Monday when it lashed it down from 8.30am until after we had gone to bed – but when they’re not in the mood for reading, they’re able to find something else to do.

I’d like to suggest that children who can’t entertain themselves haven’t had the opportunity to try.   Many children I know, even as young as 5 or 6, spend a lot of their term-time evenings and weekends at various clubs and activities.  Breakfast club, after-school club, swimming, riding, Scouting and Guiding associations, dance lessons, music lessons, football practice, drama group, etc all serve to fill the school-free gaps in their lives and ensure that there is no opportunity for boredom or loose ends between meals, compulsory education and bedtime.  These children will probably grow up to become accomplished (if somewhat exhausted) individuals with plenty to say in their UCAS personal statement, but will they have developed the creative skills children acquire when their weekly routines include time that still needs filling?  It’s no wonder, when the holidays roll round and the club leaders take a well-earned rest, that the children they usually entertain wonder what on earth to do with all the time that’s stretching out in front of them and their parents panic that they need to find some other form of organised entertainment.

This is where most people start complaining that entertaining children is expensive, but a recent report suggests that this is only the parents’ perception.  In fact, says the research, children would far rather build dens and play with their friends than go on organised trips.  Much of the article focuses on outdoor activities but I assume the same can be said of indoor games (one can, after all, build a den and play with friends indoors on a wet day).

So it may be that some children do complain of boredom and need to be given the chance to learn to play by having regular “down-time” (necessity being the mother of invention, after all).  But equally, it seems that parents need to relax a little about what is required for entertaining children during the holidays.  The same report says that an average of £183 per child is spent on summer holiday entertainment – just think what people could do with that if their offspring spent some of the six weeks nesting under sofa cushions or running races in the garden.

I’m not saying that we should never take our children anywhere, or that parenthood isn’t a costly undertaking.  But perhaps we parents are making it harder on ourselves by not allowing their youngsters the chance to make their own fun sometimes.

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2 responses to “Summer fun?

  1. Alice says:

    This is really inspiring! I’d love any advice you have for encouraging children to play on their own? Dan loves playing but really requires someone to be there all the time to join in and finds he can’t ‘do it’ without Dave or I – which is fine, unless you’re trying to cook tea or are feeling weary! Any tips gratefully received! xxx

    • northmum says:

      Hi Alice
      That’s difficult, and I don’t want to set myself up as any kind of authority on the subject, my main thought on this was that children can’t learn to play if they’re never given the space or time to do so. Obviously we have to be involved on the learning process too. My girls have got better at playing without me as they’ve got older (it’s a little bit sad to be told “this is a two person game, Mummy!” when you *want* to play with them!) and I must confess that sometimes in the past I haven’t so much encouraged them to play alone as spoken sharply or told them I’m too busy or too tired, which isn’t good and I obviously wouldn’t hold it up as any kind of tip 😦
      When they were younger I did watch them play, asking them questions about what they were doing and what was happening, rather than actively joining in, which is sometimes easier for a tired parent – obviously you can’t do your own thing and need to stay engaged but sometimes it’s enough of a breakAlso I have offered compromises along the lines of “you go and get everything ready and when I’ve [finished this email/phoned that person/made these sandwiches/etc], I’ll join in.” That gives them chance to use their own imagination to set something up. Sometimes they’re too quick and need reminding you had a job to do first, sometimes they forget and get absorbed in their game!!
      All this seems a bit obvious and unhelpful, sorry. Despite not wanting to recommend grumpiness or sharp words I do think there’s a case, on occasions, for saying that there’s really something you have to do and they’ll have to play without you (maybe accompanied by a “why don’t you…?” if they do need help getting started). This is probably easier for children with siblings who play similar games and Dan might not be in that situation with his brother and sister (at the moment). What has also worked well for us was discovering that a big bucket of Duplo (and later a Playmobil set) sparked off enough ideas just to start playing. Obviously it might not be the same toys for you but there might be something that has that same effect.

What do you think? Let me know!

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