Sunny side up

Last Updated 27 March 2013, 15:44 IST

Students really need to unwind and keeping themselves occupied during summer holidays, advises Dr Ali Khwaja.

Aditya’s academic year, quite like most other students’, was an unrelenting refrain of “study, study, study”, left, right, and centre! Now exams are finally over, and Aditya is free from studies. For a day or two the thrill was overwhelming. He went out with his friends, partied for some time, and then …. most friends drifted away in their own worlds.

Suddenly the free time didn’t look as exciting as he had visualized in all the previous months when he was deeply immersed in studies and was craving for end of the academic year. Even Aditya’s parents are a little confused and unsure how to deal with him and keep him occupied and out of their way.

For some children though, summer holidays are getting shorter and shorter. In many schools, studies for 10th standard start soon after early completion of 9th annual exams. After 12th, majority of students are busy preparing for innumerable entrance and competitive exams that seem to go on and on. So those who are lucky to get a few weeks off should consider it a boon and make the best of their time.

By saying this, I am not suggesting the endless structured activities that force a child into the regimen (s)he hated throughout the academic year – swimming, painting, yoga, aerobics, yogic math, even tuition for the next year, one after another. I pity the children who are dragged from one ‘skill’ class to another robbing the holiday time of mental and physical relaxation.

Of course, a few children might actually enjoy skill building classes. For such children, many cities offer opportunities to learn unique skillsets like horse riding, robotics, microlight flying, aeromodelling, magic, dog breeding and care of pets, games design for mobiles, electronic circuitry, river rafting, wall climbing, public speaking, quizzing, terrace gardening, and making soft toys to name a few.

In the past three decades I have watched kids’ summer holidays turn from freedom and exploration, to regimentation and confinement. Open playgrounds and urban forests have disappeared, nature treks are too far away, and security concerns do not allow children to just roam around and explore the surroundings on their own. While parents’ concern and focus on their children has increased, they find themselves helpless in deciding what would be the right way to plan their holidays.

To quote Dr. Shyamala Vatsa, consultant psychiatrist and author of ‘A little book for the Hindu child’ – “Where parents are going wrong is in following the herd, sending a child through activities because other people are, without tuning in to their child’s needs to ascertain that he’ll like it.

Also perhaps in treating them like future resume-enhancers. My nephew took a course in Magic in the summer holidays when he was 11 or 12. He loved it, and seemed to have a flair for it. Eventually the magician he was training under began taking him along on shows as an assistant, mostly to children’s birthday parties. And no worries, he turned out well enough – he is an engineer now!” Her sarcastic tone is suggestive enough.

Let us reflect on some exciting, enjoyable and yet enlightening activities which children of different ages can take up in summer:

* Visiting new towns and cities and exploring their culture, civic life, people etc.  It need not be hill stations or summer resorts, go to a different place and just look for things that are not found in your city

* Better still, go to a village, preferably live with a family in a humble dwelling, and get first-hand experience of rural life which most children of today do not have any exposure to.

* Living with another family that has children also gives a wider perspective on parenting, upbringing, family dynamics, creating awareness that everyone is different and should be accepted the way they are

* If possible, a group of children could take up a small village-based project to improve community living, and implement it with the help of a few adults or experts.

* As far as possible, children should be encouraged to be outdoors in summer. It is a myth that they will get dehydrated or burn their skin. Put skin lotion if necessary, but let the child be outdoors, just cautioning him now and then to be in the shade whenever possible.

* Unstructured activity increases the creativity and decision making ability of children. Let them decide as they proceed what they would like to do, rather than parents or teachers formulating a time table and deciding the activities.

* Most middle-class children do not understand the value and significance of blue-collared workers.  An apprenticeship with a carpenter, electrician or plumber can give a totally different perspective on adult life and careers.

* Similarly, a child can be encouraged to spend a day in different environments such as a hospital, bank, government office, computer centre, court etc, and give an informal presentation or narration to family members at the end of the day. This is particularly useful for students to take decisions on optional subjects and careers as they grow up.

* Group activities, with children of both genders and different ages, have been proven to not only improve interpersonal skills, but also the ability to understand power hierarchy, bullying, leadership, and diversity management.

*Social work, particularly reaching out to younger children or old people, is an excellent way to keep a child occupied, bring a sense of responsibility, and build better values.

*Similarly, children should be encouraged (if necessary even forced) to participate by rotation in household activities such as washing dishes, sweeping the floor, washing clothes, putting away things, even cooking. This is particularly important for boys.

* Finally, use the summer vacation to train children into a fast disappearing activity – reading! Starting with simple comics and novels, children of all ages (including parents, since they are the role models) should read on topics of their interest and share with the rest of the family, or in book-reading circles of groups of children and neighbours.

Indirectly, this has a very positive effect on academics once the school re-starts.
Summer holidays are the time to break free from the shackles of our very structured, confining and restrictive education pattern.

Children need to feel the freedom from the 40 minute classes, prescribed text books, repetitive exams. They need to soar into the skies of free thinking, exploration, widening of horizons, and understanding the finer details of life.

(Published 27 March 2013, 15:44 IST)

Follow us on