What to do this summer...

Last Updated 12 April 2014, 02:43 IST

Parents today seem to believe that children need to be constantly engaged in "productive" activities. But that needn’t be the case. Play time is just as important to a child. Shruthi Rao offers some suggestions on how to engage your kids, in a fun-filled way, this summer.

If you're one of those who spent their childhood in the twentieth century, you'll remember with fondness what summer vacations were like. The immense potential of two whole months, stretching ahead of you like a huge empty canvas - and you, the artist with palettes of paints, all set to colour it anyway you wanted!

  The scenario is quite different for today's children. Vacations are structured around summer camps, and the rest of the time is spent on television or computer games.

Nothing wrong with summer camps. They can be fun, memorable and a boon to parents. But if you'd like to avoid the hassle of waking and dressing your children, and ferrying them to and from camp, like it were school, read on for fun ways in which you can engage them during the summer vacations.

Unstructured time

Today's parents think that their children need to be constantly engaged in “productive” activities. They want them to learn as much as possible within the shortest time. So we fill their day with activities, and deny them the joy of unstructured play, which is a crucial aspect of their development. Allow the little ones the freedom to take decisions on what they want to do and when (within reasonable limits).

The poor things are so used to being told to do this and reminded to do that - and “finish up quickly or else you'll be late” - that they'll cherish and enjoy this freedom. And they'll learn from it, as they come to appreciate the repercussions of their decisions. Research has shown that creativity is at its peak during such unstructured times.

Allow them time to do whatever catches their fancy, be it with their friends, or on their own. It's okay even if they do nothing, and stare into space. It’ll give you both a breather.

Outdoors and indoors

These days, children spend far too much time cooped up at home, due to time and space constraints. Identify a park or a field where your children can run around with friends, and get the exercise and fresh air they need. In fact, if you must put children in summer camps, a sports camp would be a better option.

When it is too hot to go outside, play indoor games like carom, chess, pictionary, monopoly or traditional Indian games. Encourage them to devise their own board games. Start them on crosswords, sudoku or get a book of puzzles to solve. Science experiments are fun, too. Buy a book, or find ideas online. And this has an added advantage: whenever children learn a concept by doing and observing it themselves, they tend not to forget it.

Planning getaways

Encourage your children to plan family getaways with you. Read up on the culture and history of the place you're visiting, even if it's only your hometown. Let them write an account of the trip after you get back. It is good writing practice and will provide much amusement when read after a few years.

You could, perhaps, introduce your child to a new language from the place you visit. Or may be, help him/her master your mother tongue – sing songs/rhymes and teach them to read and write in the language.

Encourage hobbies

Now is the perfect time to encourage your children to indulge in their hobbies. In case you're not too informed about the hobby that your child loves, the internet may be of some help. You'll get loads of ideas there.

Your job is to simply provide the space and material (and encouragement) and let your child run the show. Encourage him/her to explore new hobbies, too. There can never be too many books in a child's life. If your child doesn't read, this is a good time to introduce him/her to good books.
Read to very young children, and help older children navigate the world of words. If your child is already a reader, introduce new genres – poetry, travel, historical fiction – and expand their little world!

Teach life skills

Teach your children to cook simple meals, or get them to help you with cooking. Show your little one how to sew a button onto his/her shirt, or mend footwear. Grow a vegetable garden. Even a cramped balcony can accommodate a couple of pots with herbs. Start with something that grows quickly, like fenugreek (menthya, methi) which you can harvest to make your own methi paranthas!

No matter what their age, get children involved in household chores. Small children love dusting and folding laundry. Older ones might like to chop vegetables or roll out chapatis for you.
Take them along on errands – to the bank or to the market, and point out elements of interest. Give them a little money and let them do their own shopping. They'll learn about the world around them.

Go places, plan events

Look up interesting places in your town – museums, parks, planetarium, exhibitions – and take your children there. Keep a watch on the cultural events happening in your city. Be it a play, musical concert, dance, art exhibition, or even a good movie for kids, take your little ones to it.

It might give them an introduction to something new. It'll be even better if your children's friends tag along. The more, the merrier!

Try organising an event in your neighbourhood. Help your children organise a play, practise a group song, choreograph a dance, and put up a show for family and friends at the end of the vacations.

The planning, organising, practising, execution, and the finale will all keep them occupied for days, and stay in their memory for years.

Tie-up with other parents

Consider getting together with a few like-minded parents or neighbours, and take turns to host all the kids at your homes. You could just let them play with each other, or each one of you could teach/engage the child in activities that you are good at. One of you could help them bake cookies, another can kick a football around with them, the third can read out to them, and so on. That way, even you'll get a little free time when your children are away.

Limit screen time

In order to ensure that your vacation plans materialise, the first step is to put a strict limit on the time your child spends viewing screens (includes TV, computers, tablets, smartphones).

Parents insist that it's beyond their control – but it isn’t. As long as you put your foot down and formulate strict rules (which you should follow too), the plan will work. Only when screen time is limited, will there be time for other activities.

If you are ever stuck for ideas, remember, the internet can give you inexhaustible options. But do turn off the computer once you're done searching!

So go on and enjoy this time with your children – you know how fast they grow up! And with a fulfilling, relaxed holiday like this, the two months will just zoom past you, leaving you wishing for more.

(Published 11 April 2014, 14:16 IST)

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