One of my best memories of childhood was the wonderful feeling I got at the beginning of the school holidays. The prospect of weeks of days spreading ahead with absolutely nothing to do – except have fun!
My family didn’t go away on holidays much: all my overseas travel I have done as an adult, and we only travelled to see family in Townsville, Canberra and Melbourne on a few occasions. Most of our holidays were spent at home and we made the most of what was before us: our back yard, our friends and the park two blocks up the road.
The feeling of being able to ‘figure out’ what we were going to do each day was a wonderful gift, and I have tried to let my own children have it also.
But nowadays too few children get to experience this feeling: the hours of fun exploring outdoors, and of big open and unspoilt places; the euphoric feeling of freedom!
Let’s face it: few of us have endless free time to spare, or live in an idyllic places where there is no traffic and are prepared to let the children run wild. Not only that but we are also being good parents by filling-up our time with work as well as organised activities for our children, such as sport, music, dancing and other things.
Unless we make a conscious effort to get out with our children and to just let things happen, their childhoods will have passed without any ‘unstructured’ play time. But it really isn’t that hard to give them at least a little taste of the magic I talk about.
The key is to find a safe environment and under your watchful eye and leave them to their own devices. This doesn’t have to be somewhere far away, up a mountain, or in the depth of the countryside or at a beach resort. Your garden or local park can feel big and wild to a small child.
Holidays are very precious and time even more so. To guarantee success many parents feel they need to plan, go somewhere different everyday and pack exciting entertainment into their ‘quality time’. More and more children today are veterans overseas travellers before they leave primary school and, as a teacher of many children like this, I am not sure that it is money effectively spent before they’re old enough to appreciate the valuable experience that overseas travel gives.
Sometimes the best holiday for children is the gift of freedom, and the chance to roam safely - right at home.
Outdoors has its own magic and its own attractions, and kids are great at entertaining themselves: making cubby houses, making mud pies, collecting sticks or stones, running around for no apparent reason, playing hide and seek with friends, jumping puddles, climbing trees.
Let them do it. It's an important part of growing up. Just make sure they’re dressed for the occasion.
The upside? You give your children an opportunity to explore, be creative, make decisions, judge risk and develop confidence in an environment which is safe, secure and free.
The downside? The washing machine may need to work overtime!