Since I was a little girl, pretty much everything has changed. Popcorn, which used to cost a quarter at the movies, now costs 10 times that much. Add to that the cost of a soft drink and you barely have enough money to buy your ticket! And we won’t mention the cost of gas required to get you to the theater and back home again.
I could never cover the entire gamut of dramatic change that has occurred during my lifetime. Family patterns, accepted social values, styles of dress, modes of transportation, communication—you name it. Would you believe that, when I was a child, we had neither television nor cell phones? If our jeans got a hole in the knee, we pouted and fussed until we got another pair! We would rather have died than wear them out in public!
Over 2,000 years ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus gave us a marvelous description of change when he wrote “You can never step in the same river twice.” The water you first stepped in has gone downstream, and your next step will be in different water. Change may well be the most permanent thing in our lives.
Summer—a Changed Season
One thing that has changed drastically for children all over the industrialized world is summertime. That rarely makes it into lists of important changes, does it? But changes in patterns of family life have wrought major changes for children during this season. For example, in previous years fewer mothers worked outside the home. They may have been just as unhappy when school let out—or at least they pretended to be—as the kids were happy. Summer school, except for children who were lagging academically, was rare. Music lessons usually stopped, and unless a child was exceptionally talented, so did practice. Organized sports were pretty much limited to little leagues for boys. So the kids were at home, and it was up to Mom to plan their schedules. The easy out was to let them watch TV all day, but the kids would get tired of that and eventually moan, “I don’t have anything to do.”
Today the transition between spring, with school and many organized activities, and summer is not as dramatic as what I have just described. As many mothers work outside the home, considerable telephone time is dedicated during the month of May to working out a childcare arrangement for the summer that will benefit the child and enable the mother to continue working. Usually the childcare, especially for elementary school-aged children, will be less academically oriented and will include considerable time for recreation and sports. Some of the children will know one another before the program begins, but for others they will have to establish new (and possibly temporary) friendships. Even though a quality program will keep the kids busy without exhausting them, they may still come home on some days and lament, “I don’t have anything to do.” So, even though everything changes, some things never change. Right?
To help parents cope with that challenge, I went into a nostalgic reverie and thought about some of the things I most enjoyed doing in the summer during my childhood. They may sound very old-fashioned to you, which is deliberate on my part because I want you to realize that there were some worthwhile features in the “good old days.” However, this may help you give your child a sense of his or her own history to which dreams of the future may be attached.
1. Find time for a visit to (and from) grandparents. A very important part of knowing who you are is knowing who your grandparents were—the kind of work they did, the sort of house they lived in, what they liked to do in their spare time. Now I realize that not all grandparents are going to act as though a visit from a grandchild is just what they need to make their summer perfect. If you get rebuffed, try again later. Or, craftily, if one side of the family rebuffs you, try the other side. Incidentally, in this sort of arrangement, don’t forget biological grandparents who might have been excluded by divorce arrangements. They need to see your children, and your children need to spend time with them.
Before the kids go, prompt them on behavior that might not be acceptable at their grandma’s house (perhaps calling her “Grandma,” not making up their beds or eating before everyone is seated at the table, for example). Encourage your kids to ask their grandparents to tell them stories about when they were children. Grandparents love to tell stories (I know!), and they will be delighted to find their grandchildren interested in them. Don’t hesitate to tell the grandparents about special needs or concerns your children might have. If you have one who can’t sleep without a nightlight, say in a matter-of-fact way, “He has to have a light on in his bedroom at night.” That ought to take care of it.
2. Rediscover board games. Now that video games have taken over, parents and children rarely sit at a table and play board games together. If you try them, I promise you that your kids will love them, and you will, too. Even very young children can play Go Fish with a deck of cards, though they might have difficulty holding all the cards in their hand. Scrabble® is an excellent game for helping children improve their spelling. And if there is a better way for kids to learn how to add in their heads than by playing dominoes, I don’t know what it is. My son used to ask me to play during the school year in hopes he could beat his grandfather the next summer. (I don’t think he ever did.) You may well get a similar reaction.
3. Go on a picnic. Not just grilling on the deck or patio—a real picnic with sandwiches that the kids help make, dishes in a basket and drinks in a cooler. Take the dog and a Frisbee®. And don’t make them clean up when you get home.
4) Visit a museum. When mothers work, kids sometimes get to visit museums only on school field trips. Go with them and, by your interest, stimulate theirs. Any kind of museum will do, but one with a historical focus can be especially delightful, especially when you’re stressing the value of your kids’ personal histories.
5) Find time for dawdling. “Summer time, and the livin’ is easy,” says the song. And, really, it should be. Sit together on the front steps and watch the cars go by. Count the number of fireflies that come on the deck in a 15-minute period. Try to extend bedtime when the shared dawdling creates a glow in both of you that not even the fireflies can match. Granted, that might cause a hassle the following morning when everything goes back on schedule, but it’s worth it once in a while.
6) Enjoy, enjoy. Don’t forget: the days grow short when you reach September!
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.