Squelchy Dirt, Daisy Chains and The Long Holidays

Mum with a child walking along the beachAs the long school holidays approach, many parents will be wondering what on earth to do with their children during what can seem like the endless six weeks of summer.

Conscientious types might conclude that practicing the things learned at school and perfecting literacy and numeracy skills will ensure enhanced progress for children when school restarts. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that “more” means “better”.

The head of a girls’ grammar school once explained that she limited her students to taking only 8 GCSE subjects since they were so biddable they would take 13 or even 14 if they could. She believed it more important that they had the chance to be 16 year olds, as they would never be 16 again.

For the parents of primary pupils the choice may not seem so dramatic, but it is true that our six year olds will never be six again, and all the things they experience as six year olds are of irreplaceable value. The richness and variety of their experiences and contacts with the real world are what help children make sense of the more formal learning they encounter in schools and relate it to themselves and their lives.

Increasingly however, children are reaching school age with such limited experience of the world that learning has little relevance. As a reception class teacher commented “More and more children arrive who are frightened of getting dirty, won’t put their hands into paint and are scared to touch water, sand and clay!” Children are born with the ability and curiosity to explore and understand the world by using their senses. Unfortunately a growing body of research shows that today’s children do not have the same opportunities to benefit from those experiences as their parents did.

Boy watering the strawberries | photo by Irina KotlarThe research shows that just 21% of children play outdoors near their homes, compared to 71% of their parents when they were children. A third of today’s children have never built a den; 32% say they haven’t climbed a tree and one in ten children have never ridden a bike. Commentators suggest that children today have much more to keep them amused, computers, multiple TV channels and smart phones, which earlier generations didn’t have. As a result, children miss out on playing outside or simply getting some fresh air. Another study revealed 35% of modern children haven’t splashed through puddles or been soaked by rain, while another 44% haven’t experienced walking through squelchy mud or kicking up autumn leaves. Less than half have built sandcastles at the beach, 53% haven’t had a picnic away from home and just 44% go on bike rides with their family. Even everyday activities are in decline with two thirds saying they have never made a daisy chain and seven in ten have never picked blackberries.

Play is almost as vital for grown-ups’ well-being as it is for their children’s health and happiness. Perhaps the long holidays might provide opportunities for parents to offer some of these experiences to their children. Just by following you and copying things you do your children will be taking part in a vital learning process.

  • You may be an “expert” in “wet welly walks” when it pours down.
  • You might lead the barefoot walk through the mud patch and feel it squelch between your toes.
  • Do you know where the best blackberries grow?
  • Could your children be your apprentices for lighting and cooking on a campfire, or simply making the longest daisy chain?
  • Will they enjoy helping you to plan the bike ride route and organise the picnic?
  • You might be the one who knows where frog spawn can be found, or how to turn a blade of grass into an effective trumpet.
  • Do you remember from your own childhood how to lure moths at night? Or how to light a fire with a magnifying glass?
  • Perhaps you know the hidden paths through the park? Or the best words to describe the sunshine and shadows, the rain and the wind?
  • Maybe you are the one who knows the words to songs and nursery rhymes to be sung together?
  • Can you tell your child the proper names of all the different packet shapes on the supermarket shelves?
  • Maybe you are the one who tells the spookiest stories in the dark?
  • erhaps you know how to find books you want in a library, or how to count all the steps in a staircase.
  • Are you good at planting seeds and growing them into things we can eat?
  • Maybe you know where there is a real castle to be visited? Or who knows how to bake the most delicious cakes for tea?
  • Can you organise the overnight campout in the garden for your children and their friends?
  • You might even know how to make a rope swing on a suitable tree; or how to whistle a tune; or the names of the stars you can see at night; or a skipping song; or how to play marbles; or how to build a den…

Father and daughter fishingIf you are any of these things, then your children will benefit enormously from watching you and learning by helping to do those things themselves. Their formal learning in school will have a context in the real world and with real people and will certainly be more relevant to their lives. And we as adults might well recall that we forgot most of what we learned in school, while those things we learned with family and friends have stayed with us forever.

Should you run out of ideas, try: (monthly information about local events for families) or you could check any similar list from various family oriented websites.

3 comments to Squelchy Dirt, Daisy Chains and The Long Holidays

  • Sharon Mclauchlan

    I did a lot of this with my oldest child and now she is doing it with her baby sister who only 6 months

  • Kat Allinson

    I used to love getting out and exploring all day as a child in the holidays, simple things like woodland walks, picking strawberries, gooseberries, making mud covered dens that were weatherproof, taking a picnic down the local farmers fields and exploring the brook etc. I fully intend to take my children doing as many things outdoors as possible including getting soaked through in the local river splashing in our welly boots!

  • Tracey S Anderson

    Some great ideas here nearly all of which i did with my children when they were younger and now intend to with their children during the holidays X x

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