This week while at a picnic I had someone ask "So, what camps are your kids going to this week?" I paused a moment before replying "No camps. Just Camp Mama." The response was an odd look and then a small laugh when she figured out my joke before quickly changing the subject. It was the second time this week the mention of summer camps came up. Earlier it had been running into a parent at the grocery store who told us about the great camp his daughters were going to at the local humane society. When he asked what we were up to this summer I had no amazing camp stories to share. I told him we'd been doing lots of swimming, going to parks and camping. Again, I felt this was met with an odd look. It got me wondering…what has happened to the simple art of "play"?
Growing up my summers were filled with my sisters and I playing. Exploring the fields behind our house, making rafts to go down the tiny stream-never really succeeding but having a lot of fun trying. Picnics at parks with cousins were a weekly occurrence. Making mud pies and playing "house" in my grandpa's old barn. Letting our imaginations lead the way each day. No organized activity beyond the occasional swim lesson. There were a few summers when we went to Girl Scout Camp, which I have fond memories from. However, the memories I hold closest are those of lazy, laid back summer days. No parent pressure to get kids involved in multiple activities. The idea of going to a camp specifically for "drumming" or "rock climbing" was completely unheard of. Times have certainly changed. This new generation of kids gets an enormous variety of activities and sports to choose from. They can be an artist one week and an athlete the next. I say this with no judgement as to which is the "right" way to raise our children. I believe parents only have the best intentions at heart. Those who have their children scheduled from sun up to sun down do this in hopes of offering their babies the world. Or, maybe it is because they are a two parent working household and it is a matter of child care. On the other hand those who don't have their kids in camps may not be able to afford the high price tag that comes along with it. Or, maybe they want to be the one teaching their daughter how to kick a soccer ball in the backyard. Or the one to see their son dive into the pool for the first time. The end goal is the same. To raise happy kids. I feel confident in what works for me and my family, but can't help but question if my approach to play is outdated and therefore are my kids missing out?
During the school year, it is easy to get caught up with what other parents are doing. It's all the talk as we sit at the front of the school waiting to gather children at the end of the day. Moms grabbing kids quick to get to ballet class. Overhearing someone talking about which teacher they are using for private violin lessons. We've tried this. We've done dance, we've done soccer. They seem to get a moderate amount of enjoyment out of it, but seem happiest when they can come home and get lost in a world of imaginative play at the end of a very long school day. A day of learning, dealing with peers and homework. As I sit there and hear the parental chatter I know my girls are happy and I'm glad to not be rushing off to hours of gymnastics...however, I can't help get caught up in the talk. Summer has always been my saving grace. No one needs to know I selfishly want to be the one spending lazy days with my kids…taking them on hikes and heading to the neighborhood parks. I don't have to hear how someone has moved up a level in her piano class, I can just blow up our swimming pool and spend the afternoon watching my girls splash each other amongst their squeals. Parenting is a tricky thing. I think in your heart you know you are doing what works for you and for your family, but your head can't help but question it occasionally. None of us know how it will all play out. If the child who had so many opportunities will turn out to be a professional athlete or unable to entertain themselves without some sort of outside stimulation. We won't know if the kids who just played in the backyard will end up enjoying the simple things in life or falling behind the other kids. What we do know, and I try to remind myself on a daily basis, is to trust yourself. Not to get caught up in the right or wrong way of parenting. When it comes to play, it is all the right way. Whether it is playing at a different summer camp each week, or playing Barbies everyday with your sister, kids just need the freedom to play.
|Cousins...an important addition to any form of play.|
I do believe the simple art of play has changed. This is why the feelings of not having my girls involved in enough activities creeps in. I think being outdoors with nothing should be able to set the stage for hours of creative play. This is why I try to quiet the voices I hear of other parents. I will love my girls, nurture them and help them grow into the best young women they can be. I will instill the importance of play and hope it stays with them. I will do this so as adults they will still find the simple enjoyment in a game of hopscotch on a hot sidewalk or the thrill of flying down a snowy mountain on a sled. They may not grow up knowing how to play every sport out there, but the value of play may just inspire them to pick up a baseball bat and give it a try. Even if when they do pick up the bat they yell "touchdown!" when sliding on the base instead of "home run" as I overheard my girls say one night. That's the joy of real play...there are no rules.