It’s that time of the year again when mothers of all varieties-stay-at-home, working-from-home, working part-time or full time-anxiously look for ways to keep their children engaged during the long hot summer vacation. And there are a whole lot of options available nowadays with summer camps catering to every creative activity ranging from art and craft, reading and writing and science and math projects to sports and swimming camps. In fact, a friend complained that there was so much choice that she and her daughter were finding it difficult to choose! However, I believe, that it’s better to have too many options than none at all which was the case when my son was growing up in tier II towns of north Karnataka. Though I heartily cursed the lack of opportunities at the time, it all worked out for the best as this spurred me to think of ways to keep my son engaged and indoors during the hottest part of the day-some parts of Karnataka experience temperatures of 44-48 degrees in May.
Here is a list of the things I tried:
Reading: Introducing my son to books formed a big part of keeping him engaged. We generally visited Bangalore during the Dasara vacation and the visit compulsorily included a trip to Mecca Stores and The Select Book Shop to pick up books. I generally bought several story books by a number of authors (Roald Dahl, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton), abridged versions of some classics, the horrible series (Horrible Histories, Horrible Science etc) and a single volume of Tell Me Why/What/When/How-more than one was unwelcome as then holidays would ‘seem like school’. As he grew older, I tried including a couple of history books and one on study skills, both of which proved extremely unpopular!
Writing: Simple writing tasks based on what the child has read can be a lot of fun, especially if done with a peer. This can be difficult as children are never willing to write at the best of times. I varied this by coaxing my son to write to his grand-parents in Bangalore-the experience included a trip to the post office to buy stamps and drop the letter in the post box as well as an explanation of how his letter reached his granddad in Bangalore. They really appreciated his missives and replied by return of post! If you try this, request your parents/in-laws to address the letter to the child-children feel very excited and thrilled to see a letter addressed to them in the letter box, so much so that my son eagerly awaited the postman when he knew a letter was due.
Quizzing: Conduct a short quiz on a book the child has read recently-this means that you will have to read the book too! Better yet, seize the opportunity to bond with your child by reading it together. As the child grows older, ask them to set a quiz for you-this is generally a great hit as children love the opportunity to turn the tables on us and come up with difficult questions to catch us out.
Dictionary skills: If the child takes to reading, there will be scores of new words that they come across. Introduce the concept of looking up words in the dictionary-you will meet with some resistance here as the easiest way out is to ask an adult. Make a pact with your child-tell them that they should look up three new words daily and you would help them with the rest.
Building: I bought a DIY craft book, which explained how to build paper models of cars and planes, dreaming of spending hot afternoons creating the beautiful models shown in the book. This was not much of a success because neither of us had nimble fingers and the whole thing was more complicated than it looked. But we did have a lot of fun comparing what we had made with a picture of the real thing in the book! However, the Mechanix set was a big hit and my son spent many a pleasant afternoon building cars, bikes and planes and displaying them in our showcase. His goal was to have a different model on display every evening by the time his dad returned from work.
Movies: Watch your old favourites with your child-watching an old favourite through your child’s eyes may give you a fresh perspective and even help you discover that you share the same tastes. My son and I watched The Sound of Music, Golmaal (the old one with Utpal Dutt and Amol Palekar), Parichay (the Bollywood version of Sound of Music), Do Aankhen Barah Haath (the V Santaram movie on rehabilitating criminals), and Angoor (based on The Comedy of Errors) during his grade six holidays. We also watched For a Few Dollars More, Party, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Home Alone and many more over the years. I even introduced my son to the Doordarshan comedy show, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, which he enjoyed, much to my surprise!
Picnics: Arrange picnics to places of interest in the vicinity with other families with young children. Planning, shopping and preparing for the trip can be great fun besides being a learning experience, and creates several fond memories. Look for places to visit within your town-may be a museum or a park or any other place that your child is interested in.
You could also try cooking simple recipes with your child and help them learn some basic cooking skills. You could introduce them to the joy of gardening-planting, watering and tending a plant and waiting for it to flower and bear fruit can be magical for young children-but take care to choose something that is easy to grow and has a short growing season. If your child likes drawing, colouring and painting, stock up on art materials and help them explore their capabilities for self-expression in their chosen medium. Also, organize board games with the neighbourhood kids-this will enable the child to mingle with peers, and give you a break!
Summer camps introduce kids to a whole range of activities and help them discover their interests and abilities and are now a given for most children living in urban/metropolitan areas. But if you lack access to such camps, talk to your child and come up with activities to keep them occupied during the holidays. Allow the child to choose what they want to do to keep them interested. And, most important, keep it relaxed and enjoyable… and you will create a memorable vacation that your child is bound to remember with pleasure in the years to come!