Thinking Of Summer

Posted 07.04.08

I just read that only seven percent of Canadians own a vacation property of any type. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Citizen's annual section describing summer camps for kids contains a huge assortment of day camps and more than a dozen overnight ones, offering experiences ranging from zoo-keeper, science, circus, radio, and leadership, to international languages, art, dance, theatre, and every sport a kid could want, from golf to soccer.

There's even a new camp which promises kids will learn how to fly a plane.

These wonderful opportunities can cost up to $100 a day, and most run for a few days to several weeks.

So what do the kids do for the rest of the summer?

The need for two incomes to support the family has meant spending the summer "at the cottage" is no longer viable. Remember the days when Mom and the kids moved to the cottage as soon as school was over, Dad drove up on weekends and spent his two weeks' vacation fishing in the lake, playing with the kids, and sitting on the porch after the little ones were put to bed, relaxing and chatting?

Rainy days were devoted to board games, or dress-up with improvised theatrical or musical performances. Kids often learned to play the guitar or harmonica, or stretched their imaginations by role-play based on books they either read themselves or had read to them.

In those days, there was no TV reception at the cottage, even if we had electricity, a radio and a record player (remember those?). No I-Pods, no video games or other electronics.

I'm not against progress. I love my PVR, my computer with its wide, flat screen, my digital camera. But kids need to play, not to sit with glazed eyes in front of a screen, or to dull their listening skills by having music blasting in their ears.

Psychologists tell us that imaginative play is an important tool for child development. It teaches them to pay attention, listen for subtle sounds (like birds, insects, rustles in the underbrush), to cooperate, share, and experiment.

My favorite childhood memories are when my mother hung old bedsheets on the grape arbor in our back yard to curtain the "stage" where my sisters and I created musicals of our own devising. That arbor also became the place where my best friend and I played house with our dolls, rode the heavy horizontal supports as horses in our improvised westerns, hid clues to play detective, and arranged found materials to make crafts.

After my parents bought our cottage, summers were filled with swimming, playing in the sand, collecting rocks (I'm embarrassed to admit I still have most of those), and using the wide screened porch the way we used the grape arbor in town.

Urban kids whose parents both work full time have to fill their summers somehow. If the family can afford to send them to camp, that's wonderful. But how are they spending the rest of their time?

Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. She has new writing workshops listed on her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2008 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.08