no, that is not a misprint.

go ahead and read it again.

on the long long list of things i forget and then have to relearn is this very simple principle: the only way that kids will learn to entertain themselves is to do it.

this is not going to be some glassy-eyed remembrance of “the good old days” when we stayed gone’ til the streetlights came on. some things were better when i was growing up, like that it was actually safe to send your kids out after breakfast and not hear from them again until dinner time.

i remember one summer a friend and i spent about a week solid planning a carnival. we planned events and made posters and i think we even made tickets by hand. i don’t remember if we had any intention of actually making the carnival or not, but i remember being so engrossed in our project that we barely had time to eat lunch. it would not even have occurred to either of us to go upstairs and nag my mother about being bored- we just made our own little world and kept ourselves busy.

another friend had the record (yes, folks- there is a time when CDs didn’t exist!) from Grease. we spent so many hours playing the record and singing along and making up dances and gymnastics shows that even to this day i remember the lyrics from many of those songs. my friend who had the album for the musical Annie got to choose who would be cast in which role, as we did multiple thousands of renditions of the play. i always got to be molly, since i was the smallest, but we still had to have elaborate choreography for each scene.

it goes almost without saying that riding bikes was an 8-10 hour activity. even if we just circled endlessly around the block, and even if i was alone (which most of the time i was), riding my bike was an all-day commitment.  i pretended to be a spy, pretended to be in some high-level chase, pretended to be a character from little house on the prairie, pretended to be on a motorcycle, pretended to be in another place (somewhere far more glamorous than oak park, michigan- although i had barely been to anywhere else, so i’m not sure in retrospect where i thought i was, exactly…).

the point is, if i had asked my mother what i should do, she probably would have checked to see if i was feverish. if i had asked her to take me somewhere, she definitely would have fallen out of her chair.

so, as july becomes august this year, i am left wondering for the zillionth time why my kids think i am a social activities director. our neighborhood is way better than most. we have tons of kids, so there is almost always someone to play with. most of the families around here don’t have TV, and if they have computers their use is severely limited to sick days and heavy storms. lots of the neighborhood kids are creative in their play, and i love watching to see how a deflated beach ball can inspire hours of inventing new games.

i think in general that kids are so used to having their time structured that they literally don’t know what to do if left to their own devices. when i was thinking of the typical schedule for the typical child, it read more like a prison manifest than a child’s typical day.

wake up 7am~brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast (limited choices here)~go to school~ do math for 45 minutes then science for 30 minutes then reading for 40 minutes then gym for 20 minutes (if they are lucky)~then lunch, then more classes- lather, rinse, repeat. often after school there are even more activities scheduled. then they come home, eat supper, do homework, and go to bed. is it any wonder that these kids have no idea about how to structure their own time? no wonder parents dread school vacations and can’t wait for their kids to go back!

i read some great books this past year by john holt. pretty much anything you can get your hands on by him will be amazing, so i won’t limit your search by recommending specific books… but he was so inspiring about thinking in different ways about what children need.

i have a friend with a rather large family who really puts his principles into practice. her kids learn to be creative about play by actually playing creatively. what a concept!

we have started watching a show on netflix about the duggar family. i remember seeing them on a magazine while i was standing in line at target, and thinking i should find out more about them. then on this blog (when i posted the recipe for laundry detergent) someone said i should get the liquid recipe that the duggars use. that jogged my memory, and i checked to see if they had any shows about them.

there are so many things i can learn from them, but one of the things i like the most is how they watch out for each other, and how they know how to have fun without lots of bells and whistles. granted, one of my sons now wants to move to their house after watching an episode where they play paint ball and jump out of airplanes (he asked me during the show why we never do anything fun like that ;)   ). but mostly, they seem to ride bikes and play in the yard, and sing with each other. yeah, that last one might sound somewhat cheesy, but they know how to make their own fun. they have learned to entertain themselves by actually doing it.

i am famous/infamous for helping my kids to not be bored. if they ever tell me there is nothing to do, i am more than happy to tell them lots of things to do: take out the garbage, sweep the floor, clean up the playroom, put away laundry, etc. etc. etc.  you get the idea. i’m not a cruise director (which is good because i am so not fun in that way!). if the kids have an idea, i will try within reason to facilitate it, but i’m not going to be at their beck and call to structure their play so they don’t have to think.

there is so much for kids to learn, and-just like adults- they often learn best by doing. i think it’s a good lesson to learn, now that we are closing in on the final weeks of summer vacation, that good old-fashioned play makes kids happy and healthy. sure, there is a learning curve up front, where they will literally have no idea what to do with their time. expect lots of whining and complaining at first.  but with a little effort (buy some board games, puzzles, arts-and-craft supplies- or just look around for what you already have that is being underutilized), you and your kids can enjoy the rest of the summer!