Thriving frankly sounds a lot more joyful than surviving, doesn’t it?! And as a very wise person once said, “If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then you’re doing it wrong!”
In Part 3 of my Summer Holiday Survival Guide we looked at feeding the rather malnourished piggy bank of patience and wellbeing so that we’re in a better position to weather the challenges of the summer holidays; and challenges there will be, because kids will be kids, the summer holidays are long, and British weather will be… um, British? In this final part of the four-part series, we look at whether there may be ways to add a little old-fashioned magic to your summer.
I’m going to suggest something a little controversial here, depending on your own experiences and the meaning that you attach to the word ‘learning’; I’m going to suggest that you make this the summer of learning. And by learning, I’m not talking about the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, I’m talking more of real-world skills that are a little more immediately applicable. I’m talking about helping your child to make connections, learning more about themselves, learning more about relationships with others, and learning more about the world around them and their connection with it.
Let’s start with routine. Whatever the weather, kids tend to feel a little safer with some routine in their lives. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we get all military with our organisation of the day, but my kids know that during the summer holidays I get a little work done in the mornings, because PhD study does not do itself and neither does the housework. During this time, pyjama-clad offspring tend to watch cartoons, make lego creations, make dens etc (see below). Letting go of any guilt in relation to having a couple of hours to get things done is essential to my own well-being, and the kids know that this is how things roll during the holidays. In the afternoons, we do something. It can be something simple like walking the dog somewhere nice, or heading to the play-park. The cost of taking children to museums, soft play, farm parks, cinema etc. can really add up quickly during the holidays, so here are some inexpensive (or even free) suggestions:
Den-making. Children never tire of making dens. I still really enjoy a den.
A whole day can be enjoyably be spent turning a bedroom, dining room or living room into a really wonderful den and your child will learn much from the experience. You can even dig out your fairy lights to make it extra-pretty! Actively promote getting your child to make decisions about how it is to be built, and afterwards in a quieter moment ask your child how they feel in the den, (as well as perhaps checking in with how they feel at various moments through the day). You may need to suggest some possible emotions to them if their emotional vocabulary is still developing. Getting in touch with emotions, both pleasant and not-so-pleasant, can really help to build self-compassion and empathy for others. If your child worked with you or another child to build the den, ask them to reflect on how it was to work together to get a job done, how they made decisions, and what they might do differently next time.
Baking and cooking. Many children no longer learn the skills with food that previous generations had instilled in them from an early age. As a result, and also because it is so easy to buy and prepare food with the minimum amount of effort, children grow up with almost no knowledge of how to prepare food with love. We can teach a child to prepare food mindfully, bringing gratitude to the ingredients and taking a moment to appreciate the food as well as the amount of work that went into bringing the food to a shelf in a shop for you to buy- sunlight, earth, water, harvesting, packing, transporting, unpacking, shelf-stacking. We can teach a child to move into the more experiential being mode by using all of their senses to explore ingredients, noticing their aroma, taste, texture, appearance.
Picnicking. Everyone loves a picnic. If the weather’s not conducive to outdoor-picnicking, have an indoor floor-picnic and take the time to really enjoy preparing the food. It can be the perfect time to practise appreciation and savouring, and also caring for the needs of others by paying attention to whether another person’s glass is empty or if they need something passed to them.
So you may be thinking that there’s nothing new in what I’ve suggested above, and you’re right! People have been building dens, cooking and enjoying food in a variety of ways for a very long time, but in years gone by those who were engaging in such activities would most likely have been a lot more focused on what they were doing, because they weren’t part of the distracted, ‘unmindful’ generation. I haven’t suggested loads of different activities above because by now I’m sure you get the picture – it’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it. As Edward Monkton illustrates so beautifully in his Zen Dog cartoon, life isn’t about the end result, it’s about the ride:
If you would like a few more ideas of mindful activities to engage in with your kids this summer, this is a really gorgeous blog post by Sarah Rudell Beach:
Happy holidays! Heather x