August Times

August Times

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Marianne’s last column until mid-September…

Most day camps for younger children end by the beginning of August. Inevitably parents contemplate thirty-odd days of blank time and wonder, “What will they do? How can we keep them amused? Or busy, or learning?”

Actually this is a great time for young children. It is the way summer used to be generations ago, when the season stretched like an endless blank slate, and there were few organized activities available. What did kids used to do?

First, let them be a little bored. Boredom encourages children to develop interests on their own, to be resourceful and to be in charge of their time. They can pick up a book, or draw, or color. They can look in the closet for something they haven’t used for a while — maybe a jigsaw puzzle or Lego set. Or throw a ball against a wall and catch it. Or go outside and look for bugs, or frogs. Remember collecting lightning bugs in a jar with holes punched in the cover?

A family trip to a lake or beach will give children plenty of opportunities to explore. Sandcastles, rides in a canoe or rowboat, trying to catch minnows, collecting shells and rocks, building a wall against the incoming waves are just some of the age-old delights of August.

Card games are a great way to teach children number recognition and math skills while having quiet fun. “War,” while deadly boring for parents after the first five minutes, helps young children learn number values. Crazy Eights, Uno, and Rummy are all games easily played by children. If you get tired of playing, teach your child solitaire. Board games serve the same purpose of teaching children to count, take turns and strategize a little. Hopefully there are some friends or cousins around they can play with so parents don’t have to endure Candyland or Chutes and Ladders. Checkers, chess and Parcheesi are mind and strategy games for slightly older children to enjoy and are actually bearable for adults.

How about a lemonade stand? Making the lemonade, and the signs for the stand, and handling money and making change all allow children to learn while having fun. They will be excited to spend all day on it and ask to do it again. Setting up a “fort” in the playroom, using chairs and a sheet, can lead to hours of pretend play and afford the child some privacy to daydream or create his own world of little cars, animals or people.

With a little luck, August won’t become a time for multiple organized activities that seem to take up the other eleven months of a child’s life. And while watching a movie as a family can be a cozy experience, hopefully it won’t be an everyday one.

August — sometimes a slow time can be a really good thing.

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.